MistyNites

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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.

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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