Australia 2011: Towards Cairns

Fraser Island seemed to be a ‘must’, so we made a stop at a site nearby and made reservations to go over there the following day. We got up early ready for the bus to take us to the boat, waiting by the site gate…and waiting…and waiting. An hour later, as we were about to give up, the bus came. Our mistake- we hadn’t accounted for a change of time zone. But the island of sand was worth the wait- if only for the wacky traffic on the sandy beach- several vehicles including a small plane.

We had a stopover before reaching Cairns at Townsville, where a large site faced the ocean and was semi occupied by permanent residents. We are used to staying in all kinds of sites, some purely for tourers and others where people have their permanent homes, either being perfectly acceptable to us.

It was while we were at Townsville that something happened to us which had never happened before…and has not happened since. We were robbed.

It was in the morning. We packed up ready to go and had decided to go and visit the town’s aquarium before we moved on. The last couple of morning jobs included taking the recycling across to the bins, which I did, whilst simultanaeously Husband had nipped out to empty something, meaning that the van was unlocked and open…for all of one minute, our bags left on the front seats. Thus far we’d noticed nothing amiss. We drove from the site and to the aquarium, where we entered and prepared to buy tickets. Husband drew out his wallet- which was empty of all cash. I drew out mine- also empty of cash. I don’t recall how much cash we’d had, but it was a substantial sum, however we still had our bank cards. Phew!

I’ll never know how someone was able to get into the van, access both wallets from our bags and lift all that money in such a short time! It was a salutary lesson on van security though and I think we have to see it in the context of all the years we’ve travelled safely and without incident.

Before going to Cairns we went to the Eungas National Park, a site in a great position up in the hills where we hoped to see some wondrous wildlife…and we were not disappointed. It was a peaceful and beautiful place, views over the valley below punctuated with impossibly tall palm trees. There were walkways through the forest giving access to waterfalls and pools, delicious, in the tropical heat, to bathe in. We were thrilled to see all the wonderful bird and plant species, but far and away the best thrill, after waiting patiently by a quiet pool in the early evening, was spotting a duck-billed platypus paddling around, oblivious to us.

As we’d still not spotted any koalas roaming wild we resorted to visiting a wildlife sanctuary where the cuddly creatures were in abundance, mostly slumbering, as is their nature. Wandering around, we were followed so closely by unfenced wallabies that I stepped back and trod on the toes of one, leading me to apologise profusely…and foolishly. Among the other animals there were cassuaries, dingoes and the most enormous, ferocious crocodile I have ever seen.

Then it was on to Cairns itself…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Australia’s East Coast, 2011

This is the second episode of my Australia Travelogue. Part 1 can be found in last week’s post.

While we’d barely looked at Sydney we couldn’t delay the pick-up of the campervan for another day, so we escaped the cheerful grime of the backpacker hostel and went to fetch our wheeled home for the next 4 weeks.

The plan at this point was to motor up the East Coast from Sydney to Cairns, about 1500 miles. We allocated one week for this journey.

To begin with, the beaches and harbours where we stayed were very similar; wind and wave-swept stretches of coast, for the most part almost deserted except for an occasional walker. The character of the campsites differed from New Zealand’s in that they were larger, bleaker and less intimate. On the first night’s stop we were thrilled by the sight of moderately large lizards which loitered around the pathways and tracks with a studied nonchalence, looking like security personnel.

This was a long drive, punctuated by mainly overnight stops. En route we needed to shop and [of course] pick up beers and so on, using the ‘bottle shops’, since alcohol is not sold in supermarkets as it is in the UK.

As we motored north towards Queensland the landscape gradually altered. Towns were further apart and there were vast stretches of agricultural land where sugar cane is grown. We’d sometimes spot a goods train transporting the cane and these long, snaking vehicles seemed to stretch for ever across the flat fields. The coast was also changing, the beaches huge, the tidal range massive. Along the road we encountered land trains- gigantic lorries pulling a number of large trailers. The roadsides were sometimes fringed with eucalyptus trees and during my turns as a passenger, I was constantly scanning the trees for koalas, a pursuit which was never successful.

