Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Island

Fraser Island

"A sculpture of the wind, or a big heap of sand. Depends on whether you're a poet or a bus driver."
- Bus driver Dave

she said:

Finding ourselves in a situation where DIY wouldn't be the cheaper option, we made our way to Fraser Island via booked tour. We got a lot more than we bargained for with bus driver Dave: a bit about botany, some human anatomy, a summation of the solar cycle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_cycle), and even a rap song (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gm5zx8FOTEU).

We also got a ride better than any amusement park, with some of the world's best scenery.
Please no bus crashes, thank you to the weather for you're co-operation, hello island.





he said:

As mentioned, we chose the guided tour.  This was for a few reasons.

Firstly, cost - we really weren't hell bent on going to Fraser to begin with and this was a bit cheaper than renting a 4x4 and buying a load of camping equipment and food for a few  days. 

Secondly, convenience - everyone I spoke to about Fraser said, if you go you have to drive.  Sorry kiddies, I worked in a state park, I've driven on washed out roads, I've slept on more treacherous rides than Fraser has to offer, I've nearly had my femur crushed by a fire truck. 

Thirdly, comfort - the cool dingo tour returned you to a warm bed each night.  I know, I know, all my German traveller friends are cringing at my affinity for ease but when it comes to camping, I've been to that scene and explored what it has to offer, and furthermore, done A LOT of it lately.

The real highlight of the trip for me was day two.  The sights were very unique, I'm talking once a year unique, I'm talking humpback whale migration unique.  That's right at Indian Rock or something or other we saw a half dozen whales about 500 yards behind the surf breaching the surface of the ocean.  What I haven't mentioned yet, is that I have been super excited to establish some whale visuals since I learned it was migration season.  Actually, on the ride up the beach to Indian Rock, I did see the spout from a blowhole but no breach.  He keeps saying this word breach, what is he talking about.  Well, hopefully you aren't misinterpreting,  I'm not talking about the back popping out of the water so the whale can get some air.  I am talking about a whale speeding up to the surface from depth to bring a large portion of their body out of the water so that when gravity finally overcomes their momentum they splash down.  We were able to admire this beauty for as long as the whales were willing to entertain us.  It was something really special that brought chills down my spine.

I also saw a manta ray, the other thing I've been really excited about seeing.  Unfortunately, for the ray's sake, we aren't really friends because I saw him from up on the cliff and not on a dive as I would have liked.  Had he wanted to be my pal he would have presented himself while I was submerged. It's hard to hold it against him, he probably doesn't know what he is missing.

We also learned the island is eighty percent Antarctican sand and the rest is sand from the Blue Mountains (inland from Sydney).  Those are interesting facts!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Day After Tomorrow

she said:

Agnes Waters/Seventeen Seventy: Where lost go to rest.

With pristine beaches, miles of national parks, many a lookout, and few distractions, Agnes Waters is the perfect place to forget which day of the week it is.

At the recommendation of a friend we stopped in town for the Castaways tour, and stayed a night at his favourite hostel: Cool Bananas.


Being budget conscious we inquired about the "work for accommodation" sign at the front desk, and soon one night turned into two. Three. Four. Next thing we know it's been a week and we're planning to plan our departure.

The conversation would go something like this:
"What's next?"
"Fraser Island, Gold Coast, Brisbane?"
"…guess so."
"Ok, when do we have to leave here?"
"We should look at the calendar."
"Ok, how about right after I lay in this hammock." 

he said:

We did manage to actually leave the hostel a few times and on one of these occasions we took a guided electric bike trip around the towns of Agnes waters and  Seventeen Seventy.  That's right, Seventeen Seventy, not 1770.  It's the only town in Australia (and possibly the world) to be named after a date.  That date is in reference to none other than Captain James Cook when (in 1770) he set foot on land to replenish his fresh water supplied.  Another fun fact I learned on this trip, Captain Cook didn't earn his rank of Captain until he returned from Australia having mapped out the coast.  A THIRD fun fact I learned was James Cook almost missed out on the opportunity to earn his legendary status when, on a previous assignment in the southern Pacific (somewhere around Hawaii), he nearly made some error while recording lunar cycles or constellations.  Now all that is very likely a load of bull delivered by a playful guide to stupid foreigners, but I didn't have the internet on hand, so I'll leave it up to you to call me out. 

