We’ve been back on the farm for almost two months now, so it’s probably time for my final post about our Australian vacation extravaganza so I can start filling you in about what’s been going on around here (goat babies, for one!).
After our misadventure in the rainforest, we headed back down to the quiet town of Yepoon to stay in the same caravan park from our trip up the coast. Our gregarious host Murray was kind enough to show us a giant carpet python he had captured when a neighbor called and asked for his help. Apparently he is known as the guy you call when giant snakes are in your yard and he will come pick them up and relocate them away from residences. Pretty great! We had our own little Steve Irwin moment there in Yepoon, and I got to watch the flying foxes, rainbow lorikeets, and red-tailed black cockatoos again too!
The next morning we spent some time in the tiny town at a shop that was 1/3 coffee shop, 1/3 clothing shop, and 1/3 nautical themed home décor. Obviously I loved it. We idled for a long while, sitting at a long bar with giant windows overlooking the ocean. We sipped our lattes and read trashy Aussie magazines, and I was discouraged to find that the majority of the characters in said magazines were of the Kardashian variety…I guess horrible American pop culture is inescapable.
Our next stop on this journey was Bundaberg (Bundy), which is known for it’s sugarcane crop and namesake rum. The logo on a bottle of Bundaberg rum is a polar bear, which makes little sense considering the location is downright tropical. Apparently the rum is potent juice, and many bars in Eastern Australia have banned it because it encourages “rowdy” behavior. I was under the impression that this is just a side effect of alcohol in general, but I guess I’ll have to take their word for it. After all, we didn’t go to Bundy for the booze…we went for the sea turtles!
Mon Repos turtle rookery is a natural nesting site on the coast near Bundaberg, and for once the season was in our favor. Sea turtles only lay eggs between November and February, and the eggs hatch about 6 weeks later. We bought tickets to the sanctuary and had to wait with tons of other people for the sun to set before we could head out onto the beach in small groups. We were in the last group, and we had heard that groups before us had all seen baby turtles emerge and scurry towards the ocean. Baby turtles use the moonlight reflecting off the ocean to guide them, and light pollution from cities is a real concern. Flashlights were prohibited on the beach for this reason, and we stumbled behind our quick-footed guides as we hustled down the beach to an amazing sight. A mother loggerhead sea turtle was on the beach, laying her eggs in a hole she had dug with her flippers. A research team was there taking measurements and notes, and after her eggs were laid we got to help move them to a safer spot up the beach where the incoming tide wouldn’t drown them. It was a slow, laborious journey for the turtle to lumber back out to sea, but when she made the final push and vanished beneath the waves I cried tears of joy.
We had spent over an hour watching this turtle, and were told that was the end of the action for the night. As we headed back up the beach towards our cars, someone spotted a baby turtle running willy-nilly down towards the water. A researcher was alerted and we soon learned that a nest of flat-back turtles had hatched and was pushing out of the ground trying desperately to get to the ocean. This turtle species is more rare at Mon Repos, so the researchers had placed a basket on top of the nest to try and catch the babies so they could take measurements before releasing them into the sea. The instinct in these little guys was so intense they were pushing the basket out of the way and escaping one by one. The researchers finally rounded them up and we were able to touch a little turtle before they took them into the lab. Fact: baby turtles are adorable! And amazing! They dig themselves out of the ground, but they don’t start digging until every egg has hatched. They also wait for nightfall, which they can sense by the temperature of the sand. These little tricks are meant to better ensure their survival…the rate of sea turtle survival to maturity is a paltry 1 in 1,000.
After what was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, we had a miserable night. We had failed to secure a campsite before going to the rookery, and nothing was available at the late hour we returned. I even deigned to walk the halls of a disgusting youth hostel but could not find anyone who even worked there, so after much driving around (and almost hitting a kamikaze wallaby!), we lucked into a caravan park that had a rare and welcoming sign: “late arrivals check in in the morning.” The next morning I went to check in and mentioned we arrived after midnight, and they said in that case our night was free! We found a nice place to make breakfast on the beach and read, relaxed and felt happy after our stressful (and argument-inducing) night!
Before I get to the end, there are some things about traveling in Australia that I think would be nice to pass on to you, in case you decide to go (you should!!!). Of course there are a million little differences between the U.S. and Australia, but these are some of the ones that really popped out to me while we were traveling around, mostly because they are things we apparently take for granted.
