MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the month “October, 2017”

Coastal Explorations

When you grow up watching Home & Away, Australia’s soap based around a beach-side town, it paints a picture of the stereotypical Aussie beach goer that is hard to shake even as an adult exploring the real world. Here in Queensland, there were plenty of examples of the bronze-skinned bods with sun-bleached blonde hair to keep the stereotype alive, and I was silently amused when our ride for the morning turned up with a guide looking like one of them. Full of animated chat and with a driving style to match, we were whisked off for our morning tour, heading up the river to Tewantin and beyond to where a cable-driven ferry crosses the Noosa river to the Noosa north shore. It was a short and smooth ride and then it was just a matter of driving across the forested land to reach the access point for Teewah beach.

Spanning 2500km (1553 miles), the coast of Queensland is staggeringly beautiful and there is plenty of choice when it comes to exploring it. Here on the eastern aspect of the Great Sandy National Park, we drove up the 51km (31 mile) expanse of the beach, the ocean sparkling to our right under the orb of the rising sun. It’s not often you get to drive directly on sand, and this was the most epic of beach drives I’ve ever done. The views were incredible, both out to sea and the dunes also, but being in August, we were following the coast during the migration of the humpback whales, my absolute favourite cetacean. I’ve been lucky to spot this species in 5 different countries around the world. They are playful and inquisitive, and always a joy to spot. I knew they would be around but wasn’t thinking anything of spotting them, knowing that in a few days time I was to be going on a whale watching excursion off Hervey Bay to the north. So it was amusing that within minutes of our guide telling us to keep an eye out for them, I spotted the distinctive spout that signalled a whale surfacing to breathe. A mother and calf were heading south very close to shore and we pulled up to watch them for a while. In either direction, the beach disappeared into the distance and surprisingly the beach had a lot of vehicle traffic. Aside from organised tours, it is possible to drive on the beach in a private vehicle provided you pay a fee, and there were plenty of people making use of this allowance.

 

We spotted another pair of humpback whales further up the beach and beyond that a solo whale too, all before we made it to the turnoff near Double Island Point on the spit. It was a bumpy ride across to the bay on the other side of the point, and in front of us, the sand again arced away into the distance. A little along the coast lies the settlement of Rainbow Beach, and we met up with those people who were joining the tour from there underneath the vibrant Rainbow Bluffs. After a photo stop, we convoyed back to Double Island Point where our kayaks were unloaded and we kitted up for a morning on the ocean. I’ve kayaked several times now, both on the ocean and on lakes, and although I always enjoy it, my indwelling fear of drowning always leaves me with a sense of nervous anticipation both before and during the trips. The wind direction meant the sea was relatively calm, and we were quick to get out of the bay and follow the headland.

 

Marketed as a dolphin-watching kayak, we certainly saw some dolphins, but only a small number on two occasions, and both times, they kept their distance and didn’t interact. Like on commercial whale and dolphin watching excursions, we weren’t permitted to follow them, and just sat bobbing on the water’s surface as they passed us by from afar. Continuing along the coast, we kept our eye out for humpback whales. I’ve seen plenty of videos of these 40-ton creatures breaching near kayaks, and I was torn between the desire to see it with my own eyes, and fear of the event causing us to capsize. Despite our luck at spotting them on the drive up the beach, they eluded us the whole time we were on the sea. What we did see was a large manta ray which was unexpected. I saw several of these in the Pacific Ocean around the Galapagos Islands a couple of years ago, including seeing them come flying out of the ocean in a breach-style behaviour. I was excited to see one again, not realising that they inhabited the waters here.

 

On the clifftop above us was the Double Island Point lighthouse, where several people stood at the lookout watching us as well as out to sea for signs of whale activity. By the time we were heading back, there was a bit of chop on the surface and the waves that resulted made it harder to get back round the headland and onto the beach. The water was so inviting though that I wasted no time in heading back in for a swim before it was time to jump back in the van. A little away from our kayak spot we stopped at an inconspicuous patch of beach that on closer inspection was teeming with crabs. The soldier crabs were a mix of blue and yellow, and in spite of myself I offered out my hands to hold some when our guide scooped them up for us to have a closer look. Although 2 legs short of an arachnid, I love to admire crabs but their sideways scuttle and waving pincers has always unnerved me enough to not want to touch them. But these guys had relatively small pincers and they were amusing to watch and felt ticklish in my hands.