The only other thing I want to say is about electric bikes.  They are awweeeeeeeesome! When I got on that little guy it went something like this, *peddle, peddle, zoom* "I want one, how much does this cost?"


In between that last peddle and zoom the electric motor kicked on and I was, quite clearly, sold.  The specs are impressive, you get something like 20km on a charge give or take how much you feel like peddling. Best part, there's no drama if you lose the charge because it's still a fully functional bike.

she said:

Once again working for accommodation has more benefits than just a free bunk. An hour and a half sweeping rooms and kitchen begets local tour discounts, insider info on town events (like watching the State of Origin final game at the Tavern), and a staff trip to the secluded Wreck Rock.

After accomplishing our daily chores, we piled into the "Trooper" with hostel owner Greg and soon found ourselves on a roller-coaster 4W ride on barely there sand dune roads through one of Australia's only Palm Forests. Many a bump later we unloaded at the sandy beach, empty of people "even though it's a beautiful beach day and school holidays."


We rounded up some firewood and were taught the surprisingly simple recipe for "damper" (bush bread - recipe here) Before you know it, the sun is on its way down and it's another day gone. We really need to set a date for the Greyhound.


he said:

This was my favourite place to live and I'm going to really miss it.  Even though we were only there for two weeks it felt like an honest to goodness home.  I could have easily stayed and become a lost boy.

Please can't we have more time?

Thanks to everyone at Cool Bananas for one of the best experiences along the way. Hello hammock.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cast Away

she said:

The best way to book a tour: word of mouth.

During a short stop-over in the ever-so-tiny town of Bowen to meet up with a travelling friend we got three recommendations for our travels south: Coff's Harbour, Cool Bananas, and a little know camping trip called Castaways.

With a few weeks of leeway time and the promise of some plane acrobatics we were soon on our way to Agnes Waters and the town of Seventeen Seventy for the aforementioned Castaways.

Trip briefing involved a quick overview of the "island" (actually a peninsula only accessible by small plane and boat), what to do in case of emergencies (hike up a hill to the lighthouse for the only phone access), and what to do to avoid emergencies (don't take food in tents, don't kayak outside of the bay, don't light yourselves on fire etc.). Then sleeping bags and snorkel gear was dispersed and off we go.

he said:

Our air transport from mainland to the island was not much more than an oversized soda bottle wrapped in aluminum foil with some wings on it.  You felt every little bump and slight gust of wind.  It was exhilarating!  After about twenty minutes we were approaching our destination, a secluded beach which stretches about three kilometers.  At altitude it seems much smaller and I was a little suspicious but once we started to descend everything came to perspective and soon I was thinking "touchdown".

Even though we've already seen a few dozen beaches it really is a unique experience when you stand on a beach and look to either side knowing there's nothing else out there and no traditional means to get back to civilization as you know it.

Enough sentimental junk, this is camping and there is business to attend to.  We secured our food, from what I wasn't exactly sure until later.  Then made our beds and gathered wood because those are the two things you should never obviously never save for after dark. With our responsibilities (and I use this term incredibly loosely) out of the way we took a nice little stroll to the recently restored lighthouse.


Bustard Bay lighthouse is now automated but it has a rich history of firsts. After our short hike we returned to base camp to find that there was even more wood gathered by our camp mates and the stew was cooking. (Hooray!)

