Queensland Australia – Of Beauty Rich and Rare

Published November 30, 2021 in Australia - 1 Comment


Jane Finn heads to Australia and discovers the rich and rare wonders of Queensland

Australia is an island, a country and a continent. The perfect destination for the young and the young at heart. A place as diverse as the topography, the people, the plants and wildlife that inhabit it.  I loved sophisticated Sydney and pretty Adelaide, driving the Great Ocean Road, navigating the Snowy River Mountain Pass, and sampling world-class wines in the Mudgee, Barossa and Hunter Valleys, but it was Queensland that captured my heart.

Described as both the Sunshine State and the Northern Hinterland, these contrasting and differing perspectives dance together to weave the kind of magic that causes you to spread your wings and take on bold new challenges. I find myself embracing the philosophy, ‘the more you do, the more you can do!’ to ensure I remain an intrepid traveller – at home and abroad.

Crossing over the border from New South Wales into Queensland, we head north along the Gold Coast to Surfers’ Paradise, Australia’s equivalent of Miami but with a much more laidback vibe that is underscored by welcoming energy. The two-kilometre stretch of golden sand beach and rolling surf is lined with skyscrapers and condos that dominate the horizon, but it is at sea level where all the action takes place.

By day we stroll the beach, perfecting our tans, entertained by the surfers riding the waves, dogs commandeering skateboards and a myriad of people soaking up the rays or cavorting in the warm waters. In the evenings, we set out to explore the nightlife that defines Surfers.

At Jupiter’s, Queensland’s first casino, I learn how to play ‘two-up,’ a raucous game that has everyone on their feet, cheering each other to victory. I recoup my losses from Adelaide and ask a local where they would go for dinner, and that is how I discover Moreton Bay bugs – a regional specialty. I admit that the name does not sound appealing. Had it not been for his passionate recommendation, I would have bypassed these tiny crustaceans on the menu and missed out on a true epicurean delight. Poached, steamed, barbequed or grilled, they are delectable—another lesson in not being afraid to try something new.

The next evening, we are directed to a tiny BYOB café where we while away the time playing backgammon and tapping our toes a live band. But Aussies are an outgoing lot, and it isn’t long before a group at a neighbouring table start teasing us about our accents, and we find ourselves ordering ‘shouts’ and seeing Surfers through new eyes.

Relaxed and rejuvenated, I am reluctant to leave this ‘up-market’ seaside retreat. Still, as I watch the towers recede in the rear-view mirror, the open road beckons and I give myself up to the joy of discovering what still lays ahead.

Noosa National Park

Every day is a G’Day is when you are open to new possibilities. Noosa Head is not on the itinerary, but I have heard so much about the Coastal Walk that I divert the car for what I thought will be a quick hike.

Designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2007, Noosa is a shining example of how a community can live in harmony with nature, managing the land, the water and the wildlife while meeting the needs of an urban population.

As I make my way to the start of the ocean walk, I take in the heady scent of eucalyptus, and sense the notable balance between people and place. However, my delight soon turns to disappointment when I realize I have not timed my visit well.  You see, in Queensland, night descends quickly.  Most days, it is dark by 6:30. It was now past 4 o’clock, and the 5.4 -kilometre Coastal Walk takes at least four hours to complete.

I am about to call it a day when I am hailed by an interpretative guide named Trevor, who quickly convinces me to change my mind about moving on.  As he describes the craggy ancient volcanic cliffs, how the waves thunder against the beaches and the feeling of peace and contentment he finds every time he walks the trail, I know this is one experience I can not miss.

‘Think Outside’ is the tag line for Queensland’s National Parks, and today Trevor caused me to think outside the box. On the spur of the moment, I decide to stay the night and easily find accommodation at a nearby caravan park.  Bright and early the following day, I am taking in the sweeping views of Alexandria Bay at Hell’s Gate, breakfasting at Boiling Pot and am treated to a pod of dolphins frolicking far below at Dolphin’s Point.

As I make my back way to the carpark, Trevor appears out of nowhere and motions me to follow him. I stick close as he navigates his way through a dense patch of bush, stops and silently points to the top of a tree. It is notoriously difficult to spot a koala in the wild, but there is a mother and her joey on a branch, far above. If there was any doubt that I had made the wrong decision in tarrying behind, it was gone with that one sighting.

