It’s almost Friday midnight as we hurtle down the twinkling runway and up into an ebony sky, chasing summer 12,500 km around the world to the ‘Land Down Under’; where tomorrow has already gone to bed.
Our lodging is at the Sydney Youth Hostel. Yes, I know that may seem strange but we couldn’t seem to find an ‘oldth’ hostel. The odd structure is built over an open archaeological excavation called the ‘Big Dig’, with remnants of more than thirty British convict buildings dating back to the 1790’s. The hostel’s rooftop deck offers vistas over one of the world’s greatest harbors and the jaw-dropping Sydney Opera House.
Eagerly unpacking, Christine and I collect our legs for a walk to try and adjust to our new time zone. We ferry across bustling Sydney Harbor to the beach-side suburb of Manly, but our walkabout is abbreviated by a bitter slashing wind that has my hands shaking like a mad pianist pummeling a keyboard!
Returning across the harbor past the Heads, huge waves slam against the ferry sending them over the top of the boat and soaking all those seated outside; including ourselves. Panic sets in as people struggle to get back inside the rockin’ and rollin’ boat. Safely but soggily ashore, our teeth are chattering like a Gatling gun and we’re hell-bent for a hot shower, with a plan to test the capacity of the Hostels hot water tank!
Today begins with a chilly run over the soaring steel arced bridge to explore the surrounds, before rejoining Christine for a yoga class up on the hostels roof. Later, we meet up with a fellow from Sydney Greeters who has agreed to show us the city. Standing outside on the bow of a fast catamaran in the wind, we’re grinning like a dog with its head out the car window. After stopping at Watson Bay we continue on for a clifftop walk that leads us past Lady Bay to the dramatic entrance to Sydney’s harbor, known as ‘The Gap’.
After boating back to the city we walk to Miller point, Nurses Walk, and Barangaroo. Having now worked up an appetite and knowing Aussies love to swill and grill, the three of us stop to grill our own barbeque lunch at the funky Phillips Foote Restaurant; aghast by the outright robbery that would make even a pirate blush. Yes, the evidence of Australia’s convict past is clearly reflected in the felonious pricing. It’s $8 for a beer, $20 for a salad, and if you’re considering any animal flesh, you had best be prepared to sell an internal organ or two! I’m certain their distant criminal relatives are proudly applauding from their graves!
While sauntering six kilometers of shoreline splendor on the famed Bondi to Coogee clifftop coastal walk today, Christine and I pass by bodies tanned the color of tea wearing a minimum of textiles sprinkled over the blonde sand, along with a collection of unusual art works courtesy of a ‘Sculpture by the Sea’ display. We have ourselves a chuckle on Tamarama Beach when coming to a humongous sculpted rhinoceros partially buried in the sand; lying on its back with horn and hooves reaching heavenward.
After strolling avenues of Hyde Park, we cross over the iconic Harbour Bridge to Wendy’s Secret Garden in Lavender Bay. The tucked away garden is a former rubbish dump that was converted by a resident into a place of enchantment where birds now love to sit and chatter amid the bamboo, flowers and towering trees. Overhead, a stunt pilot is cleverly skywriting the word ‘Aussie’ across an empty blue sky.
Randomly exploring today, we find ourselves in an inner-city area called Woolloomooloo. ‘O’ dear; it appears the aboriginals must have been smoking some wacky-tobaccy out of their digeridoos when coming up with this voluminous voweled gem. Carrying on we reach the sprawling Botanic Gardens and stop at ‘Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair’ for a stellar view across the harbor to the dramatically designed Opera House. Finally, we introduce our bums to chairs in the Lord Nelson Brewery; a cool old pub built 175 years ago out of convict quarried stone.
During our seven days in Sydney we’ve logged over 20 kilometers walking each day, in addition to taking advantage of the sophisticated train system to visit the outlying areas of Enmore, Newtown, Paramatta. We also visit Cabramatta, known as ‘Little Saigon’, and plunk ourselves down for a wonderful bowl of Pho approximately the size of a manhole cover. We love Sydney, but tomorrow we’re moving on.