We had a leisurely dinner combined with getting to know you conversations with the other seven people who we were sharing camp with.  After sitting around the campfire one of the German girls said, "We need to do something, where's the adventure."  Pardon me for a moment while I digress and share something I've learned of other travelers.  By and large English people come to Australia for the weather because, let's face it, their weather is more depressing than Eyore after he's been diagnosed with a cancer of the face.  Germans on the other hand come to Australia for adventure.  It has everything Germany does not, large and poisonous animals,  numerous adventure sports,  a rich assortment of beaches,  English inspired food (I agree, the most terrifying of all).  I thought of the idea to check out one of the lookout points.  It was of course extremely dark by now and I figured it would be nice to see the stars at some elevation but it required a walk though the woods.  With some coercion we made our way.  Equipped with a lantern on a staff I lead our group like Gandalf had though dwarven caves.  Of course, our walk seemed much longer than it had earlier.  We were much more careful and hesitant and we had to stop each time we heard something just to make sure we were not going to be attacked and eaten alive.  At the point, I think it was worth the walk and the spent adrenaline. We could see the whole skyline and even spied a few shooting stars.

she said:

Day two we set off for a hike of the longer island trail, through bush, on sandy beach, over rocks, along grassy fields, and finally back to camp for a second night of stew and camp-fire games.


We woke on the third day for some morning kayaking before packing up camp and loading back into the plane, this time with Bruce, the pilot we'd been hearing all about.

I picked the right flight to sit co-pilot, after a series of tricks Bruce put my hand on the second control stick and I found myself trying to emulate his anti-gravity maneuvers. But with the "runway" (a large patch of grass surrounded by trees) I was pleased not to be in charge of our landing.

Thanks to Bruce for the tricks and Castaways for the incredible camping experience. Hello Cool Bananas, showers, and real beds.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summertime

he said:


Ahh Sailing…please can we do that again.


Picture Courtesy the Summertime.

Our trip to the Whitsunday islands was fantastic.  Firstly, I have to extend my appreciation to the crew of the Summertime.  So here's a great big thank you to Bruce, the skipper, Hannah, the galley person, and especially Kris the deck hand, dive guide, joke maker, fun facilitator, etc, etc, etc.

Boarding mid-morning meant the usual saggy eyes from the backpackers but once we got out into the 20-25 knots and mildly choppy seas everyone woke right up! As an experienced seaman, I was prepared for each wave crashing and I felt little to no fear.  At one point when it started to sprinkle a little I thought,  "Is this all you have mother nature?  Where's the lightning strikes and giant squid? BRING IT ON."

she said:

Right. As soon as you take your motion sickness pills?

he said:

Truthfully, after the Yongala trip (pictures up!) I was terrified that I would be forced to spend the whole of three days in my bunk whilst clenching my belly to ensure the guts didn't force themselves out of my appendicitis scar or something.  What do you mean that's irrational?

Moving on... With south east winds we anchored on the north western side of Hayman Island and set out for a few hours of kayaking in Blue Pearl Bay.  This was really great fun and actually one of the main reasons we chose Summertime over the other boats.

she said:

Even though it a few tries to figure out how to paddle as a team, we eventually made it around the inlet and into the cove for some stingray and turtle spotting, and only had to dismount once or twice to pull ourselves off of unexpected sandbanks.

Pictures Courtesy the Summertime.

The following day started with diving and snorkeling before setting sail for other adventures.

Pictures Courtesy the Summertime.

he said:

One of Kris's favorite things at this site is the high chance of spotting large Maori fish. Currently the biggest one residing here is named Priscilla and her mate, Elvis, has, unfortunately, left the building.  Anyway, she is now the main attraction of this cove and somewhat of a pet to Kris.  He is able to interact with her and you can really see the excitement in his face whenever he talks about her.  The humor of it is that we searched high and low for her on numerous dives and didn't see her at all until our evening slideshow when we realized he'd inadvertently taken her picture.


That dark shadow mid left is Priscilla swimming away... 
Picture Courtesy the Summertime.

she said:

Us snorkelers on the other hand, got dropped off in just the right spot. No sooner was my face in the water was I coughing up water in excitement, as right below us, with no cares at all about our existence, hello Priscilla and an array of other things to see.

Picture Courtesy the Summertime.

Next was a short trip to one of the sandbar beaches before another delicious dinner, the nightly slide show, and rocking to sleep before our last day of activities.