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Journals from James Cook University, Australia

2009-10-05 Spring Break Aussie Style

This last week was Lecture Recess (Australian equivalent to Spring Break). Three friends and I rented a station wagon for 11 days and decided to see how far south we could drive before we had to turn around and come back to Cairns. After minimal planning and preparation, we were on the road. There were only three places that we were determined to see: Whitsunday Islands, Fraser Island, and Brisbane. Our first night of driving was non-stop to Airlie Beach. After 8 hours of driving, and running of gas, we finally made it. Despite our efforts to find a camp ground for the night, we gave up and slept in the car--the first of many times on the trip. The next morning we woke up and made a booking to camp on one of the Whitsunday Islands for three nights. The island was completely empty except for us, and the view was spectacular. It was the best experience Ive had in Australia thus far. The beach was completely made of coral and we were given scuba diving gear to explore the reef just off of the shore. I saw sea turtles, parrot fish, and many jellyfish. After three days which consisted of hiking, staying up late, sunbathing, and watching the sunsets, it was time for us to drive farther south. Our next stop was Brisbane, another 10-hour drive. The city was significantly larger than Portland, but it had several similar characteristics, and it was nice to be in a city again. It was the first big city Ive been in since my arrival. I fell in love instantly with the esplanade and architecture that Brisbane had to offer, as well as the wide variety of (cheap) delicious food options. We only spent a day there before travelling to Surfers Paradise, another hour south. I did not expect the city to be quite so industrialized, and it was shocking to see skyscrapers dominating most of the coast line. The Uni Games were occurring during our stay, so the city was packed with students from all over the country. The night life was so much fun, and very busy. It was much busier and cleaner than anything in Cairns. We splurged and rented a hotel room for the evening, which turned out to be a brilliant idea. None of us had had a proper shower since we left Cairns 6 days before. The next day we spent lounging at the beach, watching beach volleyball and surfers, both experienced and beginners. It was the busiest beach Ive ever been to, but it had such a great atmosphere. It was obvious that the city itself was a tourist trap, yet it maintained the Australian vibe that I would expect it to lose. There was one last adventure that we had to endure before beginning our travels home and that was Fraser Island, the worlds largest sand island. This was north of Brisbane, so we spent all evening driving north. The next morning was another early start (6 am to catch the first ferry out), but it was worth every moment. After hiking 14 kilometres (roughly 2 hours on sand in the heat in flip flops, mind you) inland to Lake McKenzie, we were rewarded by a large fresh water lake. The sand was white and fine and the water faded from crystal clear to dark blue as it approached the deep waters. We were the only hikers that day, and the only ones in the campsite. We spent part of the evening exploring around the lake, and the latter part star-gazing. Unfortunately, it was dingo mating season, so there were many warnings for any hikers. We had an early night to prepare for our 5:30 am hike back to the jetty to catch the morning ferry at 8:30. After we arrived back on land, we started our drive back home, making several stops along the way. We stopped at the Bundaberg Rum factory to tour where they produce all the rum from the local sugar cane fields using molasses. We were determined to find as many of the Big Things that are scattered across the continent. We were able to find the Big Pineapple, Big Crab, and Big Gumboot. After 19 hours in the car, it felt good to be back at the lodge. The next couple of days will consist of sleeping and eating anything other than canned/dehydrated food. It was the best road trip that Ive ever had that was filled with great company, great conversation, and amazing experiences. However, I have never been so thankful to take a shower and sleep on anything other than a car seat or ground. Sam O'Connor

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