The last leg of my Australian adventure
28.10.2010 - 30.11.2010 30 °C
Bid a sad farewell to Sydney and flew to Cairns for some warmth and sunshine. Met Dan (crazy Canadian guy) and Jennifer (English) at supper on the first night at the hostel. Jennifer and I took the Skyrail to Kuranda next day - a 7.5Km ski lift affair over the rainforest and river gorges of Barron Gorge National Park - pretty scary stuff - daughter Hannah knows how good I am at ski lifts! We took a lovely riverside walk at Kuranda and then walked through the town before catching the train back into Cairns, down the mountainside. The engineering needed to cut the line through the mountains was incredible but the frontiersmen were driven by the promise of gold in the outback beyond the coast.
We had a lady in our room who could have won world snoring competitions, so Jennifer and I managed to move ourselves to another room which we had in splendid isolation - great! This is one of the hazards of dorm rooms but most times it's pretty bearable with good earplugs.
It was another early start for our trip up to Cape Tribulation. Our first stop was on the Daintree River where we went crocodile spotting. Felt a bit cheated as we only found really tiny babies and no real monsters. We then had a walk through the rainforest and were lucky enough to encounter a family of Cassowarys which are the weirdest bird you will ever see - a cross between a peacock and a turkey. After lunch at Cape Tribulation and a walk on the beautiful beach, we headed back along the coast to Mossman Gorge and then Port Douglas which is a lovely, affluent resort town with a beautiful church which has a picture window behind the alter, looking out into the bay.
November in the north started with the most fantastic day on the Great Barrier Reef. I am terrible on boats but it had to be done!! It took nearly three hours to get out to Fitzroy Island and then on to the outer Moore Reef where we had our own pontoon for diving. Some people were sick on the journey but I was fine. After getting kitted out with snorkel, mask and flippers I set off swimming to the outer limit of the reef where there was a sheer drop into the depths of the ocean. Every film you have ever seen of coral reefs are true - the variety of fish and corals is astounding. Fish varied so much in size and colour and the different corals were breathtaking - literally! All I kept thinking was "What a lucky cow I am to be witnessing all of this natural beauty". After a sumptuous lunch on board, I took the glass-bottom boat trip to search for turtles. I just had to snorkel again and spent more than an hour just tripping out on the sheer beauty of nature. Towards the end of the afternoon, I was talking to our helicopter pilot and he offered to take me back to Cairns at half the normal fare - how could I refuse! After getting loaded up in the helicopter, the pilot took me out over the reef again, really low so that we could spot even more turtles. It then took just half an hour to get back to Cairns - a great improvement on the three hours of potential seasickness! This was the most memorable day in Australia so far.
On my last day in Cairns I went inland to the Atherton Tablelands to see magnificent trees and wildlife in Crater Lakes National Park. I went canooing on Lake Tinaroo where we saw kangaroos, water dragons and kingfishers but no platypus or snakes. We painted each others faces with ocre from the river, just as the aboriginals used to do. We then drove back to Cairns for the long wait for my midnight Greyhound bus south to Bowen and my first work for some time.
For two weeks, I helped manage about ten horses at a riding school where the owner, Pam, competes at State level in Dressage competitions. Each early morning (6:00am) I would bring horses in from the paddocks, feed and water them and get them prepared for being ridden. Of course, there was also loads of mucking out and general 'stable management', along with being stamped on by one of the more naughty horses. Pam was away for the first weekend so her parents invited me to go cattle mustering with them, first on a quad bike and then on horseback - what a fantastic experience. While we were rounding up the cattle on Rod's huge cattle station, we saw a brown snake in the grass and my horse was very keen to get away as quickly as possible! I managed to stay on while he danced around for a few minutes - scary stuff as brown snakes are very poisonous and I didn't want to get any nearer to it!
After my two weeks, I left on the Greyhound for another overnight drive south to Agnes Water where I joined about 30 other people to spend the afternoon on a 'hog' motorbike. This may be the closest I come to my dream of riding a Harley! After being kitted out in leathers, helmets and temporary tattoos (my one said 'Love Hurts'), we were shown how to ride the bikes. I drove straight into a bush, much to everyone's amusement. I just couldn't get the hang of riding slowly round corners and was told off for going too fast!! The culmination of the 60Km ride was watching the sunset over a tiny bay called 1770 - the year it was discovered. The ride back to base was pretty scary as everyone was trying to go as fast as possible - all of 80Kph!!
I finally arrived at Brisbane after yet another very long Greyhound trip and contacted friend Cilla who was good enough to put me up for my last days in Australia. I was walking through the city early Saturday morning (20th November) and it transpired that there was to be a huge 'Welcome Home' parade for Aussie troops returning from Afghanistan. The most moving part of the parade was the riderless horses with helmets on the saddle and boots facing backwards - symbolising the fallen men. There were hundreds of people lining the streets, waving flags and cheering as the troops passed. I had lunch in the beautiful City Botanic Gardens then walked over Goodwill Bridge and along the Boardwalk and City Beach. The river has become the lifeblood of Brisbane and is well used with cheap ferries taking people from on end of the city to the other.
Cilla drove us north through Glasshouse Mountains for a day at Australia Zoo; Steve Irwin's legacy to the world after his untimely death by stingray! I'm not particularly keen on zoos but was won over by the koalas and kangaroos - still haven't seen a platypus. The weather in Brisbane has been very warm and sunny, giving me the opportunity to spend a lot of time walking through the city, looking at the historical buildings along the river. Monday evening, I met up with Margie who I had met in Vietnam, and her 35 ladies of Hash House Harriers. This is an international organisation for runners (and walkers!). We spent the evening running along the river's edge and the cliffs of Kangaroo Point, seeing the city lit up like downtown New York. I also saw a young guy landing a baby shark that had managed to swim right up to the city. Next day, Cilla took me to Mount Koo-tha Lookout for drinks whilst looking over the entire basin that is Brisbane and its suburbs - lovely.
Thursday saw the beginning of The Ashes test match at The Gabba and I was ready with my sunscreen, baggy green hat and loads of water! Beer doesn't get served until 10:00am and then it's just a constant flow until 5:00pm - who said the Aussies don't give a XXXX! As I was walking around the stadium to my entrance, I saw the England team practicing in the nets - KP, Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood and Matt Prior. It was such a shock when Strauss was out for a duck 3rd ball - the Aussies around me just loved it but they were all very good-humoured, as were the Brits although the Barmy Army was very quiet. When Siddel got his hat-trick, the stands just about erupted.
Cilla and I both went to the cricket on Sunday. This time, I saw Collingwood, James Anderson, Stewart Broad and Trott in the nets, just a few feet away from me - good fun. It was a cloudy day so we didn't have to worry about the sun. Strauss redeemed himself with 110 and the rest of the day was pretty slow so we got home early enough to see the end of play on television. It was a fabulous experience to be at the ground but you see far more on TV - even Warnie's new hair. I watched the last day at the YHA in the city as I needed to get up really early for my flight to New Zealand and my meeting with daughter Hannah.
Australia has been the most incredible experience - such diverse geography, climate and people in different regions. I loved it all and met some great people who I will definitely keep in touch with. Apart from The Great Barrier Reef, there is no way that I can isolate any part of the four months to say it was better - it was all GREAT in so many different ways.