Trip Start Jul 13, 2006
Trip End Jul 06, 2007

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Flag of Australia  ,
Friday, June 1, 2007

The first thing you appreciate about Australia is how just about everything here is intent on killing you. After landing in Cairns we headed up to Cape Tribulation where the cassowaries hang out (imagine a punk emu with a mohawk made of bone and a bad attitude). These guys can disembowel you with the claws on their legs. We also saw huge crocodiles and heard tales of box jelly fish (their sting is so painful those unconscious from the pain and under morphine still scream while in a coma). Touching one particular tree will give you pain for up to 6 months. Not to mention their poisonous spiders and that they have 8 of the 10 most poisonous snakes in the world. Even something as innocent as picking up shells on the beach can have you face down sucking in the sand if you pick up the infamous Cone Shell. You might ask why has Australia developed so many things able to deal out pain. About 45 million years ago the country decided it had had enough of spooning with the other continents and drifted off on its own. Evolution was off and running on its own unique track. The question is why did it veer off on such a poisonous route? I suspect the animals had an inkling that one day they would have to contend with large, cauliflowered eared men wearing cleats with criminal backgrounds stumping about the place.

We are traveling in a rather good sized caravan, so my personal apologies to all of those people living on low lying coastal areas who will inevitably get wet as we single handedly melt the ice caps. But as Al Gore is my witness, we thought we were getting a pop up van; however we got upgraded.

We were in Australia for more than a week and still had yet to see our first live kangaroo. We had seen perhaps a hundred dead ones as they litter the road sides. The locals tell us to avoid hitting them "on the bounce" (as if you have a choice) because then they come through the windshield and are often stunned, but not killed - so they start kicking out on your lap, an experience we hoped to avoid. I was starting to wonder if there were any live ones left. Up on the Atherton Tablelands the ground started bouncing... They move so differently than most animals we're used to that it made us laugh. These guys can clear a 2 metre fence on the hop.

My other great hope was to see the shy an oddly unique duck billed platypus. My earliest school project at age 10 featured this creature that was thought to be a hoax when it was first shipped back to England. This is only one of two animals in the world designed by a committee (the other is the wildebeest). And yes, it is poisonous, but only the male, which packs a wallop with its back legs that can have you cringing for 6 months.

Also near Eungella National Park... we had some good fun where we got a 'bat's eye view' of thousands of huge bats as we flew through the canopy on a 'zip-line' 25 metres in the air. Worth a visit for sure, run by a lovely family that is living off the grid.

We spent a few days on Fraser Island which is (apparently) the largest sand island in the world. You need a 4 wheel drive here because the few roads are as you can imagine quite sandy. Most of the time is spent zipping down the gorgeous beach which extends almost without interruption for some 70 miles. Here we experienced my barometer for how expensive this country is... A piece of chocolate cake at the resort was $13.50. Needless to say on our budget we ordered one with four forks. This is your best bet for seeing a dingo. We also saw Meryl Streep here, she was very upset and kept complaining that "the dingo ate her cake".

Our highlight of Australia was a farm stay at a working ranch between Fraser Island and the Whitsundays. The owner Bill was the quintessential Aussie with a big laugh and great story. We were fortunate to meet some other great Australians who were staying here also. They had amazing horses and he taught us all how to trot and canter. He showed us (and we participated where we chose) horse shoeing, branding, the crowd favourite pregnancy testing and (not the crowd favourite) castration. This was great value, a fantastic experience and I thoroughly recommend going... Please say hello to Bill from us.

We took a tall ship out to the Great Barrier Reef for a couple nights. It was a good experience as they encouraged us to help raise the sails, but once that is done there isn't too much to do. We stopped in at Butterfly Bay where the air was thick and the trees were furry with butterflies. We had some great snorkeling here also, but we had been spoiled by Sipadan in Borneo.

One of my favourite spots on the coast was Byron Bay. It was a nice mix between real town and tourist spot with an amazing beach with a walk out to the most easterly point in Australia. On one morning run I looked out from the trail up to the lighthouse to see over a hundred dolphins playing in the surf. You don't see that everyday in Calgary.

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