There were, however, encounters with wildlife in other areas, such as site showers, where we’d share an occasional shower with a cane toad or a lizard.

For some reason we had high expectations on the approach to Surfers Paradise, a large city south of Brisbane- maybe it was because we’d spent long hours on deserted roads or looking at miles of sugar cane fields and the idea of a surfers town appealed to us. I was thinking of our own Newquay, in Cornwall, UK- a surfer’s paradise for sure. But Surfer’s Paradise, Australia was not at all what we expected. It is a high rise conglomeration and no glimpse of surf greeted us as we drove through. A motor racing event was taking place, so all there was to see were stands and flags. We passed on through.

I was also in a fever of anticipation to see Brisbane, and indeed it did look wonderful as we drove along the river front, searching for somewhere to park the van so that we could explore the place. But here, we drew a blank. We could find nowhere at all to park our wagon and I had to be content with photographing what I could see from the windows. Ho hum. Perhaps we’ll make a return visit at some stage?

So we continued onwards and northwards…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

Peaks and Troughs in Sydney

It’s now a whole 10 years since we threw in our proverbial towels, packed our bags and set off on what remains our longest and most thrilling trip; first to New Zealand and then on to Australia. And while we were to be away for almost 3 months it felt like a real adventure, rather than a ‘holiday’.

I’ve described our trip around New Zealand, and how we were to visit plentry of spots that many New Zealanders have not seen, especially those who live on North Island. We’d timed the visit to coincide with the Rugby World Cup that year but gave ourselves enough opportunity to see the country. Even so, there remain places we missed!

Nevertheless, before the final of the RWC we’d planned to move on- not to return home, but to return to Australia for a look at as many iconic and well-known sights as we could fit in.

Arrival to Sydney from Auckland was late, and by the time our transfer had dropped us at the opulent ‘Seasons Darling Harbour’ hotel it was too late to see or do anything [we’d been last to drop off on the transfer bus]. At check-in to the hotel we were told we’d been booked in the previous year and marked as a ‘no-show’. This was our first hitch of the entire excursion and a real blow, since there were no rooms available, apparently, although the receptionist rallied and offered us a ‘suite’ somewhere high up in the high-rise hotel. This was all very pleasant as the suite comprised a living room as well as bathroom and bedroom, although we were only booked in for the one night!

The following morning, as I sat on the high rise toilet and contemplated the stupendous view of Sydney Harbour I heard a loud rushing noise qhich was quickly followed by the monorail swishing past the window. Who knew? The commuters would have a tale to tell their colleagues.

Realising we should have given orselves more time to view Australia’s iconic city before collecting our first Australian van, we asked about reserving a second night, only to learn that the price would entail taking out a mortgage, upon which discovery we checked out to seek a cheaper option. This, sadly, turned out to be the ‘backpacker hostel’, providing as stark a contrast to the previous night’s stay as it is possible to describe. Nevertheless we wanted more time to see Sydney and had little choice but to check in.

Wary of the greyish sheets on the bed and the sticky carpet, we left our bags and set off to see the sights, which were, admittedly, quite wonderful- Sydney Harbour Bridge standing stately over the glistening water and the iconic Opera House presiding over all. The waterfont is all you would expect. We took a ferry over to Manly, mainly for the views.

Eventually, after a long day of tourist sight bombardment, we returned to the skanky hovel of our accommodation and made the best of it.

In other areas, our travel fortunes continued to be rocky when a cash machine denied my card and refused to cooperate, which was yet another blow. Without card use or cash we were proverbially stuffed. We gathered together such change as we could muster and bought a phone card which we used to call my bank, who, I was at pains to explain, had been thoroughly apprised of all our travel plans; at which, yes, they did restore my financial capability. Phew!

