Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Southport and the Gold Coast

The Month in Review

January was a nice relaxing month, with a bit of site seeing and a few boat projects thrown in.  We spent the whole month anchored in Bum's Bay (a.k.a Marine Stadium), just outside of Sea World, in Southport.  If you've been reading our BLOGs, then you know we love this spot.  Our boat is ultra-protected in a beautiful spot, and between the dinghy and bus system we have access to all of the surrounding cities.  It is fantastic to sit in the cockpit watching the sun set and the city lights come to life.  Staying in one locale for so long has also allowed us to make a number of new friends, including one couple (Raymond & Melissa on Basilea) who plan on traveling up to Indonesia and Thailand on the same rally we do.  This is terrific news for me, as I tend to me more reserved than Chris and have a harder time making and losing friends as we move from anchorage to anchorage. Most of the people we have been meeting are Australian.  We have watched the anchorage fill up and empty time and time again, with various summer holidays, but we seem to consistently be the only foreign flagged vessel.  Everyone has been ultra friendly, even offering use of vehicles and berths. One thing we've discovered is that Australian's sure can drink.  We've had many a social night that has been tough to handle the following morning!

Chris has been a bit psychotic with his fishing lures.  I do believe he has probably hit every fishing store within a 50km radius, and I can't even begin to count the number of hours he's been playing and experimenting with different designs.  Meanwhile I've been enjoying some computer time and planning our land travel down to Melbourne and Tasmania (to occur in mid-Feb/March).  Most of the time Chris and I are in-sync on just about everything.  So it was quite funny when I showed him a number of land travel options ... all of which had us going through the middle of Australia and visiting various outback locations.  While I was thinking, "Cool, we'll drive through the desert to the middle of nowhere and really see the outback", Chris was saying, "What the hell would we want to go through a desert for, especially in summer?"!!!  After much negotiating and discussion we finally settled on driving from Brisbane to Melbourne and then touring Tasmania.  I guess I forget that not everyone enjoys a good desert summer!

In the last week of January we were lucky enough to have a car.  Ray and Mel flew home to Melbourne and let us use their car while gone.  It was terrific to have the freedom to go anywhere, anytime, including getting inland a bit to see the Gold Coast Hinterland.  The Hinterland, as well as some of our other 'big' site-seeing trips (Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Sea World, Brisbane, and Byron Bay) are covered below.

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary (1/12/07)

Since cruising, we'd normally leave the parks and zoos to the kids, and be off 'hunting' in the true wilderness.  But there were a few things I just didn't see happening naturally ... such as cuddling a Koala or shaking hands with a Kangaroo.  Imagine what the claws of a wild Koala would do to you if you dared pick one up, or the punch of a huge 'ol Kangaroo if you walked right up to him (assuming you ever caught up to him in the first place).  There were also a few native creatures that as much as I wanted to see, didn't really desire seeing them if they weren't caged; mainly the crocodiles.

As we stood in line at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Chris made fun of us; we were the only two adults without any kids!  Oh well, if growing up meant I couldn't goggle at various animals, then I suppose I'll just never really grow up.

Our first stop was the Koala's ... cute little buggers that, despite the huge long claws, you just wanted to snuggle.  The only way to actual hold one is to pay for a photo.  I was willing to do this, until we watched a few of the kids and I realized that you got to hold the Koalas for all of 10 seconds ... hardly a cuddle!  Oh well, maybe somewhere down the road I'll get in a hug, but for now just staring at them was satisfying enough.  Which, if you think about it, is surprising given that they are almost always sleeping!  Thanks to their leafy diet they don't have much energy and therefore spend about 20 hours a day asleep!!!  I suppose what is so entertaining about them sleeping is the various positions they manage to balance (and sleep) in ... we still aren't sure how they weren't falling left and right!

Another favorite stop of ours was the Kangaroo pen.  We figured they'd have kangaroos (it is Australia after all), and that maybe during the 3:00 feeding we might get to hand over some hay or something.  So we were a bit surprised when we entered a gate and found ourselves surrounded by kangaroos and wallabies.  You could pet them, feed them, or just sit and hang out with them!  I learned that the Joey's don't just hang in the pouches in the picturesque manner I've always imagined;  both mom and child head up looking out over the horizon.  Rather they seem to just climb in, in any old manner, with feet, tales, or perhaps just an ear sticking out.  Imagine being upside down while your mom is jumping around!  Some of the kangaroos were HUGE!  With forearm muscles bigger than my calves!  If you read our BLOG, then you already know that Chris was especially captivated by the 'bits' of the male kangaroos ... if you missed the blog, you can read part of it by clicking here). We had such a good time ... I think we visited them at least three times throughout the day!

We did think it was a bit cruel however that the kangaroo area is right next door to the crocodile area ... crocs, after all, eat small wallabies!  They had a number of small fresh water crocodiles and one huge salt water crocodile.  It was a bummer to learn that you aren't safe anywhere, because the big guy can live in fresh water too!  The crocodile feeding was very exciting to watch;  with the blink of an eye the croc was out of the water, had snagged up the chicken, and was back in the water!  Besides being amazingly fast, we had also heard that crocs can 'learn'.  One guy had gone as far as to tell us that when we are up north, in croc territory, not to always park our dinghy in the same spot, because the crocs would figure this out and one day we'd come ashore to find them waiting for us!   I wasn't sure how accurate this guy was, but at the sanctuary I did notice that when we first passed the crocodile pool the croc was just hanging around, but when we came back for the show, he had moved to below the feeding platform before the feeder (or food) arrived.  Last time I checked crocs didn't know how to tell time ... so there must be something to this learning thing!!!

They also seem to be clever guys!  When the worker was in the fresh water area with the smaller crocs I was amazed to see some of the crocs actually camouflaging themselves, waiting until he passed to make their move (and I was even more astounded by how calmly the guy just pushed them away with a bucket before walking by!).  One of the crocs even 'knew' to wait until the worker turned his back before trying to make an approach!  And the whole time, while all these crocs stalked and plotted, the worker just calmly stood there answering questions from the crowd.  Crazy Australians!!!

We also checked out the spiders and snakes ... learning that of the top 10 poisonous snakes, Australian is home to ... ALL 10!!!  We tried to spot a Tasmania Devil, but none could be seen.  The dingoes were equally boring ... we only spotted one, and he was sleeping!  They had some amazingly beautiful birds, many of the same variety of those we got to watch at Steve and Lynne's in Nambour.

Towards the end of the day we caught the Aboriginal dance show.  I love the sound of the didgeridoo (an aboriginal wind instrument), it's unique deep sounds are captivating.

Finally, on our way out, we stopped to watch the Lorikeet feeding.  They are wild birds (not in an aviary), so they aren't guaranteed to show or eat.  We sat and watched the mass crowd of people all holding up their plates of honey-ed food; and not a lorikeet eating!  The waiting people were more entertaining then the people.  Those with patience enough to stick it out were finally rewarding when a large flock finally dug in.  Chris got a special treat when he was shooting photos and the flock alighted from a tree and swarmed right through him ... I thought for sure he'd be left with at least one plastered to his forehead!

It was a fantastic day!

Birthdays & Sea World (1/23/07)

This was a milestone birthday for Chris ... he was turning the big 4-0!  And it turned out to be big for me too, because he decided that for his birthday he wanted me as his fiancée!  I couldn't believe that after three years sailing together, five years dating, and SIXTEEN years of knowing each other we were finally 'official'.

With Sea World in our 'backyard', we decided it would be a fun way to spend "his" day.  Sea World here isn't all that different then the Sea World in San Diego, but since neither of us had been in some time it was quite fun.  We especially enjoyed the dolphin show, shark aquarium, and polar bear (although we only got to see him for a minute before he disappeared).  The 'eye', a large Ferris Wheel, is currently visiting and the view from the top, where we could see the anchorage and city, was outstanding.  We ended our day at Sea World cooling off in their water park and racing down the various water slides.

We finished off his birthday with a quiet dinner (one of our new favorite dishes, apricot and cumin stuffed lamb) aboard Billabong.  And since we are on the topic of food, I should mention that we've finally tried kangaroo (kind of sick considering how adorable we thought they were at the wildlife sanctuary).  Chris originally wanted it for Christmas ... figuring you couldn't get any more Australian than that!  But I had refused, and so for his birthday 'week' (yes, I believe in long-term b-day celebrations), I served him Kangaroo Bangers (sausages).  And honestly, they were quite good (not to mention low in saturated fat and cholesterol)!

Brisbane & Area (1/24 - 1/25/07)

Brisbane is about an hour's drive north of here.  Many times we had considered taking the bus, but just hadn't gotten around to it.  Now, with access to our friends' car, we jumped on the opportunity. Brisbane is a big city with just about every store and shopping center you could imagine.  The Brisbane River runs right through the city center.  You can actually anchor 'in' the city, right beside the peaceful botanical gardens.  We only had a day and we had some shopping that had to be done (such as buying cruising guides for Indonesia and Thailand at the local boating book store), so we didn't do any of the 'cultural stuff' (such as museums or art galleries), but we did mange to get in quite a bit of walking.  We spent the majority of our time in Central Brisbane, with a side visit to Fortitude Valley, which seemed to be a mix between China Town and camping/sport-store haven!  The shops ranged from high-end classy to low-end knock-offs;  restaurants, cafes, and fast food joints could be found every few feet; and while we didn't partake, the area was brimming with art centers and museums.  It seems that whatever your pleasure, Brisbane would have something to entertain you ... if you could survive the muggy weather;  it was suffocating at times!  We watched one thunder system roll in and could easily understand where Brisbane gets its hail reputation from (although we were lucky enough to not actually get hit that day!)

Just outside of Brisbane is a huge treat ... an IKEA!  Okay, so you're not impressed, but we love that store.  As we didn't want to have to split our time between Brisbane and Ikea, we made a special trip out to Ikea on the 24th, and visited Brisbane on the 25th.  I'll tell you one thing Ikea has done right; consistent location recognition.  We knew their was an Ikea near Brisbane, but could not remember the name of the town, and didn't know its exact location.  So we hopped on the main highway and headed in the direction of Brisbane ... Chris' theory; Ikea's are always next to a main freeway/highway.  Sounds lame, but funny enough, there it was, in easy, plain sight of the highway! Ikea isn't quite as exciting when you can't really buy anything (nowhere to put it all on a boat), but Chris was ecstatic to go to their Swedish market and stock up on all kinds of stinky-fishy foods!

Byron Bay (1/27/07)

Byron Bay is actually in New South Wales (versus the Gold Coast); about 100km south of Southport. Lonely Planet states, "There's something for everyone in Byron Bay", and they are right.  It's not a huge town, but it's filled with various shops, craft stores, and restaurants.  It is a huge surfer town and backpacker paradise.

We first drove out to the cape, where a lighthouse sits near the most easterly point of Australian's mainland (supposedly this lighthouse is one of the most powerful in the Southern Hemisphere).  As it was nearing noon, the hottest part of the day, we opted not to walk the circuit around the cape. Instead we parked near the town centre and walked amongst the various shops.  There was everything from new age to hippie to surfer duds.  And every type of cafe, bar, and restaurant imaginable.  We grabbed a cold drink and took a break ... catching Serena's outstanding performance in the women's final of the Australian [Tennis] Open.  It was a full day of walking the streets and browsing through the various shops.

On our drive home we ventured off the main highway to drive through the small towns of Brunswick Heads and Ocean Shores.  We were surprised to see a small marina (w/ some pretty good sized sailboats) in Brunswick Heads.  We had no idea you could get a boat up the river.

Hinterland: Mount Tamborine & Springbrook National Parks (1/30 - 1/31/07)

Mount Tamborine is only 20 km inland from the coast (and about 20km north of Southport).  It is vibrant green and littered with farmland.  The road up is steep and picturesque.  We had gotten a late start, so only planned on a scenic drive (versus hiking).  Through the trees we could see the coastline with its tall high-rises shooting up from the sea.  We passed through a number of small towns (or villages as Lonely Planet calls them).  They were small and cutesy ... lots of cafes and antique shops. I did, half-heartily, try to convince Chris to go on a small walk, but it was sweltering outside and leaving the comforts of an air conditioned car wasn't appealing.

The next day we took off for Springbrook National Park (about 20km south of Southport and 20km inland).  As we drove up the steep, narrow, winding road we were reminded of parts of New Zealand; green landscapes, panoramic views, and Jurassic ferns.  The Springbrook NP is actually made up of three separate regions; Springbrook, Natural Bridge, and Mt. Cougal.  We had planned on visiting Springbrook for its waterfalls and short walks and Natural Bridge for its swimming holes. Unfortunately we didn't realize just how much gas the car would suck up on the steep inclines, and of course the ultra-mall town of Springbrook didn't have a station ... see what happens when you aren't used to driving (feet don't require gas)!!!  Luckily we had enough to explore the Springbrook area.

Our first stop was the Canyon Lookout, where Chris commented, "I like this drive-in hiking"!  From the lookout expansive greenery merged with the city skyline on the coast.  In addition we could see at least four waterfalls.  We drove down the road a bit where we could hop on a trail for a small circuit walk to the Twin Falls.  It had been awhile since we'd done any 'bush' hiking and I hadn't realized just how much I missed it.  The sounds and smells put me on a natural high ... I felt as though I could've hiked for days.  Under the cover of the trees the air was cool and bearable; we couldn't have asked for more lovely conditions.  The waterfall didn't disappoint and was worth every bit of the uphill walk getting back to the car.  The only downside of hiking in Australia is that we are both aware of just how many poisonous snakes and spiders Australia is home to (and we still can't get used to it) ... it is a bit hard to fully relax when one paranoid eye is always on the lookout for something ready to kill you!

Our next stop was the aptly named, Best of All Lookout.  All I can say is WOW!  It was stunning. There was a slight haze on the coast see we couldn't see the coast clearly, but still, the panoramic view was fabulous.  I think what I enjoyed most was the serenity of it all; it was so calm, quiet and peaceful.  The only noise was that of the local birds.  When I talked I felt the need to whisper as to not disturb the balance of nature.

I love Southport and the area, but getting out of the city was like a breath of fresh air.  I came back feeling revived and very excited about our upcoming land travel, where I'm hoping we'll visit a number of other National Parks.
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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Wildlife Bits

Current Location: Southport - Surfer’s Paradise, Gold Coast, Australia
Current Position: 27º56.81' S 153º25.39' E
Next Destination: Land travel

If it isn’t obvious (by the fact that we are still here), we quite like Southport and the surrounding area. It is a terrific spot: the anchorage is well protected, calm and usually quiet; we are near the city; steps away from an amazing beach; surrounded by attractions; bus transportation is excellent; we have wireless internet on the boat; and have made quite a few friends. Chris is especially liking that he doesn’t have to keep a serious watch on the weather. Partly due to our prolonged stay here and an offer of a free berth from some friends, it is looking like we will land travel from this area to Sydney (and probably as far as Melbourne & Tasmania), instead of taking the boat south. To a non-sailor (me), this sounds like a fantastic idea!

Last week we bussed it to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. After goggling over the cute koalas, we went to check out the kangaroos and wallabies. We had no idea that we’d be able to walk through a huge field area, where the ‘roos and wallabies would greet us (looking to be fed of course). There were hundreds of them just milling around. It was an amazing experience to feed and pet some of the bigger kangaroos, whose forearm muscles were bigger than my calves! The joey’s (baby kangaroos), were adorable. It was fascinating to watch them climb in and out of their mother’s pouches, and entertaining to watch them flop about as their mother hopped along!

Chris was taken up with the ‘bits’. The ‘bits’, if you haven’t guessed, are the male’s “boys” or, more anatomically correct, the balls. He was actually quite concerned for the poor guys, whose ‘bits’ hung like a pendulum, ready to swing at the slightest movement and getting quite an arc should the guy actually hop somewhere. “They should have a pouch for them, like the female’s have for the joeys”, he told me. He proceeded to redesign the kangaroo’s anatomy, allowing for better support for the ‘boys’! If you ask me the kangaroos didn’t really seem to mind, actually the pendulum-like design allowed them easy access with their short arms, so they could proceed to grab, scratch, and play (in fact we saw one using his like a punching bag; swatting it back and forth)!!! And then there was their ‘members’. I was feeding one kangaroo, when Chris says, “oh look this one has a joey”. I looked and said, “uh no, honey, that’s something else”. “Whoa you mean that’s his ….”, “Shhh, there are kids around!”. In all honesty it really had looked like a joey’s tale (see the joey’s didn’t tend to hang in the pouches head up, all proper and cute like in the pictures, rather they just hopped in, and tails, feet, ears would be sticking out, while the head might remain hidden). Perhaps Chris should’ve been a veterinarian, as he was soon discussing the shape and size of the members along with the pendulum designed bits. Ahhh yes, it was an interesting day indeed!!!

Since cruising I’ve become kind of a snob about seeing animals in the wild versus contained … but this wildlife sanctuary was terrific. Plus some things are better seen behind bars and in cages .. like 10 of the top 10 poisonous snakes and gigantic crocodiles!

On the personal news front, the other big event of the past week was (is) that Chris and I are now “officially” engaged! He finally proposed! We still don’t want to get married until we can be home with family and friends, but it is exciting to be ‘official’!

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