After a jerky flight this morning we arrive in Adelaide totally blown away; well, almost. Outside the airport we’re buffeted by a Herculean pant-flapping gale requiring a 45 degree lean into it to make any progress. Apparently Adelaide missed out on the memo that winter’s weather is supposed to be over. Even locals are aghast by the strongest winds here in over a quarter of a century! Rubbing the gale’s grit from our eyes, we bus into town to seek out our accommodation at Miller Apartments.
My day begins with a nippy run along the Torrens River, introducing myself to paddling black swans and pelicans. Christine and I then cycle a riverside path lined with stately red gum trees to the sprawling sands and protruding piers of Henley Beach; stopping to try and gather warmth whenever the sun uncloaks itself in this th-awful weather. Our route is alive with bird-speak, including murderous screams right out of a horror movie, courtesy of the profusion of beautiful but cacophonous white cockatoos.
Today is the Melbourne Cup and a banner day for Aussie bars, with Adelaidian women parading about in awkward hats and alien-looking headpieces stuck to the sides of their heads like half an off-kilter earmuff. It’s time to move on, and with “Wind-elaide” minimizing in the rear view mirror, we chase the sun further north towards the wine-famous Barrosa Valley.
Outside the town of Tanunda we locate the 20 acre Blickinstal Barossa Valley Retreat and our funky cabin in the vineyards. The area is genuinely gorgeous and we have the extra bonus of an obliging sun beaming down from a faded denim sky.
After dinner in the neighbouring village of Angaston, we drive up a gravel track for an Aussie sunset that doesn’t disappoint. Jersey cows and sheep congregate below in huge fields of lavender as the suns red orb crawls down over the horizon. A fox darts past, and above is the jarring squawk of parrots and pink cockatoos, beating the hell out of the sky with their wings as they flap back to their roosts for the night.
Our intriguing morning alarm clock is some vocally versatile magpies, sounding somewhat like a warbling xylophone. All is good, but after a couple of days, and still looking for our first kangaroo sighting, I say to Christine, ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could spot one near the vineyards’. Ten minutes later, as if by magic, we witness a hoptical illusion. My request is granted when one rears up to inspect us from between the rows of grapes and the soft afternoon light illuminating both the kangaroo and green/gold vineyard is enchanting.
Locals have told us we can see lots more ‘roos’, as they are called here, in nearby Kaiserstuhl Conservation Park, so we arrive the next day at sunrise and are the only humans in the park. In minutes we spot the kangaroos, including maternal ones with curious, and not so little joeys peeking out a pouch.
The monstrous marsupials are a confusing conglomeration. They have a head like a deer; stand upright like a man; and hop like a frog! With lovely licorice eyes and fashion model eyelashes they look quite innocent, but their preposterously oversized hind feet, making Michael Jordan’s sneakers seem like baby-booties, are capable of delivering a bone-breaking kick if the ‘roo’ happens to be in a dim frame of mind. These pogo poster boys also seem licensed to carry small arms, with tiny Thalidomide looking front arms that pale in comparison to their humongous back legs and a muscular T-Rex size tail acting as a fifth leg.
Venturing too close to a family of the laughable jumble of limbs, a huge alpha male suddenly postures up on its rear legs, and putting the mean in demeanor, thrusts his chest out flexing substantial pec muscles. Now at eyeball to eyeball height, he radiates an unmistakable ‘one more step and I’ll hurt you’ glare, so I quickly back off giving the cantankerous bad boy his space, deciding there are far better ways to get my kicks!
Parrots seemingly beak out joyous applause from the treetops for the posturing kangaroo, while two Kookaburras also seeming to consider this encounter hysterical, raucously mocking me with a demented and maniacal ‘hohoho – hahaha’ laugh that one might associate with an inmate busting out of an insane asylum! Amid the feathered taunting a spiny anteater, looking like a comical cross between a porcupine and Pinocchio, noses on past with nothing to add.
Next, we drive to the Whispering Wall at the end of the Barossa Reservoir, where a 36 meter high curved cement retaining wall holds back the pressure of the dam’s water. It is said that even when whispering against the wall, it can be clearly heard 140 meters away from one side to the other; and after trying this for ourselves, we can confirm the statements validity!