Best Trip to Date…

The words ‘holiday of a lifetime’ are strange and dispiriting, I feel, implying that future excursions are off the cards. How are we to know that a trip is a ‘holiday of a lifetime’? It is something you cannot say until the possibility of travel is no longer there for some reason. For the majority of us, this reason is only going to be extinction, or such catastrophic incapacity as to make travel impossible.

There are places and explorations, however that render all other trips insignificant, that if asked where are favourite holiday or travel experience was we would answer without hestitation. For me, that trip is our tour of New Zealand in 2011. And I will endeavour to write and show all the reasons why this experience tops everything else to date.

For a start, the idea was hatched [by Husband] as a grand retirement jaunt, both of us having turned in the towel on teaching that year. Then it happened to be New Zealand’s turn to host the rugby world cup, which was an obvious lure for Husband. Myself, I’m not as averse to rugby as I am to other sports and the watching of international games was to provide an extra frisson and reason to love these very special islands.

In order to take in as much of the rugby as possible whilst also seeing most of New Zealand we opted for campervan hire, and given that we were acccustomed to vans and camping this seemed the most suitable way for us to travel.

The expedition did not have a great start, since on arrival to Heathrow we queued up to be told that our Quantas flight to Brisbane was cancelled and we’d have to go next day, spending the night at an airport hotel. This meant that our onward connecting flight to New Zealand would no longer be possible. With no options, we gnashed teeth and went to the hotel, returning next day for a flight to Australia-but to Singapore, which we duly boarded, having been blithely assured we’d be ‘sorted out’ once we got there.

At Singapore it was about 2.00am and we queued up, bleary-eyed, at a Quantas desk, finding ourselves at the very end of a long, snaking line of disgruntled passengers. Much later, at the desk, the staff member seemed to be at a loss to know what to do with us, finally adding us to the next flight to Sidney, which is at least Australia, so we’d be nearer to our destination!

Who knows what time it was when we arrived to Sidney? It was late. Dark. We dragged ourselves to the airport hotel, to wake after what seemed no time at all for another flight-to Christchurch! At check-in I believed I was hallucinating when the woman at the desk asked us to open all our luggage for scrutiny, after which we barely made it on to the plane. By the time we touched down at Christchurch I was beyond calculating how many hours we’d travelled, or how many hours we’d missed or gained.

But arrival to the small, homely airport was like stepping out of a blizzard into a warm bath; the staff friendly, the arrival pain-free. Then we walked out into spring sunshine, to where a taxi driver waited, his door open ready for us to sink into a seat and we were off to see if the hotel that had expected us 24 hours ago still had our room available…

My brand new novel, the eco-thriller, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Christmas Climates-what’s your preference?

In 2011, towards the middle of November, in the midst of an extended trip to New Zealand followed by Australia we found ourselves in Adelaide in temperatures of around 30 degrees. And Christmas was cranking up.

Adelaide was delightful-quaint architecture [what goes for ‘olde worlde’ in the New World], a busy, buzzing city with a vibrant night life, cheeky, fun bars and plenty of attractive, green spaces.

During most of our road trip we’d been disappointed with evening, cultural life. The vast majority of bars, devoted almost entirely to gambling-‘pokies’ and horse racing-tended to shut around 9.00pm. We’d show up just before, at a time we are accustomed to setting out in the UK to be told we could get one drink before they closed up, or that they were in fact just closing. We were mystified. Where was the fabled ‘wild west’ lifestyle, the Bohemian, carefree, party, outdoor social whirl?

Turned out I’d been watching too many ‘Wanted Down Under’ programmes. Other than for an early evening meal no one bothered with going out except hardened gamblers, who sloped off in inevitable disappointment once the books were closed.

Adelaide, though was different. The nightspots were thriving. There were throngs in abundance. The locals enjoyed life. One bar proclaimed it was ‘the worst vegetarian restaurant in the world’, in praise of its steaks. Result.

Our hotel, reserved by Trailfinders [hence not a penny-pinching hostel such as we’d have selected if left to our own devices] was magnificent; a monument to luxury and decked tastefully in the burgeoning Christmas items that were adorning the city. Christmas trees sparkled at the foot of the sweeping staircase.

Outside in the street the stores sported their own Christmas displays-Santa and his reindeer cavorting above the porch of a department store, tinsel glinting in the searing heat of the sun.

To those of us accustomed to Christmas in the Northern hemisphere the appearance of Yuletide decorations in a heatwave is a surreal experience. I responded with a driven desire to obtain Australian style tree decorations-a mission in which I failed, until my kind, Antipodean aunt, seeing my predicament mailed me a beautiful, red and white felt kangaroo to dangle from the branches of our own tree.

Still more outlandish, Hong Kong-where we stopped over on our return in late November-boasted enormous Disney-style Christmas trees constructed entirely of plastic cartoon frogs and vast ornate merry-go-rounds in glittering gold and shiny purple. All this in an atmosphere that could wilt a cactus.

I am in awe of those who celebrate the festive season in a hot climate. But despite being one of the first to complain about cold, dark, frosty mornings and bleak winter nights there is something very special about Christmas at home, here in the UK where we still retain some semblance of changing seasons. And after all, with only one week until the shortest day [in daylight hours] spring is just around the corner.

Weather or not?

                So here in the South of the UK we have been deluged by storms, wild winds and relentless rain since early December. Yet curiously, the press continues to feature the stories of fallen trees, collapsed roads and rail networks, homes without power , flooded buildings and drownings as if they were news. How many people are left who are surprised by the endless flood of stories and the deluge of videos on the subject?

                Elsewhere in the world, large tracts of land are drought and fire ridden or have been locked into a standstill by statistic-busting snowfalls and gigantic freeze-ups. Presumably their journos and pursuing a similar line of ceaseless weather reportage. Is anyone else suffering from weather news fatigue, as I am?

                Here on England’s South coast we have been battered and buffeted enough to have sprung some leaks and lost some roof tiles, a nuisance and an expense if nothing else, but of course you can only feel sympathy for those whose properties have been flooded and ruined for the second, third or even fourth time in one winter. This weather, they all agree, is unprecedented. I feel sure that the Australian home owners who have lost everything in bush fires must feel the same. Is there anyone left who is still a climate change sceptic? Whether you believe it is man-made or not, that it is happening cannot be denied.

                We in the so called democratic countries elect our ruling parties on the strength of their policies, do we not? But can there be an issue in the world that is more pressing, more urgent than climate change? I don’t think so. Yes, terrorism is a frightening prospect, economic depressions affect everyone and the world’s dwindling resources provoke anxiety-but all of these issues, I believe are connected to the increasing gap between rich and poor [yes-even terrorism] which is a direct result of climate conditions. The poorest peoples live in the places that struggle most with inhospitable weather, most in Africa. These are the places where extremist, terrorist groups are most likely to get a toehold and then a stranglehold, where a population is starved and impoverished and unable to respond or retaliate.

                And so what have the developed nations done? Have they got together to implement policies for world good? Have they agreed to share resources, work out ways to minimise damage, acknowledge that fossil fuels are not going to last forever, that sustainable energy sources are vital and that the needs of the starving, desperate peoples on the planet must be addressed by all of us? No. Some lip service has been paid. The UN has been meeting since 1992 and has still not reached any binding agreement. Have an expensive, lavishly serviced meeting of world leaders [all arriving in expensive, heavily guarded private aircraft], wring their hands a bit and go away again.

                The world’s populations will just have to shift. The peoples of the more advantaged nations will have to accommodate those whose environments have become uninhabitable. This will leave vast areas of the planet devoid of humans. What wonderful places they will be!