Sunday, September 27, 2009

Random observations from the road

We're half way through an epic road trip up the Queensland coast. I'm sitting in the wi-fi hotspot of a caravan park in Port Douglas, it's 10:00 at night, and I'm too tired to compose a proper post after spending a fabulous day snorkelling and diving on the Great Barrier Reef. So just a few notes from the road:

Queensland's official slogan is either The Sunshine State or The Smart State, depending on which license plate you have. It should really be "Queensland: honest, it's not ALL cane fields".

You can't describe the reef without resorting to plattitudes and superlatives. You know how when you watch a nature doco or see travel brochures, and they show people surrounded by stunning coral and vibrant fish, and you say "sure there are some spots like that, but they've just included the best bits in the brochure." Picture yourself in one of those docos, and imagine it going on and on and on, and you've got some idea of what the Great Barrier Reef is like. Yes, they've included the best bits in the travel brochures: because there are an endless number of best bits.

Snorkelling is like flying in a plane above the landscape; scuba diving is like being weightless and swooping in between the mountains.

Platipuses (platipi?) are much, much smaller than you think. The males are only 50 cms long -- about the size of a muskrat. Still well worth getting up early to catch them swimming in the river, though.

After swimming in ocean water for months, it feels very odd to suddenly jump into an icy mountain stream and taste fresh water. It seems flat somehow.

Nothing adds a frisson to a walk along a deserted beach quite like a sign that says, in three languages, that crocodiles have been seen in these waters. I don't care that the water is 28 degrees: I'm not going in.

After spending all day travelling along the Cape Tribulation road looking for cassowaries, I am starting to suspect they don't really exist. They seem like such improbable creatures anyway. OK, so I've seen them at Steve Irwin's zoo, but I now think it was probably just an emu in a prosthetic. Or else a backpacker in a costume, trying to earn a few bucks.

One night we had a bunch of drunken revellers at the next campsite. People complained and they were moved. The next night, flying foxes and nesting curlews took their place. I slept better with the drunks -- at least they had good taste in music.

It is going to be really, really hard to go back to camping in Canada, where you have to put your food away at night. Here, nothing eats your garbage and then comes looking for you as a dessert. (Unless you camp within 50 metres of a waterway; then it doesn't much matter what you leave outside. You're the main course and dessert.)

We went sailing on the Maxi Ragamuffin, one of only two boats to have won the Sydney-Hobart race three times. Any other boat I ever sail on is going to feel like a barge. All of us are listing that trip as one of the highlights of our time here. (The fact that we were in the Whitsunday Islands, one of the finest sailing spots in the world, didn't hurt.)

If I could, I would grow an enormous amount of bamboo in our back yard. It's just such a cool feeling to walk through a bamboo garden. Makes you feel like a panda.

I would also grow mango, jackfruit, sapote, lychee, and all the other fruits they use to make ice cream at the Daintree Ice Cream Company.

Including durian, even though I would have to sit outside to eat it because Sharon can't stand the smell. Probably outside in the neighbour's yard.

That's all for now. Tomorrow we go looking for the resident crocodile in the local river. I'm told if you wade in, splash around and make a noise like a chicken he just shows up. I'll let you know how it works out.

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