18: More on the Road More Travelled
13 September 2002
From Cairns I rolled in to Townsville. On the bus I met Maria, the 21-year-old Austrian girl who had guys walking into poles whilst staring at her. She also had a way of being direct that made them trip over their charm and chew on their lips trying to think of something else to say that might hold her attention. And at the same time, she had no idea of the effect she had, which was both funny and refreshing.
For the next few days we walked and swam many kilometres in each other’s company. Without stopping in Townsville, we headed straight for the ferry and on to Magnetic Island. An apt name for the island, I spent 4 wonderful days there hiking as many of the trails as I could fit in, that led from one secluded alcove to the next deserted bay. The paths passed through forest, rivers and forts where we spotted koala in the wild – my one and only sighting. We snorkelled and swam in the warm sea.
On the mainland again we headed for Airlie Beach which has a great lagoon to swim in. From here we said our goodbyes as I went out to sea on ‘Reality’, the catamaran that would take me around the Whitsundays. Since Cairns the weather has been working against me, but it let up for a few hours each day, the clouds moved aside and let the light on in. Over three days bobbing on the ocean we saw whales, snorkelled, dived, survived boom netting and got thrown about until our eyeballs were swimming in that morning’s breakfast cereal. At night time we stayed on Long Island, at a rather swish resort where we hogged the table tennis table, the pool table, the tennis court, the jacuzzi, the sauna and the microphone on karaoke night – and no, I NEVER karaoke, I only wince and laugh!
Being one of the top 5 beaches of the world, Whitehaven Beach was spectacular and whiter than my very own legs – usually an excellent benchmark! The sand is so fine that it’s a good place to buff your jewelry and remove scratches off the face of your watch. After about an hour on the island playing cricket of which only myself and the English bloke had any clue (the Canadians and Dutch were swinging the bat wildly around the place, playing baseball and running all over like headless chickens), the heavens literally opened up and poured the coldest water all over us. We clamoured to get on the dinghy back to the boat for some shelter and warm drinks.
Back in Airlie Beach, I headed straight for Hervey Bay, where I joined a 4WD group headed for Frasier Island, the largest sand island in the world. We were provided with a Land Cruiser and camping gear and headed out to Wadi Point to camp for the night. Then the rains came. Our tents were kiddies’ paddling pools, and everyone in the campsite was huddled under the only shelter at the picnic spot up the way, trying to bag their patch of dry ground. So… that’s where the party was at, and it seemed a little less serious by the time we got back to our tents to pull the plug in the bath where we were to find a dry night’s sleep.
But morning came and it was my time to drive – hold on to your seats and watch your heads on the roof. Out of 8 people, only 4 of us were keen to drive, so we lots of opportunity to hoon through puddles, huge sand banks and backwashes.
Frasier really is a beautiful island, and from Indian Head you can look down over a cliff into the sea and see the shape of reef sharks and manta rays as they glide through the ocean. You also have a good place to spot whales. On our day a couple went out to the furthermost point on the cliff, and the guy got down on one knee and proposed as his new fiancï¿½ clung on for dear life. That may have been the only reason she said yes; he picked a good spot in case she planned to say no! We had a lot of chances to hike and laze around scenic secluded lakes, before catching the ferry back on the third day, in dire need of a hot shower and dry bed.
Still bombing it down the coast, I found an out-of-the-way spot outside of Noosa, where I spent the day walking barefoot around the national park, through deep pools of water left by the heavy rain. I wore my headphones and sang out of tune to the nature that surrounded me, not another person in sight. From there I met 2 old friends in Brisbane. We headed for pizza and beer and movies, which made me think that if I were to live in Oz, this would be the place I would choose to stay. A bit of city with a bit of character, not too stressful, not too large with loads of variety and countryside nearby.
As a saviour to my swiftly departing sanity here in Oz, Rob stuck it out with me back to Sydney. We didn’t dilly dally however, and before long we had watched every movie at the cinema in Brisbane, eaten at every pizza place in Surfer’s Paradise (as Rob is an avid fan) and collected enough sea sand in our orephi in Byron Bay.
What Rob didn’t see coming was 20 storeys of bungee rope at very high speed one morning in Surfer’s Paradise. When I first picked up the brochure for the ‘Slingshot’ and said to Rob we’d do this, I think he was under the impression that I was just winding him up. Repeated mention of this ‘Slingshot’ thing began to bring little worry lines to his face and when I dragged him off to the theme park to watch one early morning right after pancakes at the ‘golden arches’, Rob went cold trying not to make eye contact, like a kid in class who’s being asked to volunteer for a crap task to carry out. Maybe he thought that if he ignored me long enough I would tire of watching people being flung up into the air in this big metal ball and leave.
I did tire of watching, but I dragged him to the gate and booked our ride… I’ve never heard anyone scream like this before. It gave me the giggles 20 storeys up in the air as we got jiggled and thrown around in our seats, watching the high rises of Surfer’s Paradise appear and disappear, appear and disappear, appear and…
I said some sad goodbyes to friends that live there and spent my last night in Sydney looking out one last time across the harbour at the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, lit up with the city as a backdrop. I was ready to leave Australia and giddy with excitement for my pending adventure in New Zealand – watch this space!