Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Coasting For A While

From the outback we had to quickly reach the coast as my entourage was about to expand substantially once again. My brother had also decided to come out and join us and we were to meet at the northern coastal town of Townsville (an odd, tautological name if you think about it). About 100km before reaching our destination we picked up a hitchhiker and since the roles are usually reversed I took the rare opportunity to do a good deed and help out another traveller. He turned out to be from Romania (although he initially said Transylvania as more people are familiar with that name thanks to Bram Stoker). As we progressed through our initial introductions it turned out that not only was he Romanian, but he had spent the past year in Indonesia studying Bahasa and was a good friend of Horia's. On top of that he actually knew who I was and had seen my blog before (and could even remember its ridiculous name). It seems that the world truly is getting smaller.

Iulius chilling with us at a national park. He's currently travelling throughout Oceania on his own little anthropological project to study indigenous and colonial cultures and their interactions (he had some great stories about his travels in Papua New Guinea). You can see his progress on his website, Southern Cross Badge.

Unlike me, my brother has a proper, respectable, job and getting free time for vacations is not a straightforward task. Given that he only had a week to spend with us my travelling style had to take another change, with us not only staying in accommodation, but also calling in advance to book it (sometimes even a day or more before). Tours also became necessary to cut down on time spent organising activities. After such a long time alone being "time-rich, money-poor" I was now in a group, rushing and spending far more than I would ever normally contemplate (although luckily most of the expenses were being met by my father and brother). Never mind the circumstances though, it was good to see my brother again after such a long time. Like all proper male relationships we completely ignored any weighty or important topics of conversation and carried on where we left off, with some friendly joshing, banter and inside jokes.

Owing to my brother's limited time we confined ourselves to the Queensland coast and its main tourist draws of the Great Barrier Reef and Fraser Island, The former needs no introduction as the largest structure built by living organisms in the world, viewable from space, and stretching from the northern tip of Australia 2600km southwards to Brisbane. The reef is naturally well-managed and visiting is a simple matter of booking a tour, sitting on a boat and being whisked away to a resort where everything is taken care of. Idyllic, peaceful, relaxing and not challenging in the least. I've become rather ambivalent about first world tourism: everything is clean, sanitised, easy. There are brochures aplenty and a plethora of extra activities, but the magic just doesn't seem to be there. There's no danger, no sense of accomplishment, no uncertainty, no chance that things might go totally pear-shaped - in short no adventure. I can see the appeal but it's not what I prefer. Not that I put up a fight, especially when my brother insisted on hiring a jet ski, something that I would never normally do, not least because of the price (half an hour of jet ski could keep me going for a week in many other countries). The reef itself, or at least its outer, 'Barrier', part is at quite some distance from the shore and takes a good couple of hours to reach. The only indication that you had reached the edge of the reef was  a darkening of the water as the seabed dropped off and a greater choppiness to the waves of the open ocean. Having just gained my diving licence this year it was obligatory for me to inspect one of nature's greatest wonders (and one which may no longer be there for much longer) up close and underwater.

Even my dad had a go on the jet ski. It's a lot of fun, a little bit scary, but also way out of my budget.

Fraser island is another of Australia's big ticket tourist draws. Lying just off the coast a little north of Brisbane it is the world's largest sand island, with a unique ecology consisting of dry, kauri forests and perched lakes of crystal clear waters. The biggest draw for most people though is the opportunity to career along the island's rugged, sandy tracks and long expanses of beach in 4WD jeeps. Being the proper tourists that we are we were not going to be left behind and rented a jeep of our own. It turned out to be an old, sturdy Landrover Defender (or it could have been new - all Defenders look as if they've already seen active duty in the Somme even if they're fresh off the assembly line), the type that's less aerodynamic than a chest of drawers. I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed throwing that hunk of junk around the rutted trails. Nevertheless I did insist on us doing at least a bit of a hike through the forest where we were rewarded with sightings of goanas, skinks, a snake or two and a multitude of bird life (Australia's fauna is so particular to itself that I am unable to identify much of what crosses my path). Fraser Island's most famous residents, its packs of wild dingoes, only presented themselves the next morning as we were camping by the beach. The multitude of brochures emphasise the dangers posed by dingoes and the need to exercise Extreme Care, to the point where one may be excused for believing them to be bloodthirsty killing machines. In reality they were far smaller and more emaciated than I had expected, although all wild animals should be accorded respect and treated with caution (far more worrying for me was the legion of giant horse flies that descended on us as we were setting up our tents). Apparently the dogs surrounded my tent whilst I was sleeping (according to my brother and father who were in a separate tent) but I slept right through it.

Mark posing by our sturdy Defender on Fraser Island's eastern beach, where you can have fun driving on the edge of the surf.

But time is too fleeting, and after only a week it was time to take Mark down to Brisbane to catch his flight back home. Hopefully it shall be less than two and a half years until we catch up again.


Stephen said...

I've gotta agree on first-world tourism. Still a lovely chance to experience new places and cultures, but it seems like sort of essential difficulty is usually missing. Sort of a 'vacation' feeling, I think.

Also, this is the first time I've seen 'tautological' used in a travel blog post since... ever?

Erik said...

Well I try and help expand my readership's vocabulary. :-)