Once our sail of the Great Sandy Straits and Fraser Island was finished, we had a week and a half before we were due to fly home to catch up with our commitments at the Dowerin Field Days. The weather forecast was full of rain, with a major rain event forecast for the intervening weekend. A big rain would be most welcome in SE Queensland and even more on the western side of the Great Divide. The forecast promised just such an event, so we put aside any thoughts of sailing again for a while and mapped out a touring session.
We had five priorities:
– Get back to Mooloolaba for the August PVI (Project Vietnam) meeting.
– Bed down Sandpiper for our trip home.
– Catch up with Jack and Jude, friends in Ballina, NSW
– Catch up with my Aunt Rube who lives on the Gold Coast
– Spend some time exploring Brisbane after an absence of 25 years.
Quite a bit of driving for ten days!
We spent a couple of days in Tin Can Bay, washing clothes, cleaning the boat, recharging etc. We met a wonderful couple, Gary and Trish, originally from Tasmania but now retired to Queensland. Their travel mode took the attention away from us with their wonderful three wheeled Harley and its amazing camper trailer. They camped next to us and we couldn’t believe how the tiny trailer expanded into a glorious canvas mansion. We enjoyed some great times together swapping yarns.
From Tin Can Bay, it was off back south to Maroochydore, to stay for the night in what must be one of the biggest caravan parks in Australia. If we were booked in for longer, we would have got the bikes out just to move around the park. On the one side is the beautiful Maroochydore Beach and on the other, the calm waters of the Maroochy River. The regulars watch the sunrise over the sea and sunset over the river. It is a very beautiful spot, but then too many people know about it and the place was booked solid. Checkin time was quite chaotic.
After a PVI meeting and a great session at the Maroochydore RSL with our friends from the Vietnam projects, we packed up in steady rain and headed off inland, climbing the mountain range up from Caboolture to Kilcoy, where we would leave Sandpiper for a few weeks. Our contacts, Steve and Denise, came through via the trailer sailer forum that we subscribe to. Steve had offered accommodation on his beautiful property just out of the town of Kilcoy in the Brisbane River Valley. The GPS took us to their property and we found the open gate, Steve and Denise being away in Brisbane for the day. We parked Sandpiper and got out of the car to take in a truly beautiful scene. The property is ringed with wonderful mountains. The house sits nestled under some enormous Moreton Bay fig trees and the neighbouring properties sport horses, goats and a few cattle. The mountains created a wonderful vista with rain squalls scudding across the peaks and the sun highlighting areas of forest on the slopes. This was a location to die for.
Steve and Denise arrived home in the afternoon and gave us a very warm welcome to their beautiful home. We spent some wonderful hours swapping sailing yarns, comparing trailer sailers (they have a lovely Noelex 25) and sampling the odd wine or two. We rapidly found that we had a lot in common with these terrific people. We have been so fortunate with the people we have met along the way. The trailer sailer community has certainly produced some very hospitable people.
The next day, Steve and Denise took us on a tour of the area, showing off the glorious scenery to be had around the nearby Somerset Dam and the delightful hamlet of Esk, where we enjoyed a terrific lunch. The diet has taken a serious hit lately and things didn’t ease up that night once Christine, Denise and Steve collaborated to produce a meal that would have won any episode of My Kitchen Rules. I sat back and watched. After all, someone needs to be the judge. They scored 10s all round.
We said our farewells to Steve and Denise, locked down Sandpiper knowing she was in safe hands, and set off down the mountains back to Highway 1 to head south, through Brisbane and on towards NSW. The rain followed, unrelenting, making it hard to stop and enjoy the many charming little stops along the way. We tried exploring the Tweed Coast, but the rain was so heavy we had trouble driving, let alone stopping. We managed a stop in Byron Bay, but half the population of the area was in town trying to find something to do other than watching it rain and the CBD was a real crush.
Eventually, we made our way to Ballina on the Richmond River and followed the GPS to find the house of our friends Jack and Jude, who we had met in Monkey Mia in 2013. They were anchored there waiting on a weather window to head south in their yacht Banyandah (www.jackandjude.com). We spent a few days together and quickly became good friends. Jack and Jude live in a beautiful self built house just out of Ballina in the middle of a sugar cane growing area. The cane is all around an the river across the road so the setting is quite charming. Jack used to be a joiner working with native timbers so the house is alive with marvellous grains and timber tones.
