Trust me, twenty hours flying time leaves you feeling none too fresh. So it was just as well that I managed to nip into the washroom for a lightning-quick wash and brush-up and a change of clothes before the plane landed in Brisbane. It turned out that my old friends Ruth and Tony, who picked me up from the airport, had a pretty full agenda planned, so it behooved me to be both sweet-smelling and alert.
First we toured around Brisbane, which is attractive and modern—a bit like a mid-sized Canadian city but with better weather. Some vestiges remain of last year’s devastating floods, and the Brisbane River still looks murky, or maybe that’s how it always looks.
Then we headed over to the City Botanic Garden, which to my eyes is more of a landscape park. It boasts mature specimens of exotic trees from tropical climes, such as this bizarre African sausage tree (Kigelia africana).
And a stately dragon tree (Dracaena draco), which looks a bit like a houseplant on steroids. The day quickly grew hot and humid. Feeling languorous, we opted for a marvelous Matisse drawing exhibition that we could view in air-conditioned comfort.
That was enough sightseeing for one day. We jumped back into the car and drove north to Currimundi, where my friends live in tropical splendour on the Sunshine Coast.
Their home is just a couple of blocks from this beach. On our walk there that evening, we encountered some weird and wonderful sights.
Such as this brush turkey, a big bird that builds its giant, anthill-shaped nests in the ground.
And a tree filled with colourful, noisy lorikeets. As soon as I pulled out my camera, most of them took off in a cloud of red and green, but I did manage to capture these slow-off-the-mark laggards.
Almost at the water’s edge, I nearly tripped over a large Australian Eastern Water Lizard, which was quite well camouflaged. Or were my eyes simply bleary due to the 16-hour time difference between Toronto and Brisbane?
The next day, we set out for the beautiful Noosa Heads area with our mutual friends Joan and Fred, whom I met many years ago in Mexico while doing the hippie thing in a Volkswagen camper (stop laughing, please). Joan and Fred spend their summers in England, but wisely come to Australia for the winter—which is, of course, summer there. We scanned the eucalyptus trees for signs of koalas, but it was a hot day and they weren’t about to make an appearance.
One of the most interesting parts of my Brisbane-area visit was the Mary Cairncross Wildlife Refuge, where the five of us took a long hike on marked trails through the tropical rain forest.
“You might want to wear some socks with your sandals,” Tony said. (This is not a “look” I typically go for.) Puzzled, I asked him why.
“Leeches,” he replied.
Off we tramped into the kind-of-wild. The calls of strange birds filled the air. One of the oddest was the cry of the green catbird, which sounds exactly like a cat. We couldn’t see the bird, but it was certainly vocal. Meow!
We did spot quite a few of these guys, though—the red-legged pademelon, a small wallaby about as big as a mid-sized dog. With the exception of a few stray insects now and then, these loner marsupials are herbivores and they were the closest I got to a kangaroo.
Also in the jungle were numerous strangler figs, which had completely taken over their host trees. Birds pick up the fruit and drop bits of it (and, ahem, other “leavings”) into the tops of trees. The figs start growing from the top and then work their way down the tree, slowly encompassing and “strangling” their host. It’s creepy, but interesting as well.
Swatting away the mosquitoes, I noticed these small orchids growing wild in a clearing. There were numerous types of colourful fungi on the damp forest floor, too.
Later that day, we headed over to the Maroochy Regional Bushland Botanic Garden, which has interesting sculptures scattered throughout its elegant and quite formal grounds. Such as this black marble interpretation of a hairy-nosed Wombat, an endangered species. Next I was off on a “Magical Mystery Tour”, as Ruth and Tony dropped me off in Brisbane at the house of my old pal Leigh, who had plans for us that she wanted to keep a surprise.
The next thing I knew, Leigh, her friend Sue and I were on a car ferry headed for North Stradbroke Island, about an hour away from the mainland. But actually, “Straddie,” as it’s known, was worlds away: a peaceful, sleepy haven. Hurrah! I was going to have a bit of a beach holiday after all.
Once we’d settled into the comfy, self-catering resort, Leigh said, “let’s get some Moreton Bay bugs for lunch.” Now I know she’s a fabulous cook, but even I have my limits. Luckily, the “bugs” turned out to be a type of shellfish that tastes like a cross between lobster and crab. We knocked on a fisherman’s door (it doesn’t get much fresher than that) and soon we were feasting on a mound of bugs and a mountain of prawns, accompanied by Leigh’s homemade coleslaw and potato salad. Yummy.
North Stradbroke Island has a wealth of beautiful beaches and outlooks. We braved the waters at a surfers’ beach, which had muscular lifeguards and big signs warning swimmers to “stay between the red flags.” These flags were just a few feet apart, which spoke volumes about the power of the undertow and rip tides. On another part of the island was a family swimming beach with warm water as calm as a millpond, but surrounded by a giant net to keep out the sharks. Later on, a shore walk took me along the North Gorge, seen above, where the frenzied sea charges in to a narrow, dead-end chasm.
My nicest swim took place at Brown Lake, which is in the middle of the island. This famous lake is surrounded by tea trees (Mellaleuca spp.), and it’s their oil and leaves that make the water the colour of amber and give it its medicinal properties. The water felt soft and silky against my skin and I could almost feel it doing me a power of good, or maybe it was the blue sky, sunshine and warm breezes. A day later, I boarded the plane for Sydney and more adventures, which I’ll write about in a couple of weeks.