Dated: 10 AUG 18
Australasia, my third continent. I must confess that after the likes of Africa and deepest darkest Asia I am a touch deflated with the prospect. On paper Aus is a cyclists paradise, good roads, warm, beautiful beaches and amenities galore; but where is the excitement…the hubbub of people, the dust or the clangourous noise, the history? Eighteen year old British gappies flock here as if on a pilgrimage like Muslims to Mecca but as I sit in my hostel in Cairns, after a very long stop start journey, surrounded by such ilk I’m not feeling it.
Day two and I’ve had a good nights kip after my slog of a flight and I’m back in the game, its amazing what a few winks can do. Though I’m now lying back down for a nap and its only 9am. The lolling boat beneath me threatens to evacuate my stomach so I opt to shut my eyes and await the plunge in to the water when we reach Flynn Reef. Diving the GBR, that`s the Great Barrier Reef, has been on my bucket list for quite some time, well I can now tick it off. Between the crystal clear waters, the ickle fishies, the ever waving coral and my first up close and personal encounter with a turtle Australasia is not disappointing after all.
Six years ago I was backpacking around South America for a few months before signing up and joining the Senior Service. At some point I crossed paths with a chap who goes by the name of Tom. Long since forgotten it came as a surprise to find myself out for dinner with Tom and his delightful girl friend Grace; he has been following my progress and saw that I was in his neck of the woods so very kindly offered to buy me a burger and a schooner of beer (a pint with the top inch missing). We end up talking about travel most of the evening and I do my best to feed the travel bug within both of them with tales of my exploits and about how fantastic Europe is. The travel community is fantastic, who would have thought that I would have dinner with a five minute friend from six years ago. It will be my turn to buy them dinner when they come to Europe next.
On the road again. I’m following the very Australian-ly named Bruce Highway which follows the east coast south. If all of Aus is like this it will be a breeze, yes the lorries a ruddy massive and some of the pickup trucks have bull bars on them straight out of Mad Max but none of them have hit me so far. On Grace`s recommendation I stop in the town of Babinda for a cream filled bun and a coffee. It’s a heart attack in a hand sized face full of light fluff cream and sweet brioche bread. Yum. If I’m not careful this leg of the trip could turn into a cafe tour of the east coast, if there is one thing Australians do quite well it’s coffee, strangely enough. Their fish and chips aren’t up to scratch though.
The further north you go the more the sound like Crocodile Dundee, I’m eaves dropping on a small cluster of north Queenslandians having a good old moan as I try and manoeuvre the cream filed bun into my mouth without smearing it all over my chops. Kids today is the topic and the sub title new aged diets. “Kids these days can eat bloody anything, to much fat, to many preservatives or gluten whatever the hell that might be,“ he was saying, “and have you seen the milk aisle? There must be bloody twenty choices, almonds don’t even have nipples.” It made me chortle, they call us whinging Poms.
I had an idyllic notion of my trip down through QueensLand which involved nice weather (check), good roads (check), good people (check) and lunch time beach swims (negative). Queensland is the state of the superfluous coast, the beaches consist of pristine white sand with lashings of clear blue water but you take your chances if you go for a dip. At the moment its jelly fish season but aside from the stingers you would run the risk of being a shark’s biscuit if you were to dip a toe and there’s the salties to worry about as well. Rivers are no better. Along the length of the Bruce Highway are small creeks with names such as Dingo Creek, Breakfast Creek, Little Pig Creek, Kangaroo Creek (just in case you didn’t realise you were in Australia) and the ominously named Murder Creek; many of these are beautiful clear running streams and rivers perfect for a camp side fire and an evening dip but think twice before dipping that toe or you might become a crocodile’s cracker.
As a campsite consolation there are superb pubic free campsites; the toilets even have double quilted loo roll, double quilted! With running water and all. There is always someone to borrow a hammer off and I always ask in the same fashion “you wouldnt happen to have a hammer? This ruddy Australian ground is to bloody hard.” I always get an enthusiastic response as they happily hand me a hammer nodding in agreement as if to say with patriotic pride, “yeah our ground is bloody hard.” They are an ideal spot and a great place to acquaint ones self with the locals. It was at one such spot that I was invited for coffee by a fella with a pop up trailer. Coffee turned into a desert of bananas and custard, a childhood favourite, followed by an aperitif of a glass of goon (Australian wine decanted from a plastic bag).
Seeing as I cant recall my hosts name I will use some unoriginal poetic licence and name him Bruce. Bruce is a short portly fellow almost as round as is short stature with bushy white eye brows which match his wiry white beard. He reminds me of a hobbit, one with a mobile hobbit hole. After telling me how the Chinese are stealing all the jobs he gives me the run down of the campsite. You have the young lot, manly Germans apparently, in small brightly colours campers or even just cars with the back seats down and a mattress in the back; families with a small festival of tents; average joes with modest caravans and the largest group are the Grey Nomads. These are the retirees who tour the country in their greying years often in caravans that must cost the same as a small two bedroom house. Bruce the hobbit, seemed not to realise that having retired last week and with a full head of starkly white hair he is in fact a Grey Nomad. I didn’t have the heart to point this out.
Its the depths of winter here and there is a slight nip in the air, it could even be said to be wintery. In the subtle dawn light the long grasses lining the road sides are gentle auburn; the browns and oranges of the limp leaves could be mistaken for autumnal but its over indulgence in sun light and precious little water that turned these leaves. On the road crows gather in the early mornings in their murders clustered together, only to scatter as I approach to reveal last nights victims of the road trains. The Bruce highway is a dangerous place to be a marsupial, its like the Somme 1916 but for grey kangaroos and wallabies. Drivers with their excessive bull bars are more likely to accelerate on sighting a kangaroo than brake. It takes away from the peaceful mock winter scene. Some way to treat the national animal.
The Australia I am experiencing is a touch droll! The main road weaves its way through rural country towns which look like what I would expect to find in middle America; single story shop fronts complete with boardwalks, slightly warn signage and an occasional tavern where you might find line dancing on a Friday night, the Midwest feel is only emphasised when you turn on the radio to find it thick with country music (I quite like it). It couldn’t be said to be exciting, cane fields and bush line the horizon with the occasional kangaroo breaking up the skyline or a snake making the hazardous road crossing. The towns are pretty spaced out and actual cities few and far between. Diver fatigue is a serious issue, I have wondered why I pass some many road side crosses on straight roads where it would be pretty difficult to crash but people push their luck and nod off at the wheel with a touch to much regularity here.
However what is great about being in a developed country is the supermarkets, although everyone prefers the familiarity of their own nations markets, these ones aren’t half bad. It is a feast for the senses, a drain on the wallet and pleasant on the pallet. I have even been able to have hummus and peanut butter again (life essentials). Together with the coffee I need to control myself. In one supermarket a few days ago whilst sat on a bench shamefully eating an entire rotisserie chicken out of the bag with my bare hands, I saw a super mum. Whilst shepherding five children, with one hand she was gracefully steering a brimming shopping trolley and with the other holding five sausage baps whilst holding a toddler in the crook of her arm. The sixth sausage bap was not so gracefully held in her teeth. Go mum! I would have offered to lend a hand but I was more feral than her children.