The Barossa Valley is clearly the cherry on the bejeweled cake of Adelaide, but it’s time for a flight north to Cairns. After collecting a rental car, a serious splattering of bugs turns the windshield into a memorial of their martyrdom by colorfully painting it with their exotic corpses as we cruise along the slate-grey ribbon of road called the Cook Highway; the only thing separating the rainforest from the reef.
Stopped for a driving break to stretch our legs on a stunning beach, we’re surprised to see a dolphin gracefully swimming by close to shore as if offering a welcoming. At the Lazy Lizard Motel in Port Douglas we unpack and make our way to the gorgeous Four Mile Beach, with vibrantly plumaged rainbow lorikeets hopping about in flamboyant red Poinciana trees. The only disappointment is the numerously posted warning signs banning swimming due to an influx of the evil jellyfish known as ‘stingers’.
At dawn today a cloud of giant fruit bats the size of crows flap along in our car headlights, escorting us out of town on our drive to Daintree National park. Said to be the earth’s oldest tropical rainforest, the thriving greenery contains more than the total number of tree species in the whole of North America and Europe combined! Our car is loaded on a small open ferry and electronically winched across a river into the park.
Dangerously anorexic roads in the Daintree leave no margin for error, and interestingly are signed to use caution because of the legendary Cassowarys. This solitary throwback lives in Australia’s remaining rain-forests and is known as the world’s most dangerous bird. After several short hikes trying to spot one, we give up and continue on to Cape Tribulation.
We pass skinny cane trains hauling cut cane to be burnt into sugar at the factory on our way to again search for the Cassowary in the rainforest of Mossman Gorge. Access to the Gorge is blocked by a gate that will not be opened until 8 a.m., but keen to get started, we trudge 2 ½ km up a side road for an illicit foray into the deserted area a couple of hours early.
We follow a river tumbling over granite boulders in the gorge, amid a surrounding forest rife with gigantic ferns, strangler figs, and tree swallowing vines. With no fashion police in the jungle, I’ve optimistically donned a red trimmed ball cap and matching red necktie, going into Cassowary doppelganger mode in hopes of attracting one of the elusive feathered giants with my infinite charm and sense of style!
Slaloming through the Survivor-ish setting, Christine lags several paces behind. Perhaps her reasoning is a potential encounter with the dangerous bird, but more likely, to disassociate herself from the flamboyant avian-wannabe hopscotching through the jungle in front of her! Regrettably, there are still no Cassowary sightings today, only two Bush Turkeys; or three counting ‘Mr. GQ’, stylishly bedecked in the cap and tie!
Tempted by a clearer than crystal and croc-free pool in the river, I can’t resist taking a dip. A Boyd Forest Lizard gazes on with immense interest while concealed birds make peculiar noises from somewhere up in the curtain of vines in this pristine 400 million year old rainforest.
Back in Port Douglas we look at booking a snorkeling trip to the Great Barrier Reef tomorrow, but the price is ridiculously expensive and the boat far too crowded for my liking. Oh yes, and my desire to go swimming always diminishes with the possibility of leaving this planet as lunch!
In these waters there is the very real prospect of a meeting up with a terrifying Great White Shark, also known here as “the man in a grey suit”; always eager to sink its 300 pearly whites into anything with a pulse that should happen to enters its pond!
A more likely concern is the ‘stingers’, as even these venomous beyond reason Box and Irukandji jellyfish seem to have caught the ‘we hate humanity’ virus. Their sting can cause cardiac arrest, leaving about three minutes before becoming unconscious, unable to breathe, paralyzed, and communicating with eye blinks. Apparently, jellyfish have killed more people in Australia than stonefish, sharks and crocodiles combined!
Now, while I may possibly force myself to come to grips with the above mentioned evil entities eager to maim or kill, there is a far more serious show-stopper! Due to the stinger danger, it’s mandatory on the boat for anybody entering the water to wear a ‘stinger suit’. This outfit is a poofy-looking, head-to-toe Lycra body suit that comes in only two Day-Glo colors; an appalling fuchsia-pink or a heinous lime-green.