 

Back in the van once more, we cut across the dunes to reach Teewah beach once more and immediately after hitting the beach we spotted two more humpback whales and without knowing it at the time, this was the first day of what would turn out to be an incredibly successful spotting season for me. I enjoyed the long drive back down the gorgeous beach just as much as I had the drive north, and was sad to leave it behind when the access point appeared in the dunes to return to civilisation. There was only a short wait for the cable-driven ferry back to Tewantin and in the early afternoon we were dropped off back at Noosa Heads. It was a hot and sunny day, and my partner was not in the mood to do much more, whereas I was keen to continue to explore. Our apartment was not only just a street away from the beach but just a few doors down from us was a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream outlet and it was the perfect accompaniment to a walk along the coast.

Crossing the main road to Noosa Main beach, a pathway follows the coastline to the headland to the east which, once away from the houses, is deemed as Noosa National Park. It was an exceptionally busy trail and the car park at the entrance to the National Park was also full. But it wasn’t hard to spot wildlife even with the heavy foot traffic. A monitor lizard or goanna was rustling around in the undergrowth nearby and after noticing a few people craning their necks upwards, I spotted a koala in a large eucalypt tree near the park entrance.

 

From here the coastal track had a nearly constant sea view and although undulating, was an easy grade of walk to do, although the heat and the strength of the sun meant I was regularly in need of both water and a top up of sunscreen. With a plethora of bays and beaches to choose from, many people on the track were coming back from their sunbathing or swimming spots, whereas I was forever scanning between the sea in search of whales, and the treetops in search of koalas. There was enough bird life flitting amongst the trees and stunning vistas at every turn to make up for the lack of spotting either. I even spotted some bird species that I’d never seen before.

 

From Boiling Point Lookout to Dolphin Lookout and beyond to Fairy Pools, I finally found myself at Hell’s Gate, the eastern-most point of the headland. Here a gorge within the cliff created a swirling rage of waves that smashed off the rocks, and the path turned south towards Alexandria Bay. Up on top of the cliffs, the sun was noticeably lowering, with shadows starting to stretch across the headland. Above me I spied a sea eagle, and below me I spotted some dolphins in the distance. Assuming they were the commonly spotted bottlenosed variety, it wasn’t until later when I looked at my photographs that I realised that they were in fact humpback dolphins, a lesser-spotted and shy species that I haven’t seen since I volunteered in South Africa 12 years ago. I spent quite some time at Hell’s Gate enjoying the fresh air and surveying the sea and sky for life.

 

By the time I reached the sand of Alexandria bay it was nearly completely in shadow. My partner was going to be picking me up from the end of the trail at Sunshine beach, and with the daylight starting to fade, I was quick to walk the length of the beach and rejoin the trail at the far end. It climbed back up onto the cliff tops and was in deeper vegetation than before until finally the expanse of Sunshine beach came into view. On the eastern side of the hill from Noosa, it was in shadow, but I noticed out to sea a lone humpback whale repeatedly breaching. There were some steep steps to negotiate to reach sea level once more and I struggled along the sand searching for the exit point that I needed to meet my partner at our arranged spot. We ate out in Sunshine Beach at a restaurant owned by a previous Masterchef Australia contestant before returning to Noosa for more ice cream.

 

On my last morning in Noosa, we headed over to Sunshine beach for breakfast. I was still feeling the effects from all the overindulging I’d been doing since arriving in Australia, so it didn’t take much to fill me up. With the benefit of a rental car, we took a drive south through the various seaside settlements until the road cut away from the coast. It was yet another sunny day and once more the sea sparkled. This was to be the day that my partner and I separated. He was going to be staying in Noosa for a few more days before returning to the Gold Coast and then home whereas I had another 4 weeks of Australian adventure ahead of me.

 

Back in Noosa, we both followed the coast track to Dolphin Lookout where again the route was busy with people. This time we spotted a kookaburra in the tree, a bird that I love to listen to. I remember as a youngster in the Brownies, a younger version of the Girl Guides, singing a song about a kookaburra, not really knowing what it was never mind being aware that I would one day see them for myself. It’s funny how life turns out. Even having walked the path just the day before, it was still an enjoyable walk again, but with the clock ticking down, we went for one last meal together at the Noosa Surf Life Saving club. Finally though it was time to head to the bus station and begin my Greyhound adventure. A regular solo traveller, I was sad to lose the company of my partner though, but once the bus headed out of the station, I plugged my headphones in and gave way to the soundtrack on my phone.

