Australia, part 4: Crikey!

Trip Start Jan 16, 2007
Trip End Aug 20, 2007

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Though we spent quite a bit of time doing it, we sorted out nearly everything else that we wanted to whilst in Australia at Byron Bay. All we have to do now is to turn up. As the area is so damn deserted, we've booked ourselves onto an 11 day off-road trek thing from that big rock in the middle up to the Kakadu area in the Northern Territory and onto Darwin - so much easier than getting lost in the outback. We've also booked our dive trip for the Barrier Reef, plus sailing on a Maxi yacht in the Whitsunday Islands. There are other things we've sorted out too, but you'll hear about these when we get to them.

Feeling that we had, perhaps, got everything useful out of Byron, we continued up the coast to a random two horse town called Murwillumbah. If ever you wanted an antithesis to somewhere like Byron, then Murwillumbah would be it. The cinema only opens for a couple of days per week, and shows films about six months behind the rest of the world. The main claim to fame for the town is that it is surrounded by the biggest Caldera in the Southern Hempsphere. Should your geography be not quite up to scratch, it is the remnants of a huge volcano. In the centre is the 'plug' from the erupting part (called Mt. Warning, named by Captain Cook to serve as a warning to others, as he ran his ship aground whilst admiring it), and this is surrounded by a rim of mountains. These are the harder rocks from the side of the volcano that have not been eroded. Much of the matter in the middle was eroded by rivers, rain, etc, thus forming a huge bowl. Should this not be too clear, perhaps google it.

A seems to befit some of our more energetic endeavours, the weather was not as ideal as it could have been. Basically, Mt Warning is not known as the 'cloud former' for nothing. Though the climb up was pretty easy (given that we didn't have huge packs, and the whole thing was about 8km for the round trip), the last 200 metres involved a near vertical scramble up rocks. Of the spectacular view that we were told we'd get, we saw about 20 seconds of it through breaks in the cloud. Otherwise, I was exceedingly impressed at how uniform the view was. All rather white really. Whilst at the top, an Australian couple asked whether we'd seen the snake on the path on the way up. Um, no. Not a thing. We did come across it on the way down, but it was nothing interesting (ie venemous) - just a carpet python that would have just looked more annoyed than it was if you'd gone to talk to it.

Not only did we find out why Mt Warning is called the 'cloud former', but why a rainforest (in which most of the mountain was covered) is called a rainforest. To say that is rained would be an understatement. It was as though you had a power shower following you down the hill. It was here that I was exceedingly pleased that I'd got a decent waterproof before I left home. Mike, however, was not as fortunate, as he had not brought one and had to use an exceedingly old poncho from the hostel that lost any waterproof qualities a long time ago.

From Murwillumbah we continued our 'road trip' (of sorts) up the coast. The coast from here up has names presumably meant to be as evocative as possible, with town names to match. the lower part is the 'Gold Coast', whilst the part above Brisbane is the 'Sunshine Coast'. Nice. Unable to really avoid the tourist hot-spots (without an exceedingly long trip inland) we stopped at another rather non-descript place, Coolangatta. The hostel location was choice - between the freeway and the airport for the region. Not much really happens here apart from beach and waves. However, it's not as bad as the aptly named 'Surfers Paradise'. I am sure, perhaps in 1900, that it would have been a surfers paradise, but with the amount of high rise apartments and chain food outlets (along with a beach that is made up of sand pumped up from the sea floor) you could quite easily be in Miami Beach or anywhere on the Costas. As to what attracts people here, I can only presume it is because everyone else goes there. Our trip there was brief (you could say a flying visit), as we headed up to Brisbane.

The main attraction of Brisbane for me was to do some research (cool, I know) into a family connection we had there. After phoning home and finding out who the bloke actually was (had a surname to begin with, which does not get you too far), I spent an exceedingly interesting day in the main state library researching. I could have easily spent another couple of days there, but the archives were shut the next day, and we were due to leave Brisbane the day after. However, I have found out lots of info which should help answer quite a few questions. I'm going to put all this together when I can get to a computer that actually has Word on it, so it may be a few months. Briefly though, here's what I found out:

James Gibbon, who married Emma Lamb, was born in Kettering in 1819. He arrived in Victoria in 1852, and Brisbane in 1860. He was a property speculator before becoming a member of the Legislative Council. He died in 1888 in London, and when he died he had become one of the colony's wealthiest early pioneers. His estate in England was valued at around 250,000 pounds, and his Queensland estate one was of unknown size to the writers of the articles I read. However, it is fair to say it was massive. There are numerous streets named after him in Brisbane (on estates that he speculated on), and he built the mansion Teneriffe House, which still exists (though sub-divided into flats now). In his will, he left substantial sums of money to places in Kettering, and also gave his wife a 2000 pounds-a-year allowance. The rest was split up amongst his next-of-kin.

This is a hugely simplified version of what I've found, and when I've written it all up, I'll send a copy to anyone who wants one.

Whilst at Brisbane we went over to Moreton Island, one of the biggest sand islands in the world, and messed aroudn there. Nothing much to report from there apart from there was lots of sand, water, and some wrecks that were purposefully scuttled to create a habitat for fish etc.

If you've heard of Steve Irwin, you'll probably be aware that he also ran a zoo called Australia Zoo. Possibly one of the best, if not the best zoo I've ever been to, it is eay to see why it is so popular. The enthusiasm/nut-case mentality (depending on how you look at it) of Irwin has rubbed off on his staff, and they jump around the place, feeding jumping salt water crocodiles, venemous snakes and, rather less life-threatening, koalas, elephants, and anything else that is either endangered or fluffy. The zoo is very much a hands-on place (except perhaps with the crocodiles...) and it has the air of Jurassic Park. I don't mean that the surprise guest at the next show in the Crocoseum is going to be a T-rex, but that (if you've seen the film you'll know what I mean) there are huge enclosures for the different types of animals, some of which are interactive and some (for good reason) which are not. The sponsorship throughout the zoo is also akin to the film Fierce Creatures, and you half expect Michael Palin to come round the corner dressed as a Panda sponsored by Coca-Cola.

From where we are now (Noosa, quite a bit north of Brisbane), our next port of call is Fraser Island (the world's biggest sand island) where we're going on a 4*4 safari/trip thing, which should be awesome. The weather's still pretty warm, but that's not always a bad thing. It may be a bit colder when we go to New Zealand though...
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