Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sand, sand, sand (Australia: Fraser Island/Noosa: 7-10 July 2007) Written 10/11 July 2007

It's a strange feeling to realize that I've only been on this country/continent for a week. Certainly feels a lot longer due to REALLY long days.

Saturday was a relaxing day. Got up early by my standards - sleep-in for Fiona and Graeme - and headed down to ride the horses. Jim, Fiona's horse, was being grumpy thus I chose to not ride for very long at all. Then, Graeme and I went for a bike ride - first around Anstead Park, where it transitioned from concrete to dirt track to asphalt. Got a great view of Brisbane River and saw some prickly pear cactus. Then we drove down to a service road next to a water pipe and road along there; my notoriously horrible bike-riding skills had improved somewhat since Graeme and Fiona took me on a bike ride in Takayama, Japan. It was great.

Headed back home, got hamburgers for lunch, because we had had a discussion earlier as to what is appropriate to put into hamburgers; they insisted that pineapple and beetroot were essential components of a delicious burger - so I had to try! Verdict: could go either way on the pineapple, and beetroot is goooood. Had a nap then headed to meet Josie and Gareth, who would be my new parents for the next few days.

After splitting up with Fiona and Graeme (really didn't want to say bye so quickly; I could have stayed there for a very long time...) we went down to cliffs by the river where people rockclimb and absail. From there we took a walk and made a loop crossing the Goodwill Bridge, around Southbank, and back on another bridge, getting great twilight views of Brisbane. It's a visually pleasing city, small, a very compact skyline, actually quite cute, with lots of bridges. Drove around the CBD (Central Business District), popped by West End, the bohemian dining/nightlife area, went home, and made a delicious dinner.

Sunday morning we headed out at 7am for Fraser Island. Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world. I had first heard of Fraser Island when I saw a documentary about it on TV several years ago - the beach and colors of the ocean made me basically want to go to Australia. A 4hr drive brought us to Hervey Bay where we took the 45 minute ferry across to the island. We were staying at the posh Kingfisher Bay Resort but oh well, we have to splurge sometimes.

The first day I took the 3.3km loop walk from the resort – about 1.2km up there is the Northern Cliffs lookout, a beautiful view over the aquamarine waters. This turns into the Beerrillbee track which goes through a few different vegetation changes, from ferns to scrub to tall eucalypts. The amount and diversity of birdlife in the area so close to the resort was astonishing.

We enjoyed the sunset from the beach and had dinner. Afterwards, we joined in on the Night Walk which was a short stroll around the resort grounds but again, with a good variety of wildlife. Heaps of flying foxes, and a few sugar gliders; lucky for us, we actually got to see both species ‘flying’ across the trees. Then, we went to visit a golden trapdoor spider, probably about 3cm long; these spiders live in small holes that they dig out in the ground, and when prey walk by, creating vibrations, they jump out and attack – their venom is strong enough to kill a grown man within hours. The spider came out twice to bite the stick we were using, and as expected, we all were impressed. We also saw a tiny frog, about 2cm.

On the 9th, we hired a 4WD for the day. In the morning, I went on a birdwalk and saw about 20 species, including gorgeous colored lorikeets, several species of honeyeaters, and an azure kingfisher. We went first to Lake Mackenzie, in an attempt to get there without any other tourists there; we were handsomely rewarded, as indeed, there were 2 other people there, lazing on the impossibly white sand, gazing at the water that goes from clear to light blue to turquoise to a deep blue azure. It was indescribably beautiful. We then headed to Lake Wabby, walking down several hundred meters to a lookout where you could see the green waters and the sandblows surrounding it, before we headed for the Eastern Beach.

The Eastern Side of the island is famous for 75-Mile Beach; soft fine golden sand, with no debris or any footprints of human contamination, waves breaking all the way down as far as you can see. Going along the coast with the 4WD, I spotted whales off the coast, just a few, blowing out water through their holes, but no breaching. It is impossible to drive on the beach 2 hours either side of high tide, so we had to turn back before getting to the northern tip of the island, but it was an incredible drive. We headed back inland at Eurong Beach after having a horribly processed unnatural meal, and headed to Central Station.