 

As the crow flies, Hervey Bay is actually not that far away, and by car I could have reached there in about 2.5hrs. Frustratingly, though understandably, the Greyhound bus winds its way between local settlements and as the bus driver has to have statutory breaks, it was a rather arduous drive of nearly 5hrs. On route, we stopped at a service station with a giant kangaroo statue from the Olympic Games, passed several bush fires that had been lit as a controlled burn ahead of the dry season, and as the sun set I spotted some kangaroos at the side of the road. We pulled into Hervey Bay in complete darkness, and I was the last person to get off at the final stop in the Torquay end of town. I walked up and down the street of my hostel confused. Even with the benefit of Google maps I couldn’t find my hostel and had to flag down a local for some help. It turned out the place I was staying had changed names so my booking paperwork had the right address but the wrong building name, something I found a little irksome when I was tired and wandering around in the dark. I was equally annoyed to find out there was little in the way of somewhere to eat. Being a Saturday night, the local pub was more fired up for drinking and did not look enticing and after wandering the neighbouring streets, I was left with the slim pickings that the petrol station offered. First impressions were not that great, but I had an early rise to head off the next morning. Hervey Bay would have to win me over another time, as the famous Fraser Island was next in my sights.

North to Noosa

Despite being 17 years since I left high school behind, I’ve discovered an interest in a subject that I hated at school. It may have something to do with the country I live in or just coincidental but I’m quite fascinated now by geology and how landscapes came to be. The distinctive Glass House Mountains in Queensland, Australia are a collection of domes left behind from previous volcanic activity in the region. I’d spotted them on the drive to Australia Zoo back in 2014 and this time I’d managed to convince my partner to take a detour on our drive north to Noosa. We didn’t really have a plan and weren’t sure what to expect so just followed some tourist signs. The first one we came across we had to off-road it to get to a small car park below a summit walk but my partner didn’t want to hike in the heat so we turned back. Looping round in a circle, we headed up another one which could be driven all the way to a viewing spot at the top.

It was a busy car park when we arrived and we had little time before a few coaches of Japanese tourists arrived and the place became overrun with people. It was a nice view though overlooking the surrounding bush with several of the Glass House mountains visible. We’d spotted a cafe on the drive up and were lucky to get a table on the drive back down as it too was a busy little spot with a beautiful view from their decking. As a trade off for not going to Australia Zoo, we stopped at the local kart racing track for my partner to beat me once again. I was never the best at kart racing anyway but following wrist, back and shoulder injuries I’m even more cautious in them than before. It always takes the alloted race time to get the feel of the track, such that I’m just getting into it when I get called off. Needless to say, I have a 100% record of defeat on the kart track: a record that I don’t think will ever change. If nothing else, I just end up being another obstacle for the better racers to negotiate.

 

Noosa in the Sunshine Coast is a special place for my partner, somewhere he could happily return to time and time again. When we visited in 2014, we experienced the most amazing thunder & lightening storm I have ever seen. Although popular and packed like it’s Gold Coast cousins, it has a totally different vibe to the likes of Surfers Paradise and it’s one of the few busy places I don’t mind. Many places have been ruined by their own popularity but Noosa is not quite there yet. Made up of the collective zones of Noosa Heads, Noosaville, and Noosa North Shore, Noosa is a mix of beach, sea, river and estuary. We were staying in an apartment just 1 street away from the beachfront of Noosa Heads, right by the main street and it was huge. It was also very convenient for one of our favourite hangouts, the very popular Noosa Heads Surf Life Saving Club which overlooks Noosa Main Beach. Aside from providing the obvious life saving services, many of Queensland’s surf clubs also provide eating and drinking hubs and Noosa Head’s club has a great reputation. At peak times, table and bar space is in short supply, but we managed to get a spot to enjoy an evening drink and dinner before wandering along the main street, picking up dessert along the way.

 

Whilst my partner was going to be hanging out in Noosa for several days, I only had 2 full days there before we were parting company. My partner had been keen to take me on an excursion to the Noosa everglades, one of only two everglades in the world (the other being the more famous Florida everglades), so we booked on to a day tour from Noosa Heads. We were both up early due to still being on New Zealand time, so we made the most of the morning light by taking a walk along the beachfront and into the Noosa Spit Recreation Reserve. Just like on our last visit, there was a beautifully crafted sandcastle on the beach, and at the spit, the rays of morning sun streaked across the sandbar.

 

We were picked up by the tour company and driven to the pier up the Noosa river where we were to set off on our trip. Even in August, it was a busy time of year and two packed boats set off together. The Noosa river is well utilised and busy, but even with the heavy traffic, there was also plenty of bird life to see. Initially, it was mainly pelicans and seagulls, but as we left the waterfront villas behind and rounded a few bends of the river, past the pleasure boats and sails, there was a plethora of diving birds, spoonbills, brahminy kites and even an osprey to spot. The river side was an entanglement of mangroves, towered over by a forest of tall, spindly trees behind them.