The rain had followed us south and continued for a day, soaking the ground but not causing any local flooding. It did keep us pretty much confined to barracks. We all did enough talking to keep everyone happy, although Jude’s voice started to disappear down to a hoarse whisper. Once again, we dined like kings, enjoyed a few wines and slept well. This is becoming a habit.
The rain cleared, giving us the chance to get out and see something of the area. Jack did a terrific job of playing tour guide while Jude navigated, taking us to the head of the Richmond River to watch the swell push across the bar. It is not a place I would like to be in a boat and there have been a few boats come to grief over the years. From there, we drove up into the hills to walk around a small patch of rainforest, one of the last remaining stands. The forest was beautiful, with some really big strangler figs and a variety of hardwoods. One very common plant was known as “waitawhile”. It grew to around shoulder height and put out a fine long tendril at the top, fully armed with rows of tiny sandpaper-like teeth. If you brush against it, there is no choice. You “wait-a-while”.
Our drive wove through the hills and we stopped in a small town to catch up with one of Jack and Jude’s sons and his family. With young boys in abundance, I could see Christine becoming jumpy to get home and see our own tribe. Watching Jack play all manner of crazy games with his grandsons even made me a little homesick. Still, only a week to go.
After a stop at a cute little country pub for a refreshing ale, it was back down the hills to Ballina, where we stopped at a seafood outlet to pick up a kilo of fresh local prawns. Christine spied some gorgeous scallops in the shell at a bargain $10 a kilo so we decided to have a real seafood feast. Jude and Christine had terrific fun in the kitchen creating a culinary masterpiece so once again we let the diet rest. There is going to have to be a lot more bike riding.
We left Jack and Jude the next morning and pushed on back northwards, through Ballina and on to the Gold Coast to catch up with my Aunt Rube. She is in her 80s but looks and acts much younger, as she always has. Rube lives in a park home right on the beautiful Nerang River next to Metricon Stadium, home of the Gold Coast Suns and venue for the 2018 Commonwealth Games. It was a visit to her way back in 1989 that convinced us that the park home concept is a good one and led to us buying our Kingsley park home.
As always, Rube hadn’t changed and we spent the afternoon catching up on all the news and filling her in on family matters. Then it was off over the road for a drink and meal at the golf club. It was a popular venue and very handy to Rube’s place. In four years time, this part of the Gold Coast will be really humming and Rube will be very well placed. Imagine being able to walk to the games! We may have to visit again.
The next morning, Christine and I checked out of our motel, parked the car down at the Pacific Fair shopping centre and hopped on to the new tram. The service has only just commenced, having been a few years in construction and the subject of much controversy. The line runs straight down the Gold Coast Hwy and its construction proved very disruptive to the businesses along the way, particularly those in Surfers Paradise. However, the project also included upgrades to roads, footpaths and cycle paths so the result to quite stunning. The whole length from Broadbeach through Surfers and down to Southport is now integrated and looks really great, a definite improvement. The tram is excellent, with long carriages giving plenty of room and enough stops to make it a very convenient way of moving up and down the beach areas. Of course, we used our Senior status to get cheap fares.
After wandering around Surfers and checking out the beach (too cold for swimming), we caught the tram back and took off to Brisbane for a stay of three days.
We booked the RFH on Gregory, a set of serviced apartments really well located in Spring Hill, only a kilometre from the Queen St Mall and other inner city attractions. The room is excellent value and at $99 for the location with views represents a bargain. We later found out that it is owned and run by the CWA. The car proved too high for the underground but we found outside parking. We intended on leaving it there for the stay, determined to walk and cycle where ever possible. A quick tour of the immediate vicinity, however, showed us just how hilly Brisbane can be. We might be doing a bit of pushing with the bikes. The afternoon was a lazy one, the last few days catching up with us a bit.