To me, paddling about all pimped out like a garish colossal condom is about as appealing as submitting to a waterboarding session at Guantanamo Bay. Adding in the fact that Christine is in possession of a camera, no judicious risk assessment is required for me to forgo this ludicrous aqua fiasco.
Today happens to be my birthday, and grateful to be over the hill than under it, my morning begins with some heavy breathing with my lungs breathing in the fresh sunrise, and my feet groping sand during a run along Four Mile Beach. Returning to Mossman for lunch, I treat my face to a beet-root laced vegie burger large enough to choke a hippopotamus and by light years, the healthiest ‘glamburger’ my choppers have ever masticated on.
Back in Port Douglas we drop in for happy hour to a luxurious waterfront bar called Barbados where we take off our shoes and sprawl out in a plush, bed-like booth, blessed by the breeze of the largest oscillating fans we’ve ever. As the day begins to turn dark and the drinks sliding down far too easily, we start moving into dangerous territory and it takes considerable effort to pry ourselves out of there.
Attracted by aromas wafting out of Bel Cibo on Macrossan Street, we order up a dinner of Barramundi with grapes, handmade gnocchi with muscatel, pine nuts, and lemon-burnt butter that has the flavours tap-dancing on our tongues. Seated outside on the balcony, the twilight sky is further darkened when hundreds of screeching lorikeets fly past and land in an immense tree on the street in front of us.
The absurd volume of bird squawk from this implausible Hitchcockian scene makes table talk difficult, but it does create a birthday shout out like none other! Halfway through dinner the gargantuan gathering of feathers hushes up, as giant-winged fruit bats begin wooshing past in a search for food of their own.
Just when we think it would be impossible for the evening to get any more bizarre, we learn that the United States has just elected Donald Trump as president! This shockingly scary scenario has us giving our passports a little hug, so happy to be Canadian. Most definitely today is a birthday we won’t forget!
Today, crouched in front of a scenic old cane shed on the seashore I’m waiting for the sun’s first rays to take a photo, when I am suddenly presented with a different kind of ray, as a stingray hurls itself from the sea and glides through the air a few feet away. Who knew these water pancakes could fly? In any case, it offers an interesting start to our last day here in Port Douglas; the ‘twitter capital’ of Austrailia.
Bound for the Atherton Tablelands we pass an attractive viewpoint and stop around the next corner in a parking area to walk back for a photo. Enjoying our view, I suddenly have an uneasy premonition about all our gear in the car. I rush back, and luckily it’s just in time to thwart a car robbery, as two bad guys quickly jump back in their van, spewing gravel in their wake as they hastily speed away. A seriously close call and we’re overcome with relief in avoiding a calamitous outcome.
Continuing on towards Mareeba we drive through a 30 km stretch of fields with a mind-blowing number of termite mounds the size of sheep. Funny enough, the first building we come to entering town is called the Ant Hill Hotel. In Atherton Tablelands we are delighted to reach the charming little town of Yungaburra.
After checking in to our cabin we immediately begin a hike in pursuit of the elusive platypus rumored to inhabit a creek nearby. We spot bubbles coming up to the surface of the muddy creek and what emerges is a hot mess looking like the extended toe of a black gumboot, followed by two beady little eyes. Our jaws sag in amazement as we’ve actually stumbled upon a duck-billed platypus feeding in the creek. I’m so excited that trying to capture a picture I slip down the river bank plonking both feet into mud up over my ankles.
This cartoon-mess looks as if it was designed in a pub and assembled from a box of leftover bits and pieces. It is wrong in every way; with the tail of a beaver, the fur of an otter, web feet, and a duck’s bill stitched on its face. The oddball also lays eggs like a bird, walks on its knuckles on ground, hunts via electricity, and can deliver excruciating venom from a claw on its ankles. Well, of course it can; here in Oz everything is armed!
As we silently creep further along the Peterson Creek Track, panicky Water Dragon Lizards leap into the water, joining a couple of large serrated snapping turtles that apparently have a fierce bite and can breathe through their butts! Again, we would expect no less from the wacky Australian wildlife!