Central Station is the remains of the old logging industry that existed on Fraser island for 130 years. Quite an amazing feat, considering that the trees here, the satinay, palms, and everything else, grow directly out of sand! There is no nutrient-rich soil on Fraser; the fauna has adapted to be able to survive and grow in sand, which provides no nutrients at all – rainforest plants thrive as they create their own rain, trapping evaporating liquid in their canopies. Nature is awe-inspiring.

We walked along the boardwalk, with towering jungle all around us, down to Pile Valley. We then headed back to Lake Mackenzie, where we realized that our morning stopover was a good idea for two reasons; not only were there a few dozen people at the lake now, the sunlight was diminishing and the spectacular hues had now disappeared. Despite being the middle of winter and very cold water, I ventured in – and quickly ventured back out!

We returned back to the resort and had a relatively quiet evening. What I realized is that there is so much more to see and do on Fraser that my visit certainly didn’t do it justice. However, since my current trip is a whirlwind tour of the East Coast of Australia, that’s the best I could do, especially considering I didn't really know how realistic facilities regarding camping, cooking, hiking, etc. were. However, I know now that I can go back with a tent, possibly not even get a vehicle at all, and slowly trudge my way through the sand to get to all the other beautiful spots on Fraser.

On the 10th, I did a 2.5 hour walk back up to the lookout, over to Duwonga Creek; this walk was incredible, a good view over to the tall eucalypt trees across the path, with plenty of short ferns growing along the ground. You emerge down at a creek almost on the beach, and I treaded alongside dingo tracks to get back to the beachfront of the resort. I went back on the Beerilbee track, this time with binoculars to see more of the birdlife.

We headed back to Hervey Bay, and whilst on the boat we saw a pod of dolphins breaching just next to the boat in the green water! Breathtaking sight.

From Hervey Bay we headed back towards Brisbane, making a stop at Noosa Heads. I cannot explain how much I loved this place; it felt like home. It very much reminded me of California, but just a bit different; the crashing waves on the cliffs, surfers in the water, the cafes and smoothie bars leading up to the cliffs, the vegetation; pandanus and banksia trees along the track hugging the cliffs – it reminded me of the Paseo Miramar hike I used to do often in Malibu and it was absolutely stunning. We walked about 2 hours round trip to get to Hell’s Gates, an inlet along the stone cliff where the waves crash in with such force that they create a white froth.

We arrived back in Brisbane exhausted from the 3 days of beautiful views of coastline, lakes, and rainforest. Excellent experience.

This morning, I was meant to take a 7.15am flight to Melbourne from Brisbane. We got up at 5am to get to the airport in time, I was standing in line with my bags to check-in, and as I got closer to the terminal, I realized that the tiny screens above the check-in were saying that my flight had been cancelled. No announcements, no flight attendant asking me what flight I was in line for before directing me. Umm…so, nobody actually knew why the flight was cancelled but I was made to stand in a separate line for about half an hour before I was at the desk. The lady working told me to put my bags on for check-in before she even told me what my new flight details were. When I asked, she said I would now be flying to Canberra an hour and a half later, then connect to Melbourne. Instead of arriving at 9.40am, I would be getting in at 1.05pm. I of course complained and asked if there was no other way to get direct to Melbourne, she said no, and told me that I would be given a credit shell – basically company credit towards a future flight. I was then sent to the service desk so that I could call Susan in Melbourne to let her know I would be late. When I asked about the possibility of meal vouchers, they sent a supervisor who said no, then I wanted to ask a question about the credit shell then they decided that they in fact were not going to give me the credit shell. I pointed out that it was their mistake for telling me they were going to give me the credit in the first place then they agreed to give me the credit. No meals though. So now I’m on the plane to Melbourne, 3.5 hours late.

Oh well.

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