The weather was forecast to be fine so we planned a full day of exploring the city by bike. From the hotel, we followed the rail line down through parkland to Roma Street Station, Brisbane’s central station, and then rode through the beautiful Roma Street Gardens. Ahead was the towering skyline of downtown Brisbane, where glass and steel monsters tower over some delightful old sandstone masterpieces. We parked up the bikes in King George Square and walked for a while. The CBD has many squares, malls and open spaces, giving the city a light and airy feel. We wandered around the Queens Street Mall, so named but spreading over a couple of other streets as well.
Down in Post Office Square, an extensive produce market had been set up, only operating on Wednesdays. This has to be the best street food market we have seen anywhere. The food was mostly home baked or organically grown, with a lot of really interesting dishes on sale. We had a great time wandering from stall to stall, sampling bits and pieces. We bought a sugarless desert made with chia seeds soaked in almond milk. The chia soaks up the milk, swelling into a soft jelly-like substance reminiscent of tapioca. Dotted with blueberries and topped with ground coconut, it made a refreshing change.
We made our way back to the bikes and walked them down to the river, stopping back at the markets to tuck into a serving of paella. The paella stall had four huge pans on the go at once, cooking up different paellas. At $10 for a serve big enough to feed us both, they rightfully did a roaring trade.
The river is a real bonus when it comes to moving around, with several types of ferries always on hand. The little red City Hopper is a free ride to a few tourist stops down river, the City Ferries a fleet of tiny slow boats that connect a few inner suburbs with the CBD and the City Cats are big high speed jobs that run from the University through the city and well downstream. We rode a City Cat for a while around Kangaroo Point and under the beautiful Storey Bridge to get out at Sydney Street and wait for a return trip. We alighted at Southbank and spent a while cycling along the foreshore and doing some serious people watching. It is rather amusing to see all the people sunning themselves in bikinis and bathers on the sands of the artificial beach on Southbank. A few brave souls were swimming but the temperature wasn’t all that conducive to water based recreation. It is amazing though, that if you create a patch of white sand alongside a strip of water, people will come and remove most of their clothes then lie down. It goes without saying.
A stop for a beer by the river cost us almost as much as the flight home, but then you tend to get that in places along any stretch of water. The ambience made up for the cost and the beer tasted great after all the walking and riding.
Our ride took us up over the Victoria Bridge back through the market so we had no choice but to stop and buy a selection of pepperonis and salamis, after sampling them all of course. Our return to the hotel largely followed the trip down, although we got a bit lost in the Roma Street Gardens. This was actually a good thing because it meant that we covered all parts of the gardens. They are arranged in differing bio-zones and we found ourselves down in the fernery area, a dark and tropical area with enormous tree ferns. Large water dragons are common in the gardens and have so little fear of humans we sometimes had to ride around them. Back in the hotel, we crashed.
Our second full day in Brisbane was similar to the first, except we left the bikes at home and did a lot of walking. The first place we explored was Fortitude Valley, which takes in China Town. “The Valley” has probably seen better times and parts looked quite run down, with many empty businesses. The China Town was a disappointment, although it might be more interesting at night or a weekend market. The huge McWhirters shopping centre was an interesting building, reflecting its past glories that used to see it as one of the major department store complexes in the city. Back in 1909, this store employed 270 people but today it looks sad and run down.
Having walked enough, we jumped on a bus to get back into the CBD. Unfortunately, it stopped at a ferry jetty along the way and when the driver turned the engine off and got out for a smoke, we figured that it was time to switch transport modes. It was back to the ferry system for us. We have had trouble getting a full handle on Brisbane’s public transport system. The ferries are easy enough but the buses remain a mystery. They have a free system around the CBD but it isn’t as simple as Perth’s CAT or as well signed. Even the ferry let us down, forcing us to change ferries after one leg of our journey so it could refuel. Still, we had plenty of time.
The lunchtime rush was in full swing in the CBD. All the walking had produced a hunger so we found a large food hall area and perused the usual fare. One stall stood out, selling a strangely named Bimbi Asian Streetfood, which turned out to be like a Turkish Kebab with Asian innards and a soft wheat based wrap. Delicious.
We managed to locate the bus that would return us up to the hotel in Spring Hill, which was a good thing because the journey was mostly up hill. Once again, we got in to the room and collapsed, a sure sign that we had done enough walking.
Tomorrow we fly home, leaving the car at the Brisbane airport. The grandchildren await.