On a visit to the Nerada Tea Factory we stroll through nearby woods looking up in the trees for any timid tree kangaroos known to frequent the area. I tell Christine to look out for a long tail hanging down that looks like a dog’s. Sacrilegiously fumbling with her iPhone and not closely attending my words, she responds with a start, ‘they eat dogs?’. ‘Why yes honey’, I tell her with a healthy dose of smart-assery, ‘and I believe they have a preference for greyhounds’! Call me callous, but I simply cannot restrain myself.
Sure enough, we spot one of the portly, wooly-furred fellows curled up in a tree. He seems quite content to just snooze, so we just let him be and sit down for tea. On the way back to the car we have an entertaining encounter in the same woods with a playful and photogenic wild Sulphur-crested cockatoo. It begins flirting with us by getting up close and personal with the camera, but when I try to stroke him, his large yellow head feathers stand up like fingers and a horrid squawk rings out like the sound of an unoiled hinge.
In Curtain Fig National Park is a giant 500 year old strangler fig tree with aerial roots hanging down like a giant curtain. A surrounding boardwalk is designed to protect the tree from people, and people from nearby Gympie-Gympie bushes; the world’s deadliest plant. Its stems and leaves are covered in fine hairs that if touched, are said to be akin to being burnt with hot acid and electrocuted at the same time!
Another name for this vegetal horror is the ‘Suicide Bush’; as one unlucky bastard who used a leaf for ‘toilet purposes’ was in so much pain he shot and killed himself! Also, horses are known to run themselves to death if touching up against it. Yes Sir, there is no doubt about it, Australia has butt-clenching peril ready to ruin someone’s day oozing out of every corner; even in the form of a stationary bush!
Next stop is a campground at Etty Beach, to once again search for the elusive Cassowary. Wandering down a path toward the beach, the unthinkable suddenly happens and one of the fearsome feathered creatures struts out of the bush right in front of us! It stops to gobble up a few berries off the ground and swallow stones to aid in the digestion. The berries contain arsenic, which perhaps accounts for the birds’ perpetually pissed off look, telegraphing a ‘don’t fuck with me or I’ll peck out your eyeballs’ glare.
This preposterous-looking flightless behemoth grows over six feet tall including the large bone helmet on its head, and is one of those beasts that probably should have been wiped out with the dinosaurs, but somehow missed the memo! With my stomach fidgeting inside me, I snap off a few pictures and change direction to veer out of its way; but it begins to follow me. Powered by scaly legs attached to its vast three-toed feet with dagger-like claws capable of disemboweling enemies, it has an odd strut with backward bending knees.
However, even as a runner for almost forty years, I still don’t want the dinosaur descendant in pursuit, as they are capable of running up to 50 km per hour! My heart is racing, and with palpable purpose I again circle away from the silent assassin. Then, as quickly as the enigma appeared it is gone; having ghosted back into the rain forest, leaving Christine and I flabbergasted by what just happened.
Relating our cross-species drama to the campground owner, she tells us the territorial colossuses often attack intruders, even if unprovoked; and if unable to find a victim to bully, the formidable and fearless set of feathers are even known to attack cars should they see their own reflection. She tells us that once a Cassowary came after her, and when she locked herself inside one of the cabins, the queen of mean went berserk ramming the walls with its bone helmet trying to get at her.
She also tells us about another occasion when a woman who left her cabin door open got trapped in the shower when a Cassowary with a Goldilocks complex wandered in and laid down atop her comfortable bed. Lunging at her every time she tried to get out of the shower, the villain kept the terrified lady prisoner in her shower for three hours! Yes, this Darwinian-defying ‘bonehead’ is meaner than a three day hangover, and gives a true sense of what was wandering the planet 65 million years ago!
Elated with our rare encounter we drive on towards Babinda Boulders, passing reoccurring billboards on the highway advertising for an auto accident and injury lawyer named Splatt. We chuckle at the amazing appropriateness of the 1-800-Splatt phone number on the signs. Babinda is surrounded by the rainforest setting of Wooroonooran World Heritage National Park, and we stop for a meander along a creek rushing between spectacular water-worn granite rocks up to four meters high; pebbles these are not!
Our next layover is in a suburb of Cairns called Freshwater, at Tabu Bed and Breakfast. The owner Mark is a professional landscaper, and the property’s stunning garden just shouts lushness. Showing us our detached cabin, his wife Farley says ‘you have a gecko over the bed, and a frog in your closet, is it OK’? Now that is something we have never been asked that before while checking in! We inform her that yes, they are indeed welcome to stay as they’re fun to watch, and might also prove helpful in tongue-slapping any intrusive bugs.
After dinner at the oddly named ‘Siam Orchid Spicy’ in nearby Stratford, we return to find sticking to our outdoor bathroom wall, a humongous green frog more than twice the size of our original closet dweller. Closing up the windows for the night, it’s time for our first little roomie to come out of the closet, so I sock up and deftly grab ahold of him; squeezing just firm enough to stop his hop while escorting ‘his-greenness’ outside to bug munch with his Goliath web-toed brother.
After a voluminous breakfast serenaded with ribbiting frogs, we begin driving north and see a sign for Yorkies Knob. Curiosity diverts us into the little coastal suburb but it turns out to be a bust, and we are left pondering the helium-heads who would disgrace a place by naming it after a terrier’s penis.
Continuing the corner cluttered road to Kuranda, known as ‘Village in the Rainforest’, we hike in to Barron Falls before driving back. Trying to find our Zen in the swimming pool at Tabu, the lay-about is not lengthy, as despite a lathering of lotion the searing sun soon has our skin blushing.
Tonight’s dinner is inside a turn of the century rail car at the Freshwater Railway Station. In the romantic elegance of the throwback train we enjoy not only having the whole car to ourselves but the entire train, and our dining car is the MacArthur Car, named after the General who actually rode in it back in the day.
After a flight to the Gold Coast, we pack our bags into a rental SUV and drive to the tiny and hippyesque beach town of Byron Bay. It is overrun with a young crowd of bare-foot, dreadlocked, Woodstock wannabes; along with a tatted up teen surf crowd with hairdos like an angry cockatoo and facial appendages pierced with precious metals. Security operating the airport scanners must require earplugs to dim the noise whenever one of these metaled morons passes through!
Cape Byron lighthouse is officially Australia’s most easterly point and we’re able to watch a sunrise before almost anybody else on the planet. For lunch we decide to drive 70 km inland to a groovy little town of surprises called Nimbin, where familiar fumes dance in my nostrils as we approach the alternative commune. This, you see, is the cannabis capital of Australia!
Less than four hundred, the ‘Nimbinites’ are an eclectic crowd of pot-sozzled, grey haired mavericks that are so laid-back they’re almost horizontal. The village became of interest as the site of the Aquarius Festival in 1973, which left many of the residents ‘fuming’, and many have been here ever since.
The streets are awash in colorfully painted stores filled to the gills with smoking paraphernalia and hemp products. Hazy little cafes host patrons enjoying a joint, and unsurprisingly, banners aplenty are plastered about town calling for the legalization of Cannabis. Hemp, hemp hooray!
Main Street, and pretty much the only street, is a smoky avenue of frontier-style building facades including a feature building called the Hemp Embassy, where I briefly consider looking for ‘hemployment’ as a Canadian ambassador. After a fun afternoon we take an alternative route back that’s more goat-path than road, through the macadamia nut areas of Channon and Dunoon. Along the way we stop at a vibrant Jacaranda tree shedding flowered carpets of violet, so I can gather seeds to plant in our garden back home.
On the move again, we stop for breakfast in the attractive town of Yamba and are joined by a couple of sleek myna birds hopping around our table seeking any crumbs. The next few days we plan to spend ‘glamping’ at the Emerald Beach Campground, just south of Coffs Harbour. We are unsure of what awaits, as the cabin’s description states; ‘bathroom with toilet’. It seems a little scary when the management figures their best marketing feature is that guests don’t have to take a crap in the sink! The cabin is definitely rustic, but the beach is awesome and we’re feeling positive about the nature in the area.
Sulphur crested, pink, and red-tailed cockatoos have been abundant throughout our trip, and today we spot the beautiful yellow-tailed black ‘cockies’ while hiking up the ‘Look-At-Me-Now’ headlands. By the way, isn’t that a great name? Apparently back in the day, some young pompous British captain slipped and fell in the mud, angrily exclaiming ‘look at me now’; and like the mud, the name stuck.
Walking postcard perfect beaches along the 8 km Solitary Islands Costal Walk we stop to race small spiky tumbleweeds impelled by the wind, and on the way back stop in the town of Woolgoolga, which locals call Whoopie. Christine orders coffee, but I’m devastated to learn the Bottle O shop recently closed, meaning there’s no beer; a moment of silence please.
Lamenting my plight to Christine, one of the locals, witnessing me in the throes of intolerable grief, kindly offers a solution. ‘Come with me’ he says, ‘I’ll take you to a bottle shop and drop you back off’; so I jump into his Audi TT sports car and we blaze away on the trail of ale. After scoring a swell swill called Tooheys Old Dark Ale, we return to enjoy the both the ale and the friendly comradery of a couple of good old local boys.
Up a tree at the campground I spot a camouflaged Tawny Frogmouth; a bizarre looking owl with a bill that does indeed resembles a frog’s mouth, and also take some photos of a Kookaburra who turns out to be a bit of a poser. During our travels these raucous little mirth-magnets have been a constant source of yucks for us Canucks. On the beach it’s time for a little pose-athon of our own with the sinking sun’s salmon coloured sunset stretching our thirty foot silhouettes across the sand like warm taffy.
We’re cautious to avoid stinging Blue Bottle Jellyfish, and to ensure our toes are not introduced to any lurking Marble Cone Snails. Another of Australia’s deadly medley, this calcium cased escargot has a barbed harpoon-like spear that can inject venom even through a toenail! This innocent looking little badass has been responsible for 20 deaths in recent years; it would likely be more, but it’s only a dawdling mollusk!
Seriously people, we’re talking about a fucking snail! Yes, the Australian book of ‘Harmless Creatures’ is one slim volume indeed, with so many critters capable of playing the starring role in your obituary. Such a serious departure from our own country, known primarily for chattering ground squirrels and chipmunks!
With the pinkness of morning spreading, we again clamber up to the headlands to share the sunrise with the ‘roos’ and watch the ludicrous leapers skipping over the ground like a flat stone across water. This gobsmackingingly beautiful gem called Emerald Beach is by a country mile our favorite spot so far. However, still with more turf to tread, it’s time for us to make like the ‘roos’ and bounce.
Several hours later we arrive at our next stopover; Port Macquarie. Our B & B is outside of town, across the road from a caravan park with a BYOB restaurant. The ‘battered flathead ‘ on the menu catches our attention, and a quick check with the waitress confirms it’s not some type of recent roadkill, just an ugly fish that tastes far better than its unflattering name suggests.
Australia gives good beach, and the entire Gold Coast is a myriad of one unspoiled beach after another. Apparently, if you visit a new beach in Australia every day, it will take 27 years to visit them all! After hiking out to the lighthouse for sunrise we bus into town for a wander before deciding to walk back along the 9 km Costal Walk Path. It is said that adventure comes to those who walk and we can certainly confirm this today, after coming within inches of a near fatal blunder in the Land Down Under.
Walking a wide sidewalk near Flynn Beach, our eyes are in the trees following the endearing cackle of a Kookaburra. Our hurry is horrifyingly halted when Christine lets out a fearful shriek with her foot frozen midair, to avoid stepping down onto a sinewy four foot long, not-to-be-fucked-with Eastern Brown Snake!
Despite its tame name, this scaly menace is the second most venomous land snake in the world; responsible for 60% of deaths by snakebites in Australia. If not treated with anti-venom within 30 minutes, the ‘Da Vinci of Death’ will have you laying on a cold slab, dressed in nothing more than a toe-tag!