Wifi is very hard to find. If you’re going to be staying in big cities, you’ll be fine. But wifi is not in every coffee shop like here in the US. We found we had to spend way more time in various McDonald’s (Maccas) than we’re comfortable with. I would definitely recommend paying for international cell phone service rather than trying to rely on free wifi like us. Having cellular data available would have saved us a lot of stress on those nights where we couldn’t find lodging, and would have made it easier to contact potential lodgings (and saved us a needless trip into the flooded rainforest!).
Most restaurants close early by American standards. Again, probably not an issue in big cities. But in the beach towns along the coast, we struggled many times to find a meal after 8PM. This rule applies to caravan parks too…don’t expect to find a campsite after a long day of traveling. I assume you might be able to call ahead and make a reservation so they know you are coming, but without a phone we were stymied more than once by locked gates and “closed at 5PM” signs.
Coffee culture is different. If you like lattes and mochas, or any espresso drinks, you’re set; they have really great espresso. If you like drip coffee (as we do), forget it. It cannot be found in a coffee shop. At the grocery store you can find some beans, but most Australians drink instant coffee at home. Also if you order iced lattes or mochas, they’ll put ice cream in it unless you specify otherwise!
Bacon is different! This isn’t a big deal at all, but of course we are bacon lovers and we had a fun time trying to convince Cathy that crunchy bacon is superior to floppy bacon. She wouldn’t budge on this one! The bacon slices are huge, and contain not only the belly strip but the round of the chop as well. It’s like a combination of American bacon and Canadian bacon. Australian meat is really delicious, and they still process their pigs with the skin intact (rather than skinning them like so many of our American butchers these days), so we enjoyed that aspect very much.
Our last couple days in Australia were wonderful. We drove through gorgeous “hinterland” scenery in the hillsides just inland from the coast and passed through a town called Maleny. We didn’t have time to stop and explore, but even driving through I could tell Maleny was a place in which I could happily live! The hillsides were covered in pink and purple blooms, and the ridgeline offered amazing views of the valley below while the Pacific twinkled in the distance. The town itself was comprised of cool local shops and the vibe was very laid back and independent. It seemed a perfect place for a small, sustainable CSA farm, although I think the property price tag would be a tad prohibitive!
Our last night was spent at Dicky Beach outside the town of Caloundra. This was the most expensive caravan park of our trip, and it was obviously a popular destination for city folks from all around Southern Queensland. The caravan park was HUGE and lacked character, but the proximity to the beach was the real draw. For dinner we went into town and tried to use our outdated library copy of the Lonely Planet guidebook, and were laid astray again. We read about a cool pub called CBX, which stands for Caloundra Beer Exchange. Apparently the beers on tap are all priced according to global market prices and there are ticker signs up that stream the live market prices. We thought it would be fun to check this out, as it is apparently one-of-a-kind. When we arrived we were obviously mistaken…the beers had set prices and nothing seemed any different than any other pub. The girls behind the bar looked at us like we were crazy, before one mentioned that she thinks they had ticker signs up a few years ago “or something.” They weren’t even able to recommend good beers or ciders because, as one admitted, “I don’t really drink beer.” Oh, good thing you’re working at a bar then! (Another instance where some internet research might have helped us pick a better place for food and drink!)
The next morning Andrew woke up early to watch the sunrise on the beach, and I lazed in the tent while a cacophony of tropical birds greeted the coming day. We bid farewell to the Pacific (on this side of the world anyway) and headed into the Glasshouse Mountains for a quick day hike. The Glasshouse Mountains are strange volcanic spires that jut out from the valley floor, and our short hike afforded amazing views. When we passed other hikers they greeted us with “g’day!” which was exciting because it was the only time we really heard people use this phrase on our entire trip. We returned to Brisbane that evening, and spent a nice time with Cathy and Lee relaxing and packing up for our return home. I was glad to spend some final quality time with my cousin, and even got to say goodbye to my little possum friend who was lurking in the tree outside. The next morning we may have boarded the plane with our pockets turned inside out, but our hearts were bursting with rich experience.
Australia is such an amazing, diverse continent. As a child I always dreamed of visiting Australia (who doesn’t?!), and would send my exotic cousins Hershey bars and peanut butter while eagerly awaiting the Cadbury chocolates and vegemite return packages. Now I have been there and met my cousins in the flesh. I have explored, camped, hiked, sweated, itched, and gaped around both Eastern and Western Australia, and it’s fair to say I can check this off my “bucket list.”
Except. Except. Australia was so amazing, and there’s much more to see (and let’s not forget New Zealand!), so I may have only succeeding in whetting my appetite. Fair warning Australia: I reckon we’ll be back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail!