East Coast Australia

Nathaniel needed to travel to Sydney for a collaboration, so we took the opportunity to take our vacation in Australia this year, road tripping up and down the eastern coast.

Our first day, we took to the road and quickly adapted to driving on the left, which was easier than anticipated. We drove through the hairpin of Ku-ing-Gai Chase National Park, and then headed north to The Entrance, making it to the sand dunes of Birubi Beach before staying in Cessnock. On the way to our hotel, a wallaby jumped a gross the road, and we slowed to see several of them on the side, just staring at us. We saw another wallaby jump across the second day at dusk too, but most of out wallaby sightings were roadkill. Deer:EasternUSA::Wallabies:EasternAustralia.

We decided that the second day we would head directly up to the Whitsundays region, and make it there on the third day; that way, we’d get the chance to see a areas off the coast, get the bulk of the driving done early, and shave some drive time altogether.

Two things from the drive up will be forever locked away in my heart. One was racing alongside a train in the perfect road trip moment, a stream of uncountable rust-colored coal cars floating above a bed of grass; I felt the sort of freedom you feel when you know that you can do whatever you want, for a while at least. The second moment was watching a small flock of cranes slowly land on a weeping willow tree that stood at the edge of a pond. They perched there, looking like a perfect picture, but we were gone before I could have thought about my camera. I actually enjoy that about driving; it forces you to just enjoy the moment and lock things away in memory rather than with a camera. I like cameras too, but it’s nice to be restricted from using them sometimes.

We stayed at Isla Gorge National park, and woke up impatiently to slow sunrise, for which we did not wait. We drove through the sugarcane fields; I was sorely tempted to pull along the side of the road and run through them, but Nathaniel was against trespassing. We made it to the popular Arlie beach, where we stayed two nights, filling the day between with snorkeling out on the Great Barrier reef. For the snorkeling, we took a boat out to a permanent platform area, which had an underwater observatory from which we spotted “Chunky” the turtle who frequents the platform.

After Arlie beach, we took a slower journey back south to Sydney. Over the next three days, we walked in a rainforest where NWC swam in an isolated waterfall pond, visited the Etna caves, and rented bikes in the coastal town of Hervey Bay, where we accidentally witnessed some older white ladies performing some hybrid between belly-dancing and aboriginal dancing at a street fair. We ended that last day camping in the Rainbow beach area, where NWC tried his hand at fishing for the first time, and I sculpted the dense sand. When NWC was finishing up for the night, he was flanked by two huge pelicans (I'm talking chest-tall), anxious to eat his remaining squid.

In the morning, we did the same (fishing and sand drawing) and NWC caught a half-foot puffer fish with his las bit of bait. It was adorable and we threw it back, but not without some angst as to how to remove the hook. We also ran along the beach, since there had been a bit too much of sitting in a car. We spent the second half of the day in Brisbane, where we walked through the beautiful river park and visited the Queensland Museum. While wandering around, we noticed that ibis had near replaced pigeons as the common city bird, but pigeons were still to be found occasionally. In the evening, we saw a spectacular preview performance of Macbeth. On our way back to the hostel, we witnessed some giant bats perch in the trees; I’m guessing they were flying foxes.

From Brisbane, we drove through the Gold Coast, visited the 1899 lighthouse in Byron Bay, and explored the hinterlands a little. The town of Bangalow was beautiful, and we ate at the fabulous Utopia; we had a piece of macadamia nut cake with lemon icing that I’m hoping to reproduce. We browsed the shops before moving on to Belligen for the night. When enquiring at the local YHA, the receptionist might well have been high; an older hostel resident had to furiously ring the bell to bring him out, and when he arrived, he had to tap his wrists before saying left or right (I’ve done that too, just not several times in a row). My favorite moment was when we asked if there was wifi, and he just gave us the hang-loose gesture as a response. When pressed, he confirmed verbally, Of course, man. To which we recounted that another YHA on this trip had wifi so slow that we couldn’t even check email. That may or may not have to do with the bloke we saw playing WoW consuming all the bandwidth. Anyway, now I want to start a trend with the hang-loose sign meaning wifi.

We ended up camping in Belligen (only for financial reasons...the hostel was very appealing), and we saw a massive colony of giant bats emerging for the night a we set up the tent.  The next day, we did more rainforest walks in the stunning Dorrigo National Park, and drove along Waterfall Way. That night, we camped near Singleton, close to where we spent our first night, and we drove to Lilianfels the next day, where we showered and bathed to our heart's delight in the mist, had high tea, rode everything in Scenic World (the railroad was our favorite), and climbed the 900-ish stairs up the Three Sisters.

The next morning, the clouds cleared and we rushed out to see the Three Sisters, but my camera's memory card had a hardware failure at the end of that adventure.  I bought a new one for the final day, but I haven't yet been able to recover the photos on the old one--that's a whole other story.  Anyway, after savoring the relaxation of the hotel once again, we headed to Sydney.

There, we walked through the Royal Botanical gardens, visited the Art Gallery of NSW, and ended the day with an outdoor performance of Madama Butterfly, with the opera house in the background.  It was lovely.

All through the trip, we were amazed at the similarities between the USA and Australia, both historically and culturally. At other times, we were stuck by how British it was, but those moments were surprisingly rare. NWC’s favorite was the sign that said “Queued Traffic,” meaning that traffic jams frequently there. (My favorite sign was a Koala crossing graffitied to look like a monster.)

It's a huge and beautiful country, and I'm glad we got to see so much of it, even without much photo documentation.

02042014 update: This was picked up for an Australian travel and souvenir blog by a bloke I met at the airport on the way home.

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