A whale of a time

Trip Start Mar 30, 2003
Trip End Jan 30, 2004

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Flag of Australia  ,
Friday, September 26, 2003

Executive Summary

Australia's a big country. Everyone goes to the beach a lot. The sun always shines. How do I emigrate?

The Full Monty

After exactly one month in Indonesia I flew from Mataram, Lombok to Singapore, stayed a few hours overnight in a hotel and then flew on to Brisbane the next morning. I bought a replacement digital camera at Singapore airport and this time I will guard it with my life.

At first glance Australia seems a lot like the UK - the Queen's head is on the coins, the Union Jack is on the corner of the flag and the natives drink lots of beer, drive on the left and talk about property prices all the time. However, the flora and fauna is more interesting here and everyone seems happier and friendlier than back in London. I think the latter is due to the sun shining all the time, as well as property prices going up.

I stayed with a friend, Scott, after I arrived in Brisbane. This is a very modern, clean city which strikes me as a good, safe place to live. On its river there is a South Bank arts complex like London's, only the buildings are not as ugly as around Waterloo. Scott lives in the New Farm area of town which is full of yuppy wine bars and cafes. You can tell how big beach culture is here by the fake sand beach arranged around a large lake near the South Bank centre. There is even a lifeguard on the fake beach. However, Brisbane seems rather over-shadowed by Sydney - sorry Scott, but the Story Bridge doesn't cut it compared to Sydney Harbour Bridge!

After discussing property price levels in Brisbane and Sydney, Scott and his friends took me to the Gold Coast, some 80km south of Brisbane. The main town here is Surfers' Paradise where meter maids in skimpy gold bikinis are employed to put a coin in parking meters which have run out of time. This has become quite infamous, although I didn't see one while I was there. Parts of the Gold Coast are very affluent (eg we passed the world's only Versace Hotel) and look like Miami. Huge numbers of sun-tanned teens and 20-somethings walked round with surfboards, looking as if they were extras in Home and Away.

After 4 nights in Brisbane it was time to move on. I bought a Greyhound pass which will allow me to stop off at various places on the way up to Cairns. Thus began my exposure to the Pom backpacker subculture. Virtually evryone I have met since leaving Brisbane has been a Brit either on holiday, travelling around like me or working here.

First stop after Brisbane was Noosa, a small town on the 'Sunshine Coast'. This has a small National Park bordering the coast. I saw various forms of wildlife there - a Koala bear in a tree, a rather cross looking monitor lizard which hissed at me, some strange sort of turkey and finally some interesting specimens on the nudist beach which I happened to stumble on. Noosa also has a number of surf schools, but I did not try to learn as I know how bad my sense of balance is!

From Noosa I took the bus to Hervey (pronounced Harvey) Bay, 'the whale watching capital of the world'. Fortunately I arrived at just the right time of year as the humpback whales' annual migration through here is from late July to October before they head to the Antarctic. I took a boat trip to look at them this morning. It was quite an amazing sight - at one point there was a group of over 10 whales very close to the boat, the largest number that the skipper said he had seen together this season. Each whale can grow to 15 metres in length and weigh 40 tonnes. They often emerge to 'blow', causing a fountain of water through the air, or roll to the side, hitting their fins against the surface. Twice I saw a 'breach', where the whale jumps completely out of the water, although given how the boat was rolling and how quickly it happened I didn't capture this on film unfortunately. One whale was putting on such a show for us I am sure he thought he was auditioning to join Sea World.

Hervey Bay is also the jumping off point for ferries to Fraser Island, which at 120km by 15km, is the largest island in the world made entirely of sand. My tour guide started his commentary by saying that property prices in Hervey Bay have tripled in 18 months and his own house has doubled in value in the last year. More to the point, he explained that Fraser Island contains more sand than the Sahara desert. The landscape has evolved over many thousnds of years to include tropical rainforest, freshwater lakes as well as some sand desert. Only 4WD vehicles can drive around the island and the main highway is the beach on the east coast. A couple of resorts have been built here, somewhat undermining that Biblical parable about wise men not building on sand.

A number of fresh water creeks flow from the island into the sea and it is estimated that it takes over 100 years for rainwater to sink into the sand and emerge as spring water to flow into the creeks. I swam in Lake Birrabeen - the water has a ph level such that it acts like a natural hair conditioner and the sand at the bottom of the lake is so fine that the tour guide suggested rubbing it over the skin for it to act as a natural exfoliant. I also saw a dingo during the day and took a 20 minute trip in a 7 seater plane which gave an aerial view of the island before landing back at Hervey Bay's tiny airport. (All other passengers on the plane were Poms as well, as was one of the staff). So Fraser Island makes another UNESCO World Heritage site ticked off the list...

I move on later today towards the start of the Great Barrier Reef. Time for some more diving!
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