Sailing the Whitsunday Islands

When you are on vacation, you curse the weather if it is anything other than sunshine and blue skies, but it turned out to be fortuitous in our case. After three days of torrential rain, our cozy cabin in Airlie Beach feels confining, so we venture out to the communal BBQ, where we meet up with another couple also seeking respite from ‘the wet.’ As luck would have it, they have just signed up with Whitsunday Rent-a-Yacht for a bareboat charter and are looking for crew.  After making dinner together and sharing a bottle of 4 Acres Shiraz that we had scored at Tyrrell’s in the Hunter Valley, we decide that we are a good match. Two days later, we join them in Shute Harbour to explore the Whitsunday Islands aboard the Island Trader, which will take us to several inhabited and uninhabited islands – depending on the winds and the skill of the captain and his crew.

On our first day, we anchor in Butterfly Bay, where I wake up to a calm sea as flat as a sheet of glass.  Months later, I still marvel at the incredible shades of blue that are constantly changing to reflect the intensity of the sunlight, a passing cloud, a tidal current, a reef or gusting winds.  The water is incredibly warm, and as I slip silently off the stern so as not to wake the others, my heart skips a beat when a giant sea turtle joins me. According to Aboriginal legend, Turtle has two energies, earth and water, to create a harmonious flow. She is a reminder not to push so fast that you miss the beauty of the moment—a promising start to our five-day epic sailing adventure.

We quickly gel as a team. I feel the need for speed, and happily, our captain concurs. Today we are blessed with 20 to 25-knot winds that allow us to make a long run to Whitehaven Beach, an uninhabited stretch of magnificent white silica sand that positively gleams in the fading light at sunset. We explore posh Hamilton Island and with sundowners in hand we observe the rich and famous from our vantage point on our deck. We swim, we snorkel and tunnel behind the boat so much so that I am salt-kissed as well as sun-kissed. On our last night, we make our way to Lindeman Island, where we dress up for the first time in days and dance the night away.

If you have never sailed before, take my word for it – nothing is more freeing or thrilling than heeling, keeling, or close haul skimming across the water and anchoring at a new destination, every night. As we head back to port, I ponder how much I have learned not just about sailing but about life from a patient captain who took a risk and literally ‘showed us the ropes.’  Though it is hard to say goodbye to our newfound friends, I am sure our paths will cross again.

Where the Rainforest and Reef Meet

After driving through what seemed to be endless cane fields, we have finally reached Port Douglas, ready to explore the only place on the planet where two World Heritage sites meet – the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.

There is no doubt that we are in the tropics.  The vegetation is lush, and wildlife abounds – lorikeets by the hundreds, bats the size of eagles, huge frogs that grow as large as cats and unfortunately, armies of ants accompanied by swarms of ‘mozzies’. It is hot and humid. Beads of sweat form on my brow, and rivulets run down my neck as we drive to Mossman Gorge, a section of the rainforest that is said to be more than one hundred and thirty-five million years old.

Within 100-metres of entering the trail, we get a reprieve from the heat under a dense canopy of leaves that quickly blocks the sky and filters out the blazing sun. Suddenly it is cool and quiet, very primordial. We wade through crystal clear springs and use a suspension bridge to cross the gorge but taking an overgrown track to Wurumba Creek yields the best surprise. Imagine following a path that seems to lead to nowhere and discovering a series of waterfalls and drop-pools that would serve as a natural spa and own private oasis. We scramble over the moss-covered rocks and submerge ourselves in the frothing waters as giant butterflies sporting every colour of the rainbow flit overhead. I have found my pot of gold. If the Irish brought leprechauns to OZ, I am sure they dwell here.

Our time in Australia is drawing to a close, but one last realm beckons, and we soon find ourselves on the docks at Marlin Marina, ready to board the Rum Runner for a two-day/one-night sojourn to the Great Barrier Reef.

The skies are clear, but the wind is up, and the sea is choppy. When the waves begin to crest at six metres, a few in our group, including my husband, succumb to seasickness, but personally, I find it exhilarating.

As we approach the edge of the reef, I am mesmerized by the never-ending kaleidoscope of blue and green water that stretches for miles. I swear I can hear the siren call of mermaids as we lay anchor and prepare to dive.  Today, the visibility is exceptional. As we make our descent, I am amazed at the stunning coral formations and dazzling array of bi-coloured angelfish, coral trout, and giant wrasse surrounding us. Had I not known it was taboo not to continually breathe when diving, my first glimpse of the fairy tale landscape that lay beneath the waves would have taken my breath away.

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