Due South 1: Dorm life, Sunsets, Rain and Rafting

Trip Start Feb 02, 2006
Trip End Aug 09, 2006

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Flag of Australia  ,
Monday, May 22, 2006

In glorious, beating sunshine, Cairns can be a great place to visit as there are a plethora of activities to sustain your attention, from jungle trekking to sky diving. However, in the grey, wet dullness which occupied our time there, Cairns is depressing and a waste of time. We checked into the aptly-named Asylum Hostel, which had the air of a nuthouse but which lacked the comfortable rooms, and if there was any doubt that we were back in shared-dorm country the fact was promptly reinforced. We entered our dorm at 2:30 in the afternoon to find a young lad on his top bunk looking in a very bad way, suffering from an acute self-induced condition.
'Hi mate, how ya goin?' we bid him in our now well-tuned Aussie greeting, but he was unable to respond verbally and instead produced a tidy parcel of vomit across his face. This seemed to cause him only a slight inconvenience but as he shifted his weight to regain comfort he fell from his top bunk onto the hard wooden floor beneath, liberating yet more of his breakfast against the wall and over the bottom bunk. As we went to help, his friend staggered in, slipping on vomit, insisting there was no problem here, and dragged his mate out into the hall and off in the direction of the toilet. The whole episode happened within our first six minutes in the dorm, we still had our bags on. We walked out, shut the door and moved on.

Our route between Cairns and Brisbane takes us along our favourite Australian road (I bet some of you don't even have a favourite Australian road): 'The Bruce Highway'. Now if there was ever going to be a road for the Aussie bloke, 'The Brucie' would have to be it, and we passed our time fondly recounting possible discussions of how Christening this 866mile monster occurred once it had been completed.
"So Merv, now it's finished what the bloody hell we gonna call it?"
"Well it was us good old Aussie blokes who built the bloody thing, mate"
"That's right mate, good Aussie sweat. And its good old Aussie blokes that are gonna use it too"
"Thats right mate, good old Aussie blokes, so it's our bloody road mate!"
"Thats right mate, our bloody road. So what are we gonna call it?"
"How about, Bruce's Bloody Highway!!?"
"Bloody great name mate, but how about just The Bruce Highway?"
"Sounds bloody great mate"
"Good-o. Right, lets get pissed"
We searched at length in our 'Nomads Map of Australia' for a Sheila Bypass, or perhaps even a Joey Ring-road, but of course there was none.

We are travelling The Brucie by Greyhound Bus on a 6-week open ticket which allows unlimited stops along the way, affording us the luxury of jumping on and off and staying at whichever town takes our fancy. The only problem with travelling by Greyhound Bus is that we are forced to suffer their on-board entertainment at the behest of the 'steering-wheel attendants', typically named Hank. This 'entertainment' features Australian radio, which as we have already witnessed leaves you pining for the next advertisement break, and movies, which leave you pining for a road accident. To date we have had to endure Cheaper By The Dozen, Uptown Girl and Pearl Harbour, films so indefensibly atrocious they discredit not just Hollywood actors, but Homo Sapiens.

Our first stop on the southward journey was Mission Beach. At this time of year, the small villages of Mission Beach would usually be drenched in sunshine, but the cyclone which swept through here in March pulling trees from the ground, ripping roofs off houses and generally shattering everything around, continues to pull in deluge and it rained for the two days we were there. On arrival we consulted the local 'Tourist Information Representative' regarding the activities on offer, but given the poor weather our options were not bountiful, and that afternoon we could do little else but stroll along the beach. This, however, was stunningly beautiful, especially in the evening's overcast sunset which created an odd glistening over the ocean and gave it all a magnificent, eerie ambience. Like most of Australia's nature it was breathtaking regardless of the conditions.
The one thing rain cannot impair, however, is white-water rafting and the next day we were collected, twenty minutes later than arranged, by our guide, Paul, who's hands our lives would be in for the day.
"Ah, geez, sorry guys, bloody flat battery, ay?" he greeted us, with that tiresome Australian trait of creating questions out of any sentence.
"Right" he continued once onboard "I better do a head-count, make sure I've not lost anyone so far. Two, four, six. Nice one, I love it when a plan comes together! OK, let's go!"
And we raced off along the coast. Then, four minutes further down the road, re-consulting his list, he slammed on the brakes
"Ah shit! I've forgot two of em!" So we gunned back up the coast to find two very wet, very miserable looking souls perched on the curb outside their hostel. Paul jumped out,
"Ah, geez, sorry guys, bloody flat battery, ay?"

Regardless of this start to the day, white-water rafting along the Tully River is brilliant and can't be recommended highly enough. To the relief of our insurance company, Paul was not our guide, and instead this responsibility fell to a Finnish instructor named Jussi. He issued us with a few quick instructions beforehand which were no more complicated than when to paddle like crazy and when to duck, and then we were away, down the river, through the rapids, out of and back into the raft, against rocks, and into trees. It was a fantastic day and later we drank heartily with our newfound raft-mates to mark the occasion and to our celebrate survival.

From Mission Beach we continued our route south and at Cardwell a hot sun broke through the clouds suddenly, remaining with us as we descended into the curiously named Townsville where we found a genial and well-kept settlement, though in all honesty uninteresting and short on activities. In the evening we were forced into the local cinema in search of entertainment, although The Di Sappointing Code provided little of this. But the next day we boarded a ferry to take us the 8km across to Magnetic Island which is magnificent place, and we spent the weekend walking through glorious, sun-soaked National Parks, lazing on perfect golden beaches and, at the Bungalow Bay sanctuary, manhandling classic Australian creatures: crocodiles, snakes, lizards, and of course, those cuddly koala bears. On our final evening we sat at Horseshoe Bay and watched the setting sun disappear behind Lovers Point casting a golden spray of light across the sea before us, and it occurred to us that this was undoubtedly one of the finest moments of the last four months. But then, as we gazed out transfixed and awestruck, our moment of perfection was disturbed by a loud, disorderly commotion making its way towards us along the beach. It was a grandmother, a mother, and a little girl. The grandmother was vastly overweight, sported vomit-inducing hot-pants and had a parrot perched on her head. The mother who shared her mother's obesity was being dragged along by two frothy-mouthed monsters on leads, her boobs digging troughs in the sand as she went. And the little girl was stark naked.
What an marvellous country Australia is.
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