Thursday, June 18, 2009

Long weekends, part one: Bundaberg

It's been a while since I posted, for the simple reason that we've been busy travelling. We've just enjoyed two long weekends in a row -- on Monday, June 8, Australians celebrate the Queen's Birthday, and on Friday, June 12 Sharon's school got the day off to go to the local fair. Every school gets a fair day -- or show day, as they call it here. It was just a coincidence that the Nambour show day falls in the same week as the Queen's birthday.

Since those are the last long weekends this school year, we decided we needed to use them to travel. The Queen's birthday first.

We decided we wanted to see a bit more of the coast to the north of us, so we looked at the map to see what was a reasonable long weekend drive away. Bundaberg looked promising, about 3 1/2 hours north, so we packed up the borrowed camping gear and hit the road.

Bundaberg is on the river, about 14 kms inland from the ocean. We had booked a campsite on the ocean at a place called Bargara Beach, which turned out to be quite a pleasant little spot. The campground itself is a lot like the Encore park we've stayed at in Florida, except that it has a communal kitchen which meant we didn't need to bring a cookstove. Ana was happy, since that meant we had room to squeeze the guitar in the back of the car -- sitting around the campsite, playing Dust In the Wind and Crazy On You seems to be her latest passion when we go camping.

We pitched our tents under some massive fig trees, gnarled old beasts that made us feel like we were camping in a field of Ents. (I seem to keep coming back to Lord of the Rings references as we travel around Australia. Ever since we went to the Blue Mountains and saw -- I kid you not -- Mount Solitary. I can just imagine what will happen when we get to New Zealand in December.) Campfires aren't allowed at most private campgrounds we've found, which makes it a bit of a drag, but we had fun watching the possums prowl around in the moonlight. And listening to Crazy on You, of course.

Bargara is famous for... well nothing, really, other than being near Mon Repos. The beach at Mon Repos was the site of some early aviation testing, but it's best known as the site of the biggest turtle rookery in the hemisphere. Hundreds of leatherbacks and other turtles come ashore here every summer to lay their eggs, which hatch a few months later. It's supposed to be quite a sight. Unfortunately we missed it by a couple of months. But the interpretation centre looked nice. The outside of it, at least -- it was closed for the season. Canadians who were there in January said it was one of the highlights of their trip, so we may just have to go back in November or December.

Oh well, on to Bundaberg itself. Bundy, as it's sometimes called, is in the heart of cane country. You drive through miles and miles of sugar cane fields to get there. Since harvest starts soon, the cane is tall -- about three metres or more. Rural homeowners must lose their scenic view around this time of year, since the cane is above most windows. And forget climbing a hill to get a better view, because there are none. Bundy is flat, flat, flat. There is a hill just outside town with a scenic lookout. The hill is known, with suitable modesty, as The Hummock -- not exactly Mount Solitary.

Still, where there's cane there must be molasses, and where there's molasses you can find rum. Bundaberg Rum is one of Australia's iconic brands, found in every bar and bottle shop in the country. Naturally we had to tour the distillery. C'mon kids, let's go get some rum! It was an interesting tour, especially when we stood at the door of one of the Bond Stores, inhaling the aroma of $6 million worth of rum wafting over us. We got free tastings, naturally, which included a Dark And Stormy (rum and ginger beer), and an aged sipping rum on the rocks (pleasant enough, but not enough to get me away from scotch or Irish whisky). Isaiah won a bumper sticker by being able to remember the name of the yeast they use to ferment the molasses -- because he is under age, though, I had to accept it on his behalf. Like all Bundaberg products it features a polar bear. The bear was apparently added in the 1930s as a way of convincing southerners that they should drink rum, which they viewed as a tropical drink. The idea was that rum could drive away any chill. Apparently it worked, because the bear is everywhere.

Next door to the distillery is a cooperage, where we watched a cooper put together wooden barrels, and tried our hand at assembling one as well. What a lot of steps involved in building a barrel.

We also stopped at a farmer's market. Markets are fabulous all over this part of Australia, because the produce is so fresh and good. We bought a bag of the best macadamia nuts we've had so far, 2 kilos of freshly-picked mandarines, and bags of fresh avocadoes and passion fruit.

And best of all, I got my birthday hat. I'd been looking for one for a while, and I found it in the market. It's made of kangaroo skin, it's lightweight and comfortable, and according to Ana it makes me look like a total tool. Not bad for one hat! It's the stereotypical outback bush hat, which absolutely nobody wears here on the Sunshine Coast. And no, that's not because Coast residents have an aversion to goofy hats. It's because they've got even goofier ones to wear: they prefer enormous straw beasts, a bit like coolie hats. Theey seem to have been put away for the winter, but they will show up again once it gets hot, I have no doubt. And when they do, I'll be ready to stroll out there with my kangaroo hide, looking every bit the Canadian tourist on holiday.

On our way back home, we stopped at Snakes Down Under and got up close and personal with various lizards and reptiles. As roadside zoos go, it was well above average. We also stopped for dessert at a macadamia farm that is, apparently, famous for its ice cream. It was tasty, but a bit bizarre -- more like frozen condensed milk than ice cream. A little of it went a long way!

No comments: