After whiling away another afternoon in Airlie (including one last meal at Little Vegas, my favorite restaurant in town), I got on an overnight bus bound for Hervey Bay. This was my first overnight on Greyhound Australia and, unfortunately, they don’t do sleeper buses. Luck was on my side in that the bus was only half full and I got a 2-seater to myself, but it was still a largely sleepless night. The bus station in Hervey Bay is a bit out of the way, but the hostels in town all send vans to meet the incoming buses and ferry people back to their lodging. I was booked in at Flashpackers, but somehow missed their shuttle. All was well though, as one of the drivers for a different hostel took pity on my and gave me a lift. I was able to check in right away and have a little nap before getting up again to face the day. My two reasons for visiting Hervey Bay were to take a trip to Fraser Island, and go out whale-watching. The lovely ladies at Flashpackers were able to help me arrange both, and even worked out a package deal that saved me a bit of money (very welcome here in high-priced Australia, where the sticker shock after coming from Southeast Asia has still not worn off). I did a little wandering in Hervey Bay that first day, and was up early for my jaunt to Fraser Island the next morning. I’d booked an 2-day tour including an overnight stay. Right from the start, the vibe on this tour was way better than my Whitsunday’s excursion, beginning with meeting Butch, our tour guide extraordinaire. Overall, I’ve been really impressed with the guides I’ve had in Australia, they all seem to really love what they’re doing and have so much great knowledge to share.
Fraser is an awesome place, it is the world’s largest sand island, covered with forests and dotted throughout with freshwater lakes. After our ferry ride over, we all boarded the 4WD bus that would be our main home for the next two days. Given that the island is made entirely of sand, all the roads are sand as well, thus 4WD is the only way to get around. Our first stop was Lake MacKenzie, an improbably blue lake in the middle of the island. The concentration of silica on the beach here is less than at Whitehaven, but it is still remarkably high. Silica is good for lots of things, including polishing jewelry. The pendant I made back in Chiang Mai was looking a little tarnished, so I remembered to bring it this time and give it a good scrub. Shiny as new! Rumor has it you can also clean your teeth by rubbing them with the silica, but I decided not to investigate that one first hand.
Another drive across the sand tracks brought us to Central Station, former headquarters of the logging operation that used to be on Fraser (but has since been outlawed). Here we all got out and took a nature walk along Wanggoolba creek. The water in the creek is so clear, it almost looks like it’s not even there at all. Somewhere along this walk, I got to talking with two English girls from my bus, both of whom are named Laura, and we became fast friends. There was another girl traveling alone as well, Elina (originally from Lithuania but living in Ireland) and the four of us ended up hanging out together for the remainder of the tour. In the afternoon, we trekked out to Lake Wabby, an odd little lake hidden in what looks like an endless field of sand dunes. After a little hike down to the water, Butch brought out his personal collection of boomerangs and offered free lessons to anyone interested. I’m sure you’re all dying to know — turns out I have zero talent at throwing the boomerang. I could barely get it to fly straight, let alone come anywhere close to returning. Oh well. I can’t be amazing at EVERYTHING, right folks?
We spent the night at a little hotel and, as luck would have it, the Lauras, Elina and I were assigned to room together. In the morning, we took the bus out for a drive along 75-Mile beach and pulled over near some little planes parked on the sand. An impossibly adorable pilot came aboard and gave us his best sales pitch as to why we should go up and see Fraser from above. They were offering a special price of $75AUS, and so our group of four decided to go for it! A handful of our busmates also decided to take the plunge…er….whatever, so they had to split up the groups. Sadly, Adorable Sales Pilot took the other group and we were stuck with Grumpy Other Pilot. It was still a very fun and exciting ride, particularly the part where we flew threw a pocket rainstorm and felt very briefly like we were going to fall out of the sky. More exciting and less terrifying was seeing whales down in the water below, jumping and splashing and doing all those things whales do. The plane also takes off and lands right there on the beach, which was a new experience for me. Well worth the money, I think!
After safely returning to the ground, we headed up the beach to check out the Maheno Shipwreck. The S.S. Maheno sailed under the New Zealand flag and served as a hospital ship in WWI. She ran aground during a cyclone in 1935 and the wreck has been on the beach, steadily sinking and disintegrating, ever since.
After a photo op at the wreck, we made tracks for the tip of island, Indian Head. The tide was coming and since we were driving right on the beach, Butch needed to make sure we got all the way out there to wait out the cycle. There’s a short, easy hike up to the top of the lookout for incredible views of the bays on both sides of the peninsula. Next was a trip to the Champagne Pools, so called because the water reportedly effervesces around you when you swim there. Some brave souls got on in the water to find out for themselves, but I was content to remain on the shore. When I was in Asia, there were days when I would have given anything to cool off, but now that I’m in the midst of an Australian winter, I just can’t seem to get warm (and it’s only getting worse the further south I go). We finished waiting out the high tide over lunch on the bluff above the pools and then headed back down the beach to check out the colored sands of The Pinnacles.
These look like little tiny versions of the cliffs you see in southern Utah and the Grand Canyon. We stopped off for a stroll along Eli Creek before heading back to the pier for the ferry ride back to Hervey Bay. Waiting to board the ferry, we were treated to an absolutely incredible sunset and also had a dingo sighting! There is supposedly a large wild dingo population on the island, but this is the only one we saw the entire time. It just looks like a dog, but we were told its fearsome nature is not to be underestimated.
The next morning I was up early again to head out and look for some humpback whales! Whale-watching season had only officially opened a day or two before, so there weren’t as many about as there can be during the peak of the season, but we still had some great sightings! Much like the elusive cassowary, it is really hard to get a shot of the whales surfacing, but I tried my best. Toward the end of the ride, there was one whale that hung out with us for a good half-hour, swimming around and under the boat and frequently popping up a flipper to say hello. So close, you could practically have touched him! It was really fantastic and I came away fully satisfied.
From Hervey, I headed further south to Noosa, a lovely seaside town, a large percentage of which is protected National Park land. There are also supposed to be wild koalas out there, and I was hoping to find some! I spent a couple of days there, wandering the forest trails. No luck finding any wild koalas, but I did see a lot of weird and interesting birds and found some great viewpoints.
After Noosa, it was on to Brisbane and one of my first travel friend reunions! I met Jenaya back in Mendoza in January and we hit it off. She has been home from her travels for a few months now and very kindly offered me her spare bedroom in Brisbane. We had a fabulous weekend catching up and gallivanting around town. I really like Brisbane, it’s small city/large town with a lot going on. I had just two main items on my agenda for the visit: 1) a trip to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary (I couldn’t find the koalas in the wild, so I had to go to where I knew they would be!), and 2) a spa facial at Le Mirage (per a glowing recommendation from the Lauras). Lone Pine turned out to be a kind of free-form zoo, with lots of animals, but the koalas are definitely the main attraction. We arrived around 11 am and excitedly entered the park…to discover that all the koalas were asleep. Apparently, these lazy buggers sleep upwards of 20 hours a day. When sleeping, the roll themselves up into furry little balls and wedge their butts in the crook of a branch. It looks really uncomfortable and incredibly unstable, but it works for them, I guess. It also explains why I was so unsuccessful in spotting any wild koalas up in Noosa; even if they were there, I likely wouldn’t have been able to spot them, their camouflage is way too good! Besides the koalas, Lone Pine has a bunch of different birds and reptiles, as well as a substantial herd of kangaroos. (Herd? Pride? Gang? What do you call a group of kangaroos, anyway? Ed. Note: The internet advises that either “troop” or “mob” is acceptable).
I never really thought about it, but didn’t realize that there are different varieties of ‘roos. The Queensland version are fairly small in stature and a brownish-grey, but there are also the big red guys from the outback lands and these guys are BUFF.
We had one stand up right in front of us and he was our same height (or taller) and with massive pecs and biceps. So humanlike and more than a little unsettling. All around the open area of the park there were ‘roos and wallabies hanging around and emus wandering on the perimeter. Also present were roving bands of Asian and German tourists, armed with selfie sticks and aggressively poking their cameras into the faces of the animals. It seemed inevitable that one of them was going to get kangaroo-punched or emu-kicked at any moment, but the animals managed to keep their tempers the whole time we were there. Other animals on offer included wombats, duck-billed platypus, crocs and various birds of prey (owls, falcons, etc.) who put on a very cool show! But the main event (and one of the highlights of my life) was my photo op with a real, live koala! For the bargain price of $18AUS, I got to hold and have my picture taken with a lovely lady named Minty and it was definitely worth every cent.
After the photo, we went back around to the various koala enclosures and found that most of them were up and about! Well, as up and about as koalas ever get, which isn’t particularly lively. According to one of the park workers, eucalyptus (the only thing koalas eat) is very low is sugar, and accordingly very low in energy. That’s why koalas are so lazy and slow. ***The More You Knowwwww*** They really are the cutest things ever, though, and even as you watch them moving around they still seem more like stuffed animals come to life than actual, independent beings.
We probably could have stayed there watching koalas forever, but had to move on to the other agenda item: facials! For most of my travels, my skin has been really great, but after so many months in Asia, where I was constantly dirty and sweaty and reapplying sunscreen to my face, the condition had deteriorated significantly and a good cleaning was sorely needed. Shanti at Le Mirage did not disappoint, and for $49AUS, the price couldn’t be beat. Poor Jenaya got stuck with a substandard facialist, but it was still a pretty good deal. That night, we met up with some new acquaintances of Jenaya for a night out at The Victory, where the Bad Boys of Brisbane were putting on a free revue.
We were both pretty skeptical about it, but it seemed like it might be good for a laugh. Turns out it was far more awkward that entertaining, which I suppose shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise, so we got out of there pretty fast and went back to the beer garden where I found a sweet Aussie boy named James who was willing to suspend self-consciousness and dance with me to a wide variety of cheesy tunes. Good times! Sunday we got together with Jenaya’s friends for brunch in the South Bank neighborhood, a lovely, lively waterfront area with lots of cute cafes. Her friends are a lot of fun and we had a great afternoon. Jenaya had to work Monday, so I decided to indulge myself with a day of Netflix-on-the-sofa-in-my-pajamas, something I hadn’t been able to do for many, many months. I finally got to finish the final season of How I Met Your Mother (sadness!) and enjoyed the bliss that comes from being in an actual home after such a long (looooong) time spent bouncing from hostel to hostel, sharing rooms with 4-10 strangers of varying levels of personal hygiene. Grateful for travel friends and hope that someday I’ll have a home again and can return the favor.
(Don’t forget to check out — and Like! — my Facebook page for full photo albums from every destination and follow me on Instagram @itskimonawhim for the most up to date info on where I am at any given moment)