Friday, 2 September 2011

Out of Town Excursions

Having steady employment - in Brisbane - and receiving weekly pay envelopes I was able to avail myself of out of town excursions. Not long after arriving in Brisbane (May 1963 - autumn down under) I read an advertisement for a day long bus trip up to the City of Toowoomba on the edge of the escarpment to the west of Brisbane. It was the annual Flower Festival. I booked a seat on the comfortable coach for the trip up and back.

The highlight of the day was the Flower Parade in which all of the entries were either covered by flower petals or carried huge bouquets. This was the first 'Flower Parade' that I had seen - since then I have been to the Rose Festival Parade in Portland, Oregon and I have watched the like parade from Pasadena, California on TV. The one in Toowoomba was as beautiful as the others. After the parade we were driven around the city in order to view the prize winning gardens.

One of the young women whom I had met while in Alice Springs kept in touch with me and invited me to join her and a girlfriend on a weekend trip to Heron Island which is a coral atoll at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. On a Friday evening we caught a Queensland Railway train from Brisbane up north to the town of Gladstone. What we were not aware of was that a cyclone was moving down the coast - but out to sea. However, the winds did affect the coastal areas which delayed our trip out to the island for one day. In the meantime, it was perfectly clear and calm in town. We had nothing to do but to book into a hotel and laze around a rather uninteresting place.

The next morning the off shore seas had calmed enough for the launch to come in with returning vacationers and pick us up to take us out to the reef. Also, in some parts of Australia, that was a school break week, so there were families on board. The launch was fairly new and quite comfortable. While we were still in the lee of off shore continental islands, the sea was relatively calm. Once we were clear of the coast islands the water became quite rough. I am used to being out on the water and have never been subject to seasickness - therefore, I remained up on the top deck. However, most of the others went down to the cabin or even down to the few bunks below. They were near the engine and just above the oil smelling bilge waters so everyone of those people became sick. I believe that there were only three of us who were not ill.

When we arrived at Heron Island we had to get off the launch and into smaller boats to be taken over the reef to where the water was shallow from where we waded the rest of the way.

I was shown to a cabin under the palm trees in which I was the only guest.

The island - coral atoll - was only about a mile and a quarter in circumference and, therefore, easy to hike around. The vegetation consisted of tropical shrubbery and palm trees. There were holes in the sand at the base of each palm and in those holes were mutton birds. They are about the size of a good-sized pigeon and are very docile. As many were nesting we were asked not to disturb them. Meals were taken together in the main lodge and, one evening when I returned from dinner, I found a mutton bird in my cabin and had the 'fun' of shooing it out.

We were there for only three days - arrival, a day on the island, and departure. One of the activities offered during the middle day was a walk on the coral reef that surrounds the island. By this time the cyclone had moved well out to sea but its effect was still evident. While it was safe to walk on the reef - at low tide - the water was still very murky and the vivid colors of the reef were dimmed. Still - to be walking on a coral reef (in footwear provided to prevent cuts from the coral some of which is poisonous) - was thrilling.

The next morning, after breakfast, we were ferried out to the launch for the return trip to Gladstone. The water was still rather rough but the transfer from skiff to launch went without incident. Again the 'fools' went down below for the crossing while we 'smarter ones' remained up on top . While they were ill again we were not.

Naturally, while in Brisbane, I went on more than one trip down to the Gold Coast and I will write about being in that area in my blog about the Methodist Church which I attended while in that city.

Also, the most pleasant way to get to the Brisbane Zoo was an 'excursion' on a launch from downtown Brisbane up the river to the park. I was there a few times and that is one place with the gimmick of having guests 'wear' a carpet snake (a type of python) around the neck in order to gain permission to hold and pet a koala bear. I passed on that one!

On other road trips north from Brisbane the highway passed through the town of Nambour which is in the heart of the pineapple growing area. That was another place where I got to eat fresh pineapple which had been ripened before picking. Oh Yummers! Nambour is next to a geological phenomena called 'The Glasshouse Mountains' which are remnants of volcanoes from a distant past. What is left are the inside of the long extinct cones that have not completely eroded away. They are quite striking.

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