Watch out for the Wallabies
Travel seems very easy now that we're back in the "first world" of Australia. What a luxury to brush your teeth with tap water and not wonder what tiny organisms might be nesting in your intestines! Yes, Asia was fantastic, but the comforts of the modern world are a welcome change.
Although we loved the Asian cuisine, it's been nice to order a hamburger, and know that you're going to get beef! We've also developed an instant addiction to "TimTams", quite possibly the tastiest, and most defintely, the unhealthiest cookie ever made. Two chocolate biscuits, with chocolate in the middle, and coated with, you guessed it, chocolate...very nice!
One Australian food product that we had to try was the infamous “Vegemite”, yeast extract spread. Now, it might just be my North American upbringing, but seeing “yeast” on the label brought to mind science experiments in high school. With an open mind, I spread a dab of the chocolately-looking (I emphasize that it LOOKS like chocolate) spread on a corner of bread. At risk of offending my Australian friends, I can report that it truly is a most repulsive, salty substance – probably what many of you would imagine when contemplating the ingestion of yeast. Yet, it is devoured here with the popularity of peanut butter and toast. Oh well, “to each his own”.
After one night in Sydney (just long enough to do the obligatory walk to the harbour to see the eye-catching opera house), we jetted north to Cairns. We made arrangements to rent a car, and bought some camping equipment for the trip south. Once the keys for the Corolla were in our hands, we headed down the LONG road towards getting back to Sydney.
In the last couple of weeks we've done a great deal. Those of you who have been to Oz will understand: there is a tourist attraction or adrenaline activity to tempt you at every stop. As most tourists on the east of Australia do, we have, or will, visit the Great Barrier Reef, sail the Whitsunday Islands, and take a jeep safari around Fraser Island. These things are surely awesome, but for use, the freedom of touring the country by car have given us a glimpse of some of the truly unique elements of the "land down under".
Travelling in the norteastern state of Queensland, we've visited a number of rainforest parks, including the famous Cape Tribulation. Although we had no crocodile sightings, the opportunity to hike through dense forest and emerge on a long stretch of sandy beach is not something I was expecting here. Maybe the highlight of our road trip thus far was a side trip we made into the bushland west of Cairns. It took a solid half day of driving to reach the desolate outback (at least the start of it!). In the emptiness of the bush, the road doesn't see much action, so the tarmac is only about 1 and a half lanes wide. So, passing vehicles slow down and pass with 2 wheels on the shoulder. Then, you both proceed another hour before seeing another human soul.
Of course, there are other living creatures... what a thrill to pull over on the side of the road and stare at two curious grey kangaroos.
That same night we camped at an outback campground and as the sunset, we spied on more of our hopping friends, both kangaroos and the smaller "wallaroo". It was a near perfect sunset (except for the thousands of pestering flies around our heads), and the sky glowed red over the vast, flat plains of the Australian bushland. A truly memorable experience, punctuated by the shrill calls of nearby kookaburras (native birds), who signalled the end of the day.
Back at our campsite, another visitor hopped into our midst. This minature “roo”, a bettong, boldly sat within a couple metres and silently waiting to be fed. Despite our best efforts, he wouldn’t leave, but unfortunately for him, there would be no handouts! The following day, we experienced even more of this unique environment while taking a tour into the surrounding bushland of Undara National Park. In between phrases of indecipherable Aussie slang, our guide gave us a great education on the geology, flora, and fauna of the region. Along the way he spotted us a little wallaby hiding in the rocks, who obligingly sat up curiously for a choice photo. The main component of our tour was a trip to the lava tubes, a 180 km stretch of tunnels formed by age-old volcanic lava flow. Again, another amazing sight to see!
Back on the east coast, we resumed our place back on the “tourist trail”. This was certainly not a bad thing as far as our trip to the Whitsunday Islands was concerned. For three days, the crew of the “Otella” sailed us through this beautiful collection of coral fringed islands on the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. Other than some mild exertion in regards to helping set the sails, our duties consisted of: sleeping, eating, lounging and snorkelling. Yes, I know…it sounds like torture!
The highlight of the tour had to be our stop at the glorious Whitehaven Beach. The name gives it away a bit, but it is a vast expanse of incredibly white sand and the water is clear and warm. It is probably the most beautiful stretch of beach I’ve ever laid eyes on. If you visit Australia, the Whitsundays are definitely a must-see!