With my heart thudding up against my ribs, I seriously test my cameras optical stabilization feature with a couple of pictures of the toxic terror licking the air with its fiendishly forked viper tongue. Then, regaining possession of my mind, I race away at redline with my sandal soles in a major flap, attempting catch up to Christine already fleeing in an Olympic-worthy dash!
Trying to bring our heart rates down to a healthy human level, something rustles in the dry leaves beside us, and Christine, still unquestionably shaken, grabs my arm squeezing it like a hungry anaconda. Fortunately, the sound is only the reptilian scuttle of a large Goanna Monitor Lizard skittering back into the bush.
I’m afraid the ever-so-lucky Christine is finished with sightseeing on this walk, as with her edgy eyeballs now glued to ground her viewing options are reduced to the toes of her shoes! With the day only half over, we continue legging it back to town for a hefty splash of wine; and a possible change of underwear. Sharing the traumatic tale of our true ‘heart-in-mouth’ Aussie encounter, folks emphasize how fortunate she is that the cold-blooded killer didn’t make her part of hiss-tory. Today’s lunch will definitely be liquid!
Seriously folks: down here in the ‘Land of Venom’, there are hordes of silent assassins that walk, crawl, swim, or slither; all eager to provide an exit from existence should you venture within range. And here we are, a couple of tender fleshy bipeds from Canada; roaming about in the presence of peril with our soft unarmored skin, neatly clipped nails, tiny rounded teeth, and idiotically unsuitable non-poisonous spit!
It has indeed been an emotional day, but there is yet one more surprise! After looking so long for a wild koala, tonight the wildlife gods are kind. Out walking after dinner we spot not one, but two Koalas perched in separate eucalyptus trees about a block from our B & B. It’s difficult getting a good photo because their faces are partially hidden in the leafy branches, but suddenly one of the fuzzy-eared, glassy-eyed little tree-huggers lifts his big black nose towards the sky and makes a grunting sound like a little pig.
I try to imitate him in my best ‘pig-eese’ and sure enough, moving like molasses, the living-hug exposes his face as he peers dozily down over the branches at me; probably assessing my ‘koala-fications’. Ahhh yes, there’s a new Koala whisper in town. No question about it, these Koalas are right at the top of the cute-meter, and provide a perfect ending to an incredible twelve hours. From killer to Koala; a day for the ages!
On the move again, we visit the roo-ridden National Parks at Diamond Head and Crowdy Bay before a stop at Nelson Bay to explore the Stockton Sand Dunes and climb to the summit of Tomaree Head Lookout. Our day culminates in a romantic candle-lit outdoor spa with a little herb from Nimbin, as we steep like tea bags in the warmth of the tub with the jets swirling water and our tongues swirling Pinot Grigio; reducing us to two little puddles of contentment. Tomorrow we travel back to Sydney for the last three days of our trip.
After hikes to Manly and Mosman, Mother Nature suddenly appears to have her knickers in a knot, as she’s in a thunderous mood and lashing the sky with lightning. Perhaps this is an omen of the weather of gloom awaiting back home, something we are not looking forward to with anything approaching fervor! The frenzied drumming of raindrops on the windows is unquestionably a happiness-retardant, so my plan is to forfeit our last afternoon in Sydney by immersing myself in a good novel and a bottle of Zinfandel.
Dear Christine on the other hand, bless her little heart, suddenly becomes a magician and pulls an umbrella out of her suitcase, declaring she’s going to brave the elements and go out shopping. I should know better after 35 years of experience, but I foolishly I ask her to reconsider. This however is like trying to unscramble an omelet; it just isn’t going to happen. There is no weather on this planet capable of denying my darling diminutive diva’s quest to separate herself from her cash. I am left alone with my book; the wine helps.
With our exhilarating trip at an end, we feel that we’ve gone from survival to ‘thrival’ in checking this sun-drenched continent off our bucket list. Heading for home in lingering amazement of our Aussie adventures, we both agree that while many countries in the world would rate only a limp clap, Australia is different. This after all, is a check-all-the-boxes destination deserving of nothing less than a full standing O!
Mark Colegrave 2016