Australia Part 2 – The Coast

March 1, 2008 at 9:12 am | Posted in Australia | Leave a comment

Australia Part 2 – The Coast Jan 2 – Jan 11

At this point, we believe that Peter has driven more miles on the left hand side of the road than the right, however, it still continues to be difficult crossing the street. We end up looking 360 degrees before attempting to cross despite the friendly reminders painted on each corner to ”Look Right’. We arrived at Hertz with the throngs of other folks who stayed in Sydney until the fireworks were over. We were lucky to secure a car and headed west towards a favorite Australian destination – the Blue Mountains. Our original plan was to see more of Australia than just the east coast but eventually it sunk in that it was a lot of land to cover and intra-continental flights would have been expensive for us. After covering so much territory in South Africa we figured we would focus on one area. As much as we would have liked to see Ayers Rock/Uluru, it would have been a very long haul with not much in between along with the worries of breaking down in the hot outback. We also decided not to go south of Sydney as we anticipated that the wilds of Queensland would keep us very busy for 6 weeks.

Outside of the city, we saw our first cockatoo squawking over our heads as we went in search of lunch. We also had our first experience competing with the other Aussies travelling on their summer vacation as we drove from one lodging to another all full with tourists and no vacancies. So far, we have always landed on our feet and have not yet had to spend a night in the car and we still prefer to travel with no reservations to have as much freedom as possible. The only time we attempt to make reservations is when we are heading to cities. It is easy to drive from place to place in a small town versus a large and confusing city. Campervans would have been a good fail-safe option but with minimum research, we couldn’t find anything that wouldn’t exceed our daily budget and, besides, tight quarters for 4 people 24 hours a day would have been hard. Instead, we had to pay a premium for the “last room” at the local motel. The Blue Mountains are known for their blue haze from the evaporating eucalyptus reflecting the sun. We walked a recommended cliff walk and viewed the “Three Sisters” which are three famous pinnacles of rock that attract a lot of tourists. We descended into the valley on the steepest rail in the world according to Guinness. We meandered through orchards and discovered Australia’s famous meat pies. Little four inch pies stuffed with meat, chicken, vegetables, spices and any combination of these. They are sold everywhere.

Once we left the blue mountains, the first matter of course was to see a koala. It wasn’t long before we came upon a koala sanctuary where we were able to mingle with a koala – up close and personal. In addition, we interacted with wallabies and crocodiles. Koalas are very soft and sleep most of the day. The sanctuary was only an appetizer for our coveted main course – The Australia Zoo owned by the late Steve Irwin and his family. We arrived at the zoo promptly the next day – an hour early actually because we didn’t realize that by crossing from New South Wales into Queensland, you gain an hour since Queensland doesn’t participate in daylight savings time. The zoo was phenomenal to say the least. All of the animals are in natural habitats and there is a wide range of interesting animals many which we had never seen including the fierce Tasmanian Devil, Dingos, Wombats, Cassowaries, Kookaburras, Galapagos Tortoises, and of course, meat-eating crocodiles and kangaroos. There was an undercurrent of sadness as Steve Irwin’s face was larger than life on various billboards and posters around the zoo enthusiastically wide-eyed while posing with a native Australian creature. The conservation message was loud and clear delivered in a friendly, inspiring way. One of the highlights for us was to arrive at the 12:00pm crocodile show and be wowed to see Terri Irwin host the show along with Steve’s best friend and director of the zoo, Wes. She hand-fed several gigantic crocs and got the crowd roaring with applause. We were lucky to catch her in town.

We continued to meander up the coast. We would just pull into a town and usually there was a plethora of motels to choose from. While the term “motel” in America has less than favorable connotations , the motels in Australia were so spic-n-span and well maintained that we wouldn’t choose any other lodging. Australia is chock full of motels- nice, clean, lovely motels. One of the first motels even offered us complimentary beer or wine upon arrival!. All motels provide a pint of fresh milk for your morning coffee or tea and most have wireless internet. They always had a refrigerator and often had kitchen facilities. They are extremely clean – extremely. This was the first place on our trip where motels were king! There were at least a dozen in every town, even small towns. We don’t recall seeing a single motel in Egypt or Morocco. So, we motel-hopped happily up the coast and the competition for vacancies weaned as we headed north into hotter and hotter weather which was unfavorable for summer vacation.

Our next exciting adventure was to Fraser Island. It’s notoriety is that it is the largest sand island in the world yet it boasts many diverse ecosystems. Despite the threatening forecast, we rented our 4-wheel drive vehicle which is required for driving on an all-sand island. The allure is that you can drive along the beach for 70 miles and camp most anywhere along it. The only thing to remember is that you can only drive on the beach during low tide. So along with rented camping gear, we drove onto the next morning’s ferry. Peter was happy to get behind the wheel of a Land Rover Defender, Laura was happy to be on a pristine island and the boys were happy to go camping. The sand tracks meandered through ancient forests and past florescent-blue lakes and over dunes until they spilled out onto the main coast long and desolate enough for aircraft to land on. The forests were filled with towering Satinay trees so water-tight that they were harvested for boat-building and for lining the Panama Canal. It was very exciting as we bump-bump-bumped along in our rustic vehicle watching downward to avoid the ocean waves and upward to avoid collisions with planes. We also were on the lookout for the elusive Dingo – a sweet-looking, honey-colored dog that lives in packs on the island. We found an isolated spot – just us and the ocean. No vehicles passed by as it was high-tide. We set up camp, ate and got comfy just in time for the rain that had been threatening all day. Well, we must have done something wrong because after a few hours, our sleeping pads were floating in no less than 1 inch of water! We migrated to the truck and slept airline-style for the rest of the night while the boys lay on the bench seat none the wiser. The next day we climbed sand dunes, waded in a spring-fed creek, built sand castles and forts and enjoyed our solitude. A Dingo paid us a visit as we were setting up camp the next evening and sniffed around and looked for some handouts but got none and his lean body scampered away. Oliver and Henry were elated to have been approached by a wild Dingo!!! We built a better house and stayed dry the next night. There were plenty of Dingo tracks the next morning telling us that they returned to see if we left any peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the sand. We took a dip in the idyllic Lake MacKenzie and headed back to the mainland. We didn’t have much sun but the overcast and windy atmosphere lent itself to the wild and uninhabited nature of this island and what life must have always been like along this windswept coast. While we waited for the ferry, we passed the time looking at slideshows from the earlier part of our trip trying to keep the memories alive in our heads and especially for the boys. The number of images, places, languages, music, vegetation and animal life must be so intertwined in their minds. To help, we play the “JFA game” where Peter asks questions such as, “Where were we when we saw the Blue Mosque?” or “What city did we eat chocolate crepes in?” or “Where did we sleep in a bivouac?” or “Which country did you drink peach juice every day?”

We were only 9 days into our driving adventure and had seen some beautiful scenery and animals. We couldn’t wait to see what else Queensland had to offer us as we traveled further north into the Tropics.

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