 

The river opened up into a large yet shallow lake that we ploughed across before re-entering the narrower river channel. Now it felt like we were away from civilisation, the trees packed deep either side of the river, and after crossing the massive expanse of Lake Cootharaba (Queensland’s largest lake), stopping at a campsite to stretch our legs and have a snack, we finally entered the Everglades proper. Here the water changed from the green-blue seawater to the brown tannin-stained fresh water, and there was a noticeable reduction in bird life. There were many people out kayaking but the bush remained thick giving the impression of being far away from everything.

 

The further up river we travelled, the more reflective the water became and as we snaked through the waterway, the reflection of fallen trees cast a magical sight. Eventually we moored at the pier near Harry’s Hut and we were left to wander around whilst our inclusive lunch BBQ was prepared. We didn’t need to wander far to find one of Australia’s large lizards, the goanna or monitor lizard as there were 3 lace monitors (Australia’s 2nd largest lizard) hanging around the picnic area. They drew a lot of attention but also came with a warning as bites from them have occurred which can be quite nasty.

 

After a delicious lunch and more goanna watching, it was time to return to Noosa but the view on the way back was just as beautiful. Again the mirror effect on the upper river system was mesmerising, and once more as we returned to the sea within Lake Cootharaba, the bird sightings started to increase again. We saw as much, if not more birds on the way back as we did on the way up. It was a beautifully cloudless day, and there was much to look at. Returning to the lower river and back in civilisation, the river was still a hive of activity. I love to see young people learning to sail as a normal part of growing up. Growing up myself in suburban Glasgow in Scotland, we got little water exposure and as such I don’t have much confidence in the sea. As with New Zealand, many Australian children spend their childhood swimming or boating on the coast, and as such there is a noticeable difference in water confidence and I find myself jealous of their upbringing.

 

When we moored up, somebody noticed some stingrays in the water and as it was quite shallow it was easy to spot them even with their camouflage against the sandy backdrop. After being driven back to Noosa Heads, I headed out to wander along the beach as the sun set. It gets dark early in Queensland, the sun dipping below the horizon around 6pm give or take, so the sky was turning red as I meandered along the waterfront. By now the sky was full of clouds, so the red glow in the clouds reflected on the moist beach where the waves retreated. Eventually as darkness fell, I joined my partner at the Surf Life Savers Club for dinner and drinks before we retired to the comfort of our apartment. Still unaccustomed to the time difference and with the early darkness confusing our bodies, we retired early once more. In the end this wasn’t a bad thing, as it made us naturally awaken early, ready to make the most of the day. And the next morning we were to be picked up for what would be another cracking day.

Golden Sunshine

I was more upset about saying goodbye to my cat than I was excited about the impending trip. Sometimes when I book an adventure far ahead the pre-trip excitement loses momentum several weeks before and although always glad for a break from the routines of day to day life as a working adult, I spent the prior couple of days in a stressful whirlwind attempting to do everything I needed to do ahead of a long break away. So even at the airport where I usually start to feel the excited anticipation of heading abroad, I was distracted. I had a 38 day Australian adventure ahead of me and I just wasn’t feeling it.

When I’d discovered back in May 2014 that there would be a work-related conference in the beautiful Gold Coast of Australia’s Queensland, I’d made a note of the dates and then got on with my life. When it opened for sale I booked a place, got a cheap one-way plane ticket to the nearest airport and left it at that. The rest would sort itself out later. But what in my mind was originally going to be a 4 day conference followed by a few days on the Sunshine Coast to the north, morphed in my mind to a 5.5wk extravaganza and eventually I had internal flights arranged and an action packed itinerary to fulfil.

In the Gold Coast it gets dark around 6pm give or take all year round and the sun appears to almost drop out the sky at a surprising rate such that as we landed at Coolangatta airport near Queensland’s southern border with New South Wales, I’d commented to my partner that the sun was still high in the sky, only to get through customs, collect our bags and walk outside into dusk. It is incredible. We drove to our accommodation in Broadbeach in growing darkness. For many people, the Gold Coast is all about Surfers Paradise: the loud, brash and in-your-face party and beach city who’s high rises feature in many photographs of the region. I’d visited before on New Years day a few years ago and found the vibe not to my taste. But the beach here spreads for many kilometres to the south and as you extract yourself from the crowds at Surfers, the beach quickly becomes less crowded and more serene. Our apartment was within easy reach of a myriad of dining options in Broadbeach, which is just south of Surfers. Over the course of the next few days I really came to like Broadbeach and would happily stay there again.

