17 September 2009

A thousand diamonds strewn across a blue plain

We arrived back in Mackay (our original starting point on this tour de Queensland) with a few days to spare. Mom & I decided to pass on the Reef/Whitsundays because the trips are very expensive, we both get seasick, it would be a rushed trip, and we were both a bit terrified of snorkeling in the open water of the Pacific Ocean. That night we enjoyed our usual favorite: Hawaiian pizza from Eagle Boys! We opted to rest in Mackay at a caravan park and be local beach bums the next day. Plus, I wanted to show Mom the marine life I'd previously found at Harbour Beach during low tide.

However, we awoke to gray clouds and raindrops. Determined to let my Mom actually swim in Australian water we got on the road for Townsville, hoping to encounter better weather. Like the majority of Queensland in the dry season a.k.a. their winter months we found abundant sunshine just an hour's drive north on The Bruce.

On the last leg of our road trip, sweating profusely from the sun beating through the windows, we chose to stop at Bowen and its big pineapple. Bowen is a quaint town whose claim to fame is that some of the movie "Australia" was filmed there.

Of Bowen's many lookouts and beaches, we only visited Horseshoe Bay, but that was by choice... it was so pristine we couldn't tear ourselves away from it! After being on the road the last two days, sitting in the warm sand & listening to the quiet lapping of waves was refreshing. The view was heavenly! I was a teenager when my family last traveled to Hawaii & the Carribbean but the water in Bowen seemed as azure. Mom & I passed the hours eating Subway, discussing further plans, and recounting past adventures, but mostly we just sat and admired the moment: the weather, the scenery, the company, the serenity.

The water seemed chilly at first, but we both waded up to our bellybuttons. Being the middle of winter it was too cold for either of us to want to submerge completely. Underwater, close to the shore, the ocean floor was very rocky and uncomfortable. Upon closer inspection I realized we were sauntering on small, broken pieces of coral. Out at the Reef you cannot walk on the coral for fear of damaging it, not to mention cutting up your feet. Though knobby, the coral in Horseshoe Bay was entirely smooth and off-white. I wondered if it originated from the only living organism from outer space? How long did the coral have to endure the ocean's tides and rocks to become so flush?As we relaxed in the water I noted a rock through the clear water. I continued walking toward deeper water & realized the rock had followed me! The harder I looked, the more the "rock" began to resemble a stingray. Distraught, I turned around to warn Mom & felt a sharp pinching pain on my left heel. I looked down & saw an irritated crab swimming. I was being ambushed by Poseidon's creatures!

Our day lollygagging drew to an end but Mom expressed her vacation was "complete" after experiencing Australia's wilderness, animals, cities, outback, and -- finally -- beaches.

16 September 2009

Into the night

Mom & I left Australia Zoo -- an hour north of Brisbane -- in the late afternoon, embarking north along the coast. We had no particular time schedule to adhere to; no specific places to stop; just the wide open road & a few days' time until we should arrive in Townsville where I would stay with my au pair family & Mom would return to the States.

Queensland seems designed for the road traveler. The coastal drive on The Bruce a.k.a. A1/Bruce Highway has major towns in four hour increments from the southern end to the top of the state. So, from Brisbane it would be 4 hours to Gladstone - Rockhampton - Mackay - Townsville - Cairns (pronounced "Can-z"). We hoped to make it almost to Rockhampton that evening, putting us halfway to our final destination. Now the trip took on a different scope because we were free to do whatever we wanted! I borrowed a ton of books from the library so I leafed through Cassowary Crossing & Lonely Planet: Queensland for ideas. Our tentative plan was to drive most of the evening, then drive the following day until Airlie Beach (two hours south of Townsville) which is the main hub for boating to the famed Whitsunday Islands & the Great Barrier Reef. Another book I brought along was a RV/Camper's guide to navigating Australia. This atlas/book proved to be worth its weight in gold!

Considering it was winter in Australia & Queensland does not observe Daylight Savings Time, Mom & I had been driving in the vast darkness for nearly 7 hours after a full day at the zoo. We were becoming heavy-eyed. Along the highway we drove through quite a few towns with rest areas. There were also plenty of opportunities for vehicles to pull off and rejuvenate along the side of the highway. The atlas mentioned a popular free camping/parking area in a small village an hour south of Rockhampton, so we pushed ourselves onward. Around 11PM we arrived at the large, fine sand campground, sharing it with three other trailers. There was no need for flashlights as it was approaching a full moon. We parked the car, reclined the seats, crawled into our sleeping bags & snoozed. I just described one of the qualities I love most about Oz! The mentality & lifestyle for many is a bit different than Westerners. Australian highways are catered to the truck drivers, road warriors & backpackers. In the States, calling it a night means dropping $60 for a sketchy motel. In Australia drivers are welcomed to rest. Can you sleep in either a tent, car or RV? No problem, the space and -- a lot of times -- running water & shower/bathroom facilities are provided. I've even passed rest areas that allow fires within the provided pits.

More importantly, in In A Sunburnt Country one commonality the author finds throughout the country is that Australians are generally good-hearted and friendly. At Blackdown Tablelands National Park the few campers all greeted each other whenever a new trailer arrived; at Carnarvon National Park most hikers greeted others when crossing paths. At the roadside stop south of Rockhampton Mom & I weren't the first to arrive, but we weren't the last either. Trucks & Wicked vans rolled through at all hours of the night. Yet, we felt safe. Our commonality? We all just wanted a place to lay our head and rest our eyes.

06 September 2009

All I want for Christmas...

...is Meg, a Southern Hairy-Nosed wombat!The more I learned about wombats the more impressed I was. Not only are they adorable and plenty of braun, but they've got brains too! Here are a few impressive facts I learned at Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo:
  • There are only three species. The Northern Hairy-Nosed wombat is so endangered there are only 139 left in the wild in Queensland.
  • Baby wombats are also called "joey"s and like its cousin -- the Koala -- their pouches face backwards. WHY? So when burrowing all the dirt doesn't go directly into the pouch/baby's face.
  • Of the three species, Southerns are the most social with others and humans.
Now for the unique details that made me aspire to be like a wombat:
  • They are the smartest marsupials.
  • Wombats have few predators in the wild. Their defense? A piece of rock hard cartilige over their butt. Yes, you read it correctly. To protect themselves they'll run into their burrow with their sturdy rear end as a barrier. If that still doesn't work wombats may squash their attacker by sitting forcefully & quickly on it.
  • They can run backwards just as fast as forwards.
  • Their favorite spot to be rubbed? The butt cartilige.
Upon meeting Meg, I didn't understand why she needed a harness for a walk around an enclosed area of the park?! One minute into the extravaganza and Meg was already showing me who was boss! She was amazingly strong at 23 kilograms a.k.a. 50 pounds. She was also amazingly cunning and stubborn. I imagine children are the same way. Meg wanted to explore a construction area that was off limits to her. A staff member redirected her away from the site. As soon as the trainer turned her back, Meg bolted for the construction site with me sprinting behind to avoid being dragged!

During the latter half of the excursion -- and away from the forbidden construction site -- Meg settled down and chomped on some grass. This allowed us some QT (quality time). Her coat of hair was surprisingly soft. Not fluffy feeling like the koala's, but smooth and sleek.

If Meg could've fit in my suitcase she would be sitting with me as I write this!