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Published: December 15th 2016
It's a hot and humid g'day from Airlie Beach, where we are having a few days of relaxation after spending a week or so driving up the east coast of Australia from the city of Brisbane, about 1100km south of here. The decorations are up, festive music abounds, and the regulation advent calendar has been purchased, however applying the after sun to various bits of sun burn and sweating it out in temperatures of 30 celsius does seem slightly novel at this time of year.
After flying over from a much more temperate New Zealand, we arrived in Brisbane to the haziness of Queensland's first heat wave of the summer, with temperatures reading a searing 38 degrees. Built around the meandering Brisbane River, we enjoyed the city's weekend hustle and bustle, with plenty of cafes, parks and gardens making it a pleasant place to live and work. Despite this, there isn't too much for the tourist or backpacker, so we stopped over, picked up our Toyota Corolla and embarked on our 2000km road-trip north which is due to conclude in Cairns this Sunday.
Despite reassurances that the worst encounters will amount to a "few flies or pesky mosquitoes", Lonely Planet's fairly extensive 'Deadly and Dangerous' section lists countless Australian species that have the potential to scare, hurt or kill a human. Many of these live in the Queensland bush, so we were both a little perturbed when our first stop took us deep into the forests of the Glasshouse Mountains, where we were staying in a very lovingly restored Victorian train carriage. Lovingly restored it may have been, however that night five different sized species of spider also made it their home, and were found around our bed. Not having a clue about whether these were harmful or not, all were consigned quickly (and bravely) to spider heaven. In the week or so since, we have come within touching distance of a Taipan on Fraser Island (one of Australia's most poisonous snakes), a three metre python (choosing to reside in our hostel's laundry in Noosa, cue screaming Germans), a Bull shark (next to our ferry en route to Fraser Island), two different types of jellyfish (while snorkelling in the Whitsundays) and have seen a number of signs warning that saltwater crocodiles have been recently seen in the vicinity. Flies and mosquitoes my backside.
These nasties aside, it's hard to argue against the fact that Australia has some of the most beautiful and vibrant flora and fauna on the planet. This was no more apparent than on visiting Australia Zoo, set up by the famous 'Crocodile Hunter' Steve Irwin, where we spent the day marvelling at countless creatures, the most memorable being able to get up close and feed the resident kangaroos that bound around the place. On a slightly less cuddly note, we also made a trip to the Koorana Crocodile Farm, which provides a habitat for some 5000 saltwater crocodiles - as well as harvesting a number of these each year to sell on kebabs in the restaurant (tastes a bit like chicken) or to send to Italy to feature in Gucci's next handbag range.
A key reason for such thriving wildlife is the sheer size and remoteness of this country - the European continent comfortably fits within the Australian landmass, with a fair amount of room to spare. No more was this wilderness more apparent than on our trip to Fraser Island, which at 120km long is the largest sand island in the world, some dunes peaking at 200m tall, and is the only place known where rainforest grows on sand. Accessible only by 4x4 due to the lack of any tarmac roads, we took a day trip on a robust mini bus, bumping our way around an array of towering rainforests, swimming in the clearest of freshwater lakes, wading down a mineral stream and tearing up a beach which was 75 miles long. Cruising on a catarmaran around the Whitsunday Islands gave us a similar feeling, where we snorkelled on some of the reefs and mosied along the white sands of Whitehaven beach. The latter was voted as Australia's number one.
We purposely haven't described them all here, but this vast coastline is punctuated by a number of settlements, some of which are geared up for the influx of backpackers (Noosa, Hervey Bay, Airlie Beach...), with the more pleasant being enjoyed more by the locals (Agnes Water, Yeppoon...). All have sunshine, sand, sea and surf in common, with some dramatic coastline in places. There's some quite interesting pockets of history here too, such as in Maryborough (site of the landing of Queensland's first free settlers, and birthplace of PL Travers, author of Mary Poppins), Town of 1770 (Captain Cook's first landing in the state - in 1770) and Rockhampton (a hub for 19th century gold mining and now the country's beef capital).
We look forward to completing our Queensland adventure, with Townsville, Mission Beach, Cairns and Port Douglas still on the list to visit. Then, Melbourne awaits for Christmas. 10 days to go already?! This trip continues to progress at an alarming rate...
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