 

Whilst my partner got to kick off his holiday there and then, enjoying the region’s beaches, shopping and theme parks, I had an early morning start at the conference, heading off in dawn for a 6.45am start, emerging again in dusk around 7pm. The second day I again had a 6.45am start but finishing this time at a more reasonable 5.30pm, meant being able to make use of the evening. Driving out to the outer suburbs we met with friends and headed to a night market near them called Helensvale Night Quarter. Being a Saturday night it was packed, and having been well catered to at conference for 2 days, it was slightly wasted on me as I wasn’t really hungry. But I enjoyed it nonetheless, drooling over the endless food options, following my nose and breathing it all in. I found some space in my stomach to fit some food including as much of a delicious but slightly sickly cookie ice cream sandwich as I could manage. At the far end of the market was a large barn with a bar and a stage where a reggae band were playing. It was an immensely enjoyable night and one of those places you’d only discover with a local: a real gem. To top it off, the moon was an incredible colour on the drive home, although it was impossible to get a decent photograph of it.

 

A third early start was at least a slight change of pace. Instead of a morning lecture, I was up for a charity run. Not being a runner, I’d signed up for the 2.5km beach walk and after watching the sunrise over Broadbeach, it was finally time to set foot on the beach. Sharing the beach with locals out walking the dog or taking a morning stroll, our group of competitors pounded past the waves as the sky and buildings changed colour with the sharply rising sun. It was simply beautiful. After a day full of more eating and more learning, we met up with more friends near Brisbane. Unfortunately I was pretty shattered by this point and it was all too brief.

 

The fourth morning I took myself back to the beach walking almost the whole way to Surfers Paradise before doubling back. The light was incredible and I noticed with envy how many locals were out for a morning walk or jog. After moving out of my parent’s home in 2006, I started my life of independence living by the coast, constantly walking the promenade or nearby beach. Sometimes I just yearn to hear the sound of crashing waves and I could totally see the benefit of living in such a place. After the closing of conference, my partner and I made use of the main street of eateries for dinner although I was very much feeling like I’d eaten a year’s worth of food in just 4 days. Thankfully it wasn’t much of a walk to waddle home.

 

Whilst for most of the delegates the conference was done and dusted, I’d signed up for a private trip to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary in Currumbin to the south of Broadbeach. I have mixed feelings about zoos and wasn’t sure what to expect. At its core the sanctuary has a wildlife hospital where injured animals are treated and rehabilitated. Surrounding this is a large expanse of either walk through zones or fenced exhibits with a myriad of native wildlife. For all that I love about Australia, it is its wildlife that excites me time and time again. I much prefer to see it in the wild so whilst I could see the value of the sanctuary for allowing children to see these critters, it wasn’t for me. However the whole point of us going there was to get a private tour of the wildlife hospital and that was incredible. Seeing and hearing about what work they do was awe inspiring.

 

Afterwards I took a quick walk to Currumbin beach before we were taken back to Broadbeach and finally I could count myself as being on holiday. Having been to Surfers before, there was only 1 thing I wanted to do there this time and that was to go up to the observation deck of the distinctive Q-deck tower. Last time we’d taken a spectacular helicopter flight and from both ground level and in the air, this building stands tall, a perceived giant amongst a skyline of skyscrapers. We took the tram from Broadbeach to Surfers and turned up to discover the entire observation deck was closed for a private function. I couldn’t believe it and struggled to hide my annoyance. In the end, we wandered around in the heat of the day exploring nearby parks and the busy waterfront of Surfers before catching the tram back to Broadbeach. We took a drive up the coast before heading home, enjoying our final meal in Broadbeach.

 

The next day we were headed north. Having been declined entry the day before we headed back to the Q-deck, getting up this time to see the fabulous 360o view from near the top. A little annoyed that the lower morning sun didn’t work as well for photos as the higher afternoon sun the day before would have been, I had to push my petty annoyance aside and get on with enjoying myself. It was hard to stay irked for long with such a view.

 

Last time we were in Queensland, we’d stopped at Australia Zoo on route to Noosa and that had been the working plan this time around too. But I managed to convince my partner to go somewhere different and heading north up the Bruce Highway looking at the immense queues of traffic jammed southbound, we took the Steve Irwin Highway and followed the signs for the Glass House mountains…

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