Hervey Bay - Bats out of hell

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January 3rd 2016
Published: February 13th 2016
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The bus was almost empty when it picked us up and we were able to sit on the front seats again, which was great as it allowed us to see the views from all angles. We'd been lucky with the seats, generally. If space allows, some drivers don't like people to sit on the front four seats, to allow them a bit of 'personal space'. Others welcome the company and the price you have to pay for the best seats is usually that you have to chat with the driver. We didn't mind that at all, as we learned all sorts from them that we wouldn't have done if sitting elsewhere. Thankfully, Mr Grumpy was in a much better mood and was quite interesting to chat to. The bus seemed really ancient, with no bells or whistles and had neither a DOG nor a PUP registration. Mr Inabettermoodtoday told us it had been brought in from the Outback to help cover the really busy Christmas and New Year periods and was normally used to ferry miners around the Outback area. It was a pretty basic affair, had no Wifi and no charging points and, best of all from his point of view, no driver monitors. He said he liked the bus best of all for all those reasons and would be sorry when it went back to ferrying miners around.

Our journey was relatively short and the route was pretty in the sunshine. We were particularly taken with the Maryborough area. When we arrived at the bus station in Hervey Bay we noticed a taxi rank just around the corner (wonders never cease!) and were quickly on the way to our next motel. Interestingly, the taxi driver told us that they would love to get closer to the buses to pick up passengers but the bus companies would not allow them in. He felt particularly sorry for the elderly, or single parents with children, buggies and luggage, who had to struggle around the corner before the taxi drivers could see them and give them a hand. So, that explains that, then, kind of. We were given a warm welcome at the Best Western Ambassador Lodge and we were soon ensconced in our second storey 'high floor' room. We had a quick trip to the local ATM, supermarket and bottle shop and settled in for a quiet evening after a long day.

I'm generally not an indoors person it seems. Without conscious thought, I didn't realise how many times I pop out into the garden at home, even if only to look at the weeds growing. I hadn't really made that cognitive connection until this trip when we occasionally got rooms with no access to outside space (generally the hotels rather than the motels) and it drove me doolally. I liked to spend my mornings before Steve woke up sitting on the balcony with caffeine and nicotine to hand, watching the world wake up and I liked to spend the evenings people-watching and admiring the sunsets.

Well, I was sitting on the balcony of our room on our first evening in Hervey Bay, when a bat flew by. Ok, we'd seen these before in other Australian towns and elsewhere. But, then another came, and another, followed by another and soon the sky was full of them. I'd never seen as many and called Steve to come and watch. It turned out there were literally millions of them, huge things, doing their nightly migration across to Fraser Island. It was quite a spectacle and I kept trying to capture one of them on camera as they flew past us, quite close, but it was like trying to photograph lightning. I Googled the event afterwards. Apparently, Hervey Bay is home to a colony of 3 different types of fruit bats, numbering between one and two million at any given time. They have a wingspan of about a metre and fly across to Fraser Island to feed every night. During the day they just dangle upside down in the trees in Hervey Bay and the residents consider them a pest as they are somewhat smelly (I can vouch for that!) and, of course, create quite a mess from all their droppings (I can confirm that too!). They are also rather noisy so it was easy to tell which trees not to linger beneath. They are, however, protected by law so the residents are stuck with them and they provide a wonderful sight for those of us who have never seen the like before. I tried to ensure I was on that balcony every night between 6.50 and 7.20 pm when the sky was literally full of them.

We'd chosen Hervey Bay as our venue for New Year because it looked big enough to be doing a fireworks display or something similar in New Year's Eve. We had initially wanted to be in Sydney to see the display on the bridge but hotels there outpriced themselves for us on those dates, hiking up the cost beyond what any reasonable person on a budget would pay. Well, we couldn't bring ourselves to do it anyway. So, Hervey Bay it was for us. And, it seemed we'd made a good choice. The town was a holiday venue for Australians and tourists alike and was big enough to have the infrastructure and facilities to cater for the event. The motel manager told us there would be two fireworks displays. Good-o. One would be held at 8.00 pm, a thirty minute stroll down the prom, and the other would be held at midnight, at a hotel in the middle of town. At least, that's what I thought she said. Steve thought she said 8.30 pm at the hotel in the middle of town and midnight somewhere else. As we never intended to make the midnight display, that one didn't really matter but we set off in ample time to catch the earlier one, whatever time that might be.

Now, I'm hopeless with numbers. Dates, times, costs, car registrations - they just don't stick in my brain so I was almost sure Steve would have it right but there was a little niggle at the back of my mind. Nevertheless, based on past experience and recognising my own failings, we took that gentle thirty minute stroll which did, indeed, take us into the vicinity of the Beach House Hotel. What we didn't take into consideration was the time we spent watching the raffle prize draw, walking down the length of a pier to admire the view, listening to the various entertainers and eating a bag of chips from a takeaway. So, we shouldn't have been surprised (but we were) when we heard, but couldn't see, the fireworks display a further 15 minute walk down the prom and round the corner. It seems we were fated not to see any fireworks in Australia.

We thought New Year's Day itself might be a bit of a repeat of Christmas Day, with everything closed. It wasn't like Mardi Gras in Rio in Hervey Bay but there was enough open and happening to keep us occupied. We went to a volunteer-run historical museum and spent a wonderful couple of hours learning more about the early settlers in the area and how hard their lives were. I'd been surprised, given how big Australia is and how much land they have available, that the houses seem to be built quite close together, pretty much on the same sized plots as at home. The museum had copies of the original sale of property 'allotments', right on the esplanade, available with no reserve(!!) and I did wonder if they had been parcelled up according to some British standard measurement - a rod or a perch or a pole or some such - and the older properties on the prom seemed very close together as a result. One part of the museum focused on the particular skills the early settlers needed and I was particularly impressed with a 'bottle tree' display. Having a small collection of bottles myself, I'd really like one! A part of the museum had been recently burned to the ground by an arsonist who was creating havoc in the town. This was the first time we had come across crime of any significance in Australia, which seems a safe country with relatively low crime rates on the whole.

We spent much of our time in Hervey Bay on or around the seashore, where most activity centred. The esplanade was used by walkers, joggers and dog owners, to take their various exercise. The beach was segregated into dog friendly areas and dog free zones and it worked really well for dog owners and families alike. Some areas were even divided according to time so that dog owners could exercise their pets early morning and late evening in certain areas. Doggie poo bags were supplied by the council, were always available (no vandalism here) and the town maps indicated where they were located. It all worked really well, and everyone was happy. Swimmers enjoyed the beautiful sea and there were lots of small sailing boats pootling about. I'm not sure if I've previously mentioned that skateboarding is a BIG thing in Australia. Even small towns seem to have a skate park and they are in constant use by the young or young at heart. In Hervey Bay, there was a designated 'Youth Area'; as well as the free skate parks, free water parks were provided making good use of the wonderful resource available to them, and they were really creative providing lots of fun for the children and their parents, all at no cost to them. No wonder they were well used and I thought they were wonderful places for families to enjoy an active, outdoor lifestyle together. There was also a fun fair, but I think that was just for the New Year celebrations.

All in all we really enjoyed our few days in Hervey Bay. It was full of life and activity, a showcase for the things Australia does really well - apart from the crime element, that is. Oh, and I finally managed to get a roast dinner, to make up for the Christmas meal that never happened!


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