Journal 39; Australia Part One
October 27, 2011 - January 5, 2012
Much has transpired since our last update from New Caledonia. Most of our trip from New Cal to Brisbane, Australia was nice until the last 15 hours. When we departed the weather forecast called for no wind the last day but an unexpected front came ripping up from the south. Oh well, it really was not too bad for too long and we arrived safely to Brisbane. While approaching Brisbane, we sailed past Cowan Point so of course, JoDon could not resist having her picture taken.
There is always much discussion about Australian government authorities being so strict and confiscating almost all your food, demanding expensive termite inspections, etc., etc. We are pleased to report the Brisbane Customs and Quarantine officials could not have been more polite and helpful. They only took a few things that were on their no-go list.
Since early November we have been located in Scarborough, which is a quiet suburb of Brisbane. There are lots of parks and birds including this wicked looking scavenger, a white ibis. When we arrived it was time for some Spring Cleaning so that occupied our time. Since then we have become experts in using the bus and train for local trips to the stores and excursions to Brisbane, including the Lone Pine Koala Refuge.
The Koala Refuge was very entertaining. How can you not want to say, “Koalas, they’re so cute and cuddly?” Koalas are cute but not very entertaining. First of all, only Americans think they are bears. Koalas are actually marsupials, meaning they carry their young in pouches. They eat mainly eucalyptus leaves. Eucalyptus leaves are toxic but koalas are able to digest this high fiber/low protein diet. As a result, koalas sleep about 16-18 hours/day since they have no energy. At the refuge they have hundreds of koalas and they all look like they’ve been eating marijuana, not eucalyptus leaves, since they all have a stoned out look on their faces. But they’re soooo cute.
There were many, many animals at the refuge including lorikeets (a type of parakeet), Australian wild turkeys, kangaroos, tasmanian devils, emu and cassowaries (Big Bird). They also had a demonstration of sheep dogs working a small mob (herd) of sheep. JoDon got a photo with the handler, very Australian. There was also a bird of prey flight show including this cute barn owl.
We got the bright idea to buy a camper van and land tour. Australia is about the same size of continental U.S. (but with a much smaller population) so we will not be seeing everything. We traveled many days all over Brisbane (by bus and train) looking for the right van and ended up purchasing the first van we had seen. Why does it seem to always work that way?
Buying a van, touring the country and then selling it is very popular in Australia. Most of the vans we saw were owned by German students on holiday and were trying to sell their vans to leave for New Zealand. Translation: the vans were trashed out or as we say in Texas, “Rode hard and put up wet.”
We moved a lot of our ‘stuff’ from the boat to the van and took off south for Sydney for their famous New Years Eve firework celebration. Our first night camping we saw a python sleeping in a nearby tree. Wow! That freaked us out but pythons are not venomous (although some of the most venomous snakes in the world are in Australia and they are plentiful). The next day we saw kangaroo, hundreds of lorikeets, laughing kookaburras and several other types of birds. We also had a special sighting of a platypus swimming in the river. On our final day at this campsite, the python was no longer in the tree. I told JoDon, “Crawl under the van and make sure it isn’t hiding there.” But as they say in Oklahoma, “She ain’t all dumb.” HA!
During our trip south we enjoyed bush walking. Australia’s bush country is immense, very diversified and very green (it’s summer and the wet season). It was great to explore the vast differences in terrain, including waterfalls, but we also discovered an unpleasant creature, leaches. The leaches did not hurt but after pulling them out there is virtually no way to stop the bleeding. All the coagulated blood flowing down my leg looked worse that what it really was.
After a week of camping, SYDNEY!! Wow, what a beautiful city and harbor! We had heard so many positive things about Sydney and we were not disappointed in the least. We spent Christmas morning at a local 200 hundred year old Anglican Church. The people were so friendly and we were invited to a Christmas dinner which we declined. Aussies have different Christmas traditions than Americans, mainly because it’s in summer. Going to the beach and barbequing with the family is a big part of their traditions. We spent our Christmas Day having lunch in Sydney’s Chinatown but the waiters did not sing, “Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra ra (ok, time to see A Christmas Story again).
Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, has two big traditions in Sydney. The one we participated in was going to the beach and viewing the start of the Sydney to Hobart (Tasmania) sailing race. There were 86 boats participating this year and hundreds of other boats in the harbor seeing them off. It was quite a sight!
The other tradition is discount shopping. The designer stores and major department stores have huge sales. It was a crazy madhouse! There were guards at the doors of Gucci, Prada, etc., controlling the amount of customers that could enter. We got out of downtown as fast as we could find our bus.
While in Sydney we visited many museums that demonstrated how Sydney was founded. In the late 1700’s England transported hundreds of prisoners to America, Australia and a few other destinations. The main problem was that the majority of the prisoners were pickpockets from London and they did not know how to work in a farm and had little motivation to learn. Their criminal ways extended to the new territory and England found transporting of prisoners not viable. Almost none of the prisoners ever returned and they became part of Australia’s past & present.
Besides walking around Sydney, going to the beach and visiting a few friends, we also went to the Picasso exhibit. The Picasso Museum in France is now closed for renovations so the entire exhibit was in Sydney. It was great, we think. Maybe one day we'll understand it.....? We also went to a Pops Concert at the Sydney Opera House. It was fantastically entertaining and one of our Sydney highlights.
The real reason we went to Sydney was to see the fireworks. It was estimated that 1.5 million of us saw the fireworks from the shoreline, so it was not an original idea. Long story short, we ended up sitting with a group of young Dutch backpackers who had queued in line since 5 am for the midnight show. The day was long but for us sailors to sit in one spot for 14 hours, no big deal (our recent journeys are counted in the number of days, not hours). There were lots of port-a-loos and the bar was close at hand. As show time approached, our comfy campsite of chairs & blankets was overrun by hundreds from further back in the park who wanted a closer look. These photos show the area in the early afternoon when we still had lots of room. By 10pm it was standing room only. Was it all worth it? YES! The fireworks were fantastic and no words or pictures could capture the moment. The following professional photos demonstrate some of the awesomeness of the event from our vantage point.
On our way down to Sydney most of the beaches were closed because a huge swell had arrived from a distant cyclone. What does that mean? Surfs up! I had never seen so many surfboards on car racks. Australians are many things, but surfers they are, and it’s not just a young man’s sport.
Heading north the highways were jammed with campers heading out to the bush with their families. It was quite an exodus of small trailers of every size and shape. School is now out for summer and we are told the highways will be packed full of vacationers for most of January.
We now are back in Brisbane attending to El Regalo and planning our next camping trips throughout Queensland. We are looking forward to school starting in late January to reduce the mob.
Until the next update,
Brian and JoDon