" It fits, mate," he exclaims. I paid $60 for an Australian cowhide Crocodile Dundee-type hat that my wife concludes - makes me look like a tourist.
With 7.6 million square kilometers, compared to Canada's 9.9, we had been here for 6 weeks and actually saw little, avoiding larger tourist destinations such as Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. We travelled from the Gold Coast up to the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane in between. The unspoiled beaches and reefs of Eastern Australia are a haven for snorkelers, surfers and sun worshippers, but what demanded our attention was the tropical rainforest that begin here and end on the northern tip close to the equator.
Australia, a mysterious continent, full of contradictions - and, they drive on the wrong side of the road! A few kilometers along the coastline are relatively flat, but an hour's drive from the sandy beaches of Queensland, our base, a steep mountain chain divides the coast from the Outback. Gravel and dirt roads begin, bridges replaced by river crossings. Yardsticks indicate water depth. We suddenly realize why the majority of Australians drive 4-wheel drives.
Our so-called road ended somewhere south of Jimboomba, not far from Wanglepong. After we navigated Canunga Creek's boulders, we
climbed steadily until to the top at Cainbable, inside
Park and the Green Mountain Ridge.
In the Gold Coast Hinterland, amidst the tropical rainforest, we met Geoff Carter, who owns and operates a few cabins. His ancestors settled here, and he hikes the country with his children, but stays well away from the aboriginal stone circle amidst giant eucalyptus trees that tower above mist that rolled in. A site from which cattle and horses shy away. And when his grandfather sent well-trained sheepdogs, they winced, and tail between legs, ran home to hide under the house - not appearing until a few days later. "Something terrible must have happened there," Geoff says.
Friends Terry and Karyn at Amaroo called to say they had found a staging area of the elusive Bowerbird at their place along Farm Creek. "It hasn't been raining lately," Terry said, "so all the creek crossings should be manageable." It was easy going along the Condomine River; there was even a bridge, but once past the old sheep station of Emu Vale, we turned off at Tannymorrel and it was tricky. After five river crossings and four cattle grids, we turned into Amaroo. With Australia in its tenth year of drought, it was not easy to determine if we were crossing a creek or just a field of boulders.
A hundred years ago, the area around Amaroo was in aboriginal hands; today, none reside nearby. Nevertheless, it has remained an important place in Australia's history, as it was here, beside a secret clay-lined hole in the banks of Farm Creek, that the ancient Aborigines came to heal their wounds, a place recorded in old books, but since lost.
It was here also, among the incredibly diverse sub-tropical rainforest, that we found what remains elusive to most naturalists, the staging area of the mysterious
Bowerbird, filled with bright blue and white treasures that the male gathered to attract his mate.
A two-three hour drive from the tropical forest, and just out from the ever-present beach that almost surrounds Australia, sharks replace kangaroos and stingrays take the place of koalas. Here, the Steller's Sea cows have long ago been hunted to extinction, but their closest relative, the Dugong survives in the warm coastal waters between Shark Bay and Morton Bay in eastern Australia. A close relative to the manatees, the Dugong is scarce and difficult to find. We had unsuccessfully searched for them in Moreton Bay with Jarrod and Dea, two dedicated outdoor types, however, we managed to find some giant sea turtles and dolphins among the most beautiful fishes and corals that only Australia has to offer.
Up in Tinnanbar, not far from Fraser Island, Ean pushed his "tinney," a small aluminum boat, into Tin Can Bay so he and Allana could check their mud crab traps. "Have to be careful," he said, "we're heading up a creek into a dense mangrove swamp." Snakes?" I inquired, but he shook his head and explained that there had been rumors of a seven-meter crocodile. We didn't see the croc, but on our way back to his place, we found a number of Dugongs swimming among some monstrous stingrays. That evening, after eating a hearty portion of corned beef (no crabs caught) I walked out into the low tidal flats to see the sun disappear. In Australia, there is no such thing as dawn or dusk; it happens instantly.
The hard mud bottom was alive with tiny blue Soldier Crabs, marching aimlessly in unison from place to place, picking up comrades on the way. The sun had disappeared completely.
Deep in thought, looking for the Southern Cross in a sky unpolluted by light, Ean brought me a gin and tonic; we toasted silently, perhaps both overwhelmed by a million stars in a dazzling moment of time.
Alex Eberspaecher is an award-winning author and journalist with a number of Canadian and international lifestyle magazines and trade publications, and a contributor to the Toronto Star. His main focus is travel, wine and food and nature. He is a member of SATW, NATJA, TMAC and WWCC. Contact Alex at
www.winecop.comJudy Eberspaecher enjoys travel, wine and nature photography. She has been published in Centre of the City, West of the City and Good Life amongst other credits. Contact her at Judy@eberimage.ca
If you go
We recommend Air New Zealand, flying to Brisbane with stopovers in Vancouver and
Auckland to break up the 21-hour flying time. The seasons are reversed. The
Australian dollar is almost at par, but prices are higher than in Canada. Taxes
are included in a quoted price. Cainbable Mountain Lodge has a good website with
weather and bird/animal sightings. See:
www.cainbable.com. In the mountains,
the weather is much cooler than along the coast.