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From Gold Coast to Cairns in Queensland
It was a shock to arrive at Brisbane Airport and then take the train down to Broadbeach on the Gold Coast because after 2 weeks in South Island we were not used to people. Suddenly we were in the midst of this huge conurbation (Gold Coast City) which runs south from Brisbane along the coast almost to the New South Wales border, some 100 + kilometres. Admittedly most of it is low rise, low density developments with lots of green space and reserves, expensive housing and numerous golf courses. We stayed at the Radisson Gold Coast Resort which is our last touch of luxury this trip and there are 5 golf courses within walking distance and 8 within a five mile radius. Pity we don't play golf!
For a couple of days I had to keep reminding myself that we were in Australia, not Florida as the countryside is identical to the Kissimee/Orlando area. It is flat, low lying with lakes, canals and ditches, lots of birds and 4 or 5 theme parks. Then I saw the signs to Miami Keys and Florida Lakes which confused me even more. The Gold Coast is an extremely long strip of coastal plain with tourist areas but mostly residential communities each having their own shopping mall and parks. It is very well laid out with broad areas of reserves and parkland by the sea which is a perfect surfing coast because of the big breakers. We travelled south into New South Wales where the population lessens and the land is less developed.
Away from the coastal strip the land rises steeply up into the Great Dividing Range. We drove up there a couple of days and found some superb National Parks where we could spend hours walking, spotting waterfalls and birdwatching. There were a couple of very small towns with tempting cafes and shops, and for some reason (perhaps the closeness of the sugar cane region) lots of home made fudge shops. I am proud to say we resisted all temptation, with the exception of an afternoon ice-cream in the garden of a cafe where the owner had assured me we would see Crimson Rosellas if we stopped by after two oclock
The hotel was comfortable with lovely pools so we made the most of that for the first week and then travelled in the hire car part of the second week.
From Brisbane we flew further north in Queensland to Cairns, and I love it here. It is very hot and humid so Jim preferred the weather on the Gold Coast but I like the city here which is big enough to have all you need but small enough to feel like a village with a very relaxed atmosphere. We are in a backpackers hostel which is very comfortable and we have a large bedroom, separate small sitting room, large bathroom and separate WC. The lady on reception (Gloria) is older (I think) than us, absolutely tiny and cannot be more than 6 stones in weight but she rules the backpackers with a rod of iron. She doesn't take any nonsense. When we went to ask about trips with a handful of leaflets from her display she grabbed them and said “That's rubbish, that's boring, you wouldn't like that, that's too expensive and that is a waste of money – you just want this and this!” Who were we to argue? In fact, she was spot on, as we worked out from talking to other people later.
Each evening we can go to a bar in the centre (10 mins walk along the seafront or catch a shuttle bus at 8pm) and have a “free” meal with a voucher from the hostel. It is very simple, spaghetti bolognaise, chile con carne or vegetarian pasta. I have to say I think all 3 choices would qualify as vegetarian as there is little evidence of meat but it is tasty and filling. As we had lunches on our excursions most days it was all we needed. The average age in the bar, excluding us, is probably 21. Some looked shocked to see us when they walked in as if their parents (or even grandparents) had turned up to check on them. Needless to say we did not stay late for the evening entertainment which was a wet T-shirt competition one night and wet jocks the next! Cairns is the end of the backpacker trail for many who travel up from Sydney so there are large numbers of young people and it is the place they tend to splash out with any money left over from their trip.
An hour further north is Port Douglas which is smaller and more select than Cairns (like comparing Menorca to Ibiza) with very expensive accommodation, beautiful designer shops and gardens. Definitely aimed at the jet set (lots of private helicopters and sea-planes) but a lovely place to stay if it is within your budget. Property starts at £500,000 and anything decent is way over the million, otherwise we might have stayed here permanently.
We did a trip to the Great Barrier Reef and into the Daintree Rainforest and out to Cape Tribulation. The rainforest was great, hot and humid with the feeling that all sorts of things are lurking in the swamps. We saw all kinds of wildlife, some of which we managed to photograph
I don't want to get onto my soapbox (well perhaps just for 2 minutes) but we were both very concerned at the way commercial interests are allowed to overwhelm environmental concerns, despite all the companies involved falling over themselves to say they are the most eco-aware. We went with a boat with a good reputation but the Captain surprised us by feeding the sharks and wrasse to keep passengers happy, the guides picked up sea cucumbers and other small life forms to show people and passed them around and lots of passengers were encouraged to do a try dive on the reef! Aghhhhhhhh, so much for protecting it. Someone else told us that his boat had warm showers on the back of the dive deck and people were using soap and letting it wash off next to the reef. In fact many companies advertise that you should come and see the reef before it disappears and in the interests of business and profits they seem quite happy with that prognosis
We have now been travelling for 6 months and are still very happy despite a couple of hiccups. The first was that my GP had said that I could obtain medication without a prescription in NZ and Australia. Wrong! Prescriptions are required. So I had to find a doctor here. It was amazingly easy, the pharmacist pointed one out adjacent to him in the shopping mall and I was in to see the doc in 10 mins. Of course she suggested a blood test might be wise, again done in 10 minutes at the pathology “shop” next door and back to doctor for results in 48 hours. I had to pay for the consultation but they told me to register with Medicare (in same shopping mall – took another 10 mins) and they refunded half the cost as there is a reciprocal arrangement with UK. All was well with tests and I was given more detailed information compared to my check at home and then the doctor also took me through where we were off to next, as we have changed plans, and advised about malaria medication etc and gave me the prescriptions. So much easier than at home. Aussies must think they have stepped into another dimension if they have to go through the same process in UK. It took me half an hour in total to see the doctor, get prescriptions, have a blood test and join Medicare and claim and receive a refund!
Another, potentially more serious problem, was that Barclaycard left a voicemail on my mobil phone to say they were stopping our credit card as they had received intelligence that the details had fallen into the wrong hands. (Hmmmmm!) Jim spoke to them and managed to delay the stoppage for couple of days but they were still determined they had to issue a new card even though we identified all expenditure as genuine. We need a credit card for things such as car hire, larger payments etc.
So as we were planning to buy a couple of plane tickets, one Cairns to Perth and one Perth to Alice Springs we raced to the flight ticket shop the next day. The assistant found good flights and then we tried to pay. Barclaycard not accepted! She had the details online with a timeout so we raced to the ATM to get out as much as possible with our debit cards (of course they have daily limits). We took as much as we could and were still £60 dollars short. Raced back and said we would have to pay for the first flight only. Sorted that and then I asked if she would mind trying the Barclaycard again for the second flight before she was timed out. She did and it worked on the smaller amount, so we managed to get the 2 flights but BC must have imposed a limit which had not been there previously. Thankfully the staff member was very patient
After stopping our card they have sent the new one to Nottingham, despite our protests that that doesn't help us in Australia. I am sure we will find a way to manage this but it had to come at a time when we have our largest expenditure to date – the rental of a campervan in Perth for 6 weeks. We have had to visit the ATM every other day and take out what we can and squirrel it away until we have enough cash. However, car rental companies take an imprint of credit cards for security before they release a vehicle – still have to find a way round that one!
Almost finished for today as we are off to the airport shortly to fly to Perth. Even I have to admit it is now hot. In fact, we could wring our clothes out within 10 minutes of putting them on, and there is not much of them to begin with. Everyone looks as though they have just had a shower with their clothes on. We hope to pick up our campervan in the morning if we can find all the little packets of cash we have hidden away – please keep your fingers crossed.