Friday, April 1, 2011

Up to Noosa and into the "Deep North"

The sound of rain patters—no, pounds—on the tarp that stretches over our canvas tent at “Takarakka Bush Resort,” located in the Carnarvon Gorge. The drive here was harrowing. Philip had to navigate our rental car down a rutted dirt road and through three swollen creek crossings. We made it just fine, but needless to say, we were on edge, especially since the deductible for any damage done to the vehicle is 3,000 dollars. Yikes! When I made our reservation at Takarakka, I mentioned we’d be driving a sedan, and the woman who spoke with me said that would be no problem. Clearly she has a greater tolerance for the potential of being swept away by rushing water than we do . . .

So, let me catch you up on what else has happened since our last post. During our last few days in Brisbane the students took two exams and gave their research project presentations. All of the projects dealt with relations between humans and the environment in one form or another. For example, one student spoke to us about the late-20th century transformation of whale hunting into whale watching, a second about the role of Aboriginals in bush fire management, and a third about the collective response of workers at a wholesalers’ market in Brisbane to the recent Queensland floods. Other topics ranged from the depiction of nature in contemporary Aboriginal art to (largely unsuccessful) campaigns to exterminate invasive species. All in all, the students did a great job. I was proud of them.

Before leaving Brisbane, Philip and I also found time to take a tour boat up the river to the Lone Pine koala sanctuary. For the entire ride we were treated to canned commentary over the boat’s loudspeakers, which included such knee-slapping jokes as the following: “Sharks can be found in this stretch of the river. We have fishermen who try to catch them. We call them water skiers, and they use live bait. Nah, just kidding . . . (guffaw).” Along the way we saw some beautiful homes—as well as the remains of destroyed docks that had been ripped from their moorings by the floods and deposited onshore.

At the sanctuary we couldn’t get enough of the koalas. These impossibly cute creatures spend four hours a day eating eucalyptus leaves and twenty hours sleeping. Philip told me he was jealous.

Last week we also managed to make two visits to Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), which has a truly outstanding collection. We were impressed not only by the world-class quality of the works on display but also by the museum’s efforts to make its exhibits accessible to children as well as adults. GOMA, we salute you!

On Saturday we left Brisbane for our second week of independent travel. We were a little sad to leave behind our comfy apartment and say goodbye to our wonderful apartment managers Tracey and Robert, who had taken good care of us throughout our stay (for example, they lent us their barbie and installed an outdoor light in our garden so we could use it after dark). Little did we know we were about to experience even greater hospitality—thanks to B&B owners Ron and Warren, who hosted us in their beautiful home in Noosa (called “Homestay at Noosa”). Noosa is an upscale surfing town (think Malibu) about a two-hours’ drive north of Brisbane on Queensland’s so-called “Sunshine Coast.” I say “so-called” because it was overcast on our first day at Noosa and rainy on the second. Fortunately our B&B was so nice (see pictures below) and our hosts and their friends such good company that we didn’t mind lounging around.

We didn’t stick around the house the entire time, however. On our first afternoon we managed to stroll down the beach and take a hike through the nearby national park. Ron was sweet enough to pick us up at the end of the trail, allowing us to hike its entire length instead of having to double back before dark. When we returned to the house Warren served a gourmet meal, complete with champagne (or “bubbles,” as Warren calls it) and fine wine. Two of their friends, Brenda and Jo, were visiting from Melbourne, and they were loads of fun. They reminded us of Edina and Patsy from the show Absolutely Fabulous, except they were nice instead of nasty. Decked out in designer clothes and jewels, they downed one glass of wine after another as Jo regaled us with stories of her travels around the world—including one that involved dancing with her mother on a tabletop in Paris. All of us drank too much and stayed up too late, but it was no big deal because we spent the following day lazing about the house. After a second fun evening and fantastic breakfast, we reluctantly hit the road. I’d say that Ron and Warren made us feel right at home except for the fact that their place was soooooo much better than home. Sigh . . .

From Noosa we drove north and west for six hours. Two of our favorite things along the road: a small sign reading “Horse poo 2 dollars” and a giant orange welcoming us to the town of Gayndah (see photo below). At the end of our journey into Queensland’s “deep north,” we arrived at Koombit Station in Biloela. The station is part working cattle ranch and part tourist attraction. Over the years Lewis and Clark groups have stayed there, but we’d left it off our group itinerary this time around in order to accommodate our trip to Broken Hill and the Murray-Darling river basin. Curious to see what this year’s group had missed, Philip and I decided to spend the night. The no-nonsense station owner showed little interest in chitchat (what a contrast to Ron and Warren!), but he did take me on a short tour of the property and explained what students had learned there in the past. We then had dinner on an enormous wood-planked table along with a tour group of 20-somethings from England and Denmark. That was followed by a lesson from the station owner on how to crack a whip. Apparently cowboys used to crack whips during cattle drives to get herds moving. Philip got the hang of it pretty fast—dominatrix in the making?—but I didn’t manage to make much noise. Turns out I’m only good at cracking the whip figuratively, not literally.

After our night at the station, we spent another long day driving, this time to the Carnarvon Gorge.  As I mentioned earlier, the last stretch was pretty nerve-wracking. On the plus side, a bunch of kangaroos were hanging out by the side of the road, and for the first time since we arrived in Australia, we got to see one with a baby (called a “joey”) in its pouch. Awww . . .

On that note, I’ll sign off. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll see better weather!


Entrance to our Brisbane apartment

One of the beautiful homes along the Brisbane River

At Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

Hanging out at the sanctuary

The sanctuary has emus too.

And kangaroos . . . 

Entrance to our B&B in Noosa

B&B living room

Not minding the rain outside

Still not minding the rain outside

The B&B pool

Beach at Noosa before the rain arrived

Surfer at Noosa

Drive-thru liquor store: doesn't get more Australian than that!

No caption necessary, right?

Who said there's no culture in the deep north?

Wallabies welcome us to Carnarvon Gorge