Brisbane, Australia
27° 30' S 153° 0' E
Aug 04, 2009 06:31
Distance 1395km

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Blog 28 - Brisbane

  After only meeting him for the first time at his wedding Geoff Sharpe (husband of Janet Weir) very kindly came to Brisbane Airport at 8 o’clock in the morning to pick us up, run us back to their house and leave us with the run of the place while he went to work. Being met at an airport by somebody who didn’t want money and wasn’t trying to sell us a hotel room was a wonderful novelty after the last coupe of months! 

One of the first things we noticed was the change in temperature between Cairns and Brisbane. Whereas Cairns had merely the faintest hint of coolness first thing in the morning Brisbane was very definitely in winter – albeit the Australian sort where it meant that you had to wear jeans instead of shorts – but quite a change to what we had been used to.  Staying in the Sharpe’s wonderfully traditional Queenslander house (with fresh new bathroom, modern kitchen, recently refurbished interior, etc. – just in case any prospective renters are reading) gave us a great insight into the ‘real’ life of Australia rather than the tourist lifestyle we had seen to date. 

Australia is a strange place in many ways. Very similar to the UK but with just enough subtle differences to constantly remind you that you are in a foreign country – one which despite its native heritage and natural history has a very limited cultural history that the ‘modern settlers’ can relate to. There is a great pride in stating that companies are ‘Aussie owned and operated’ and a leaning towards republicanism yet the people still view European cars or other material objects as status symbols and seem to cling tightly to their European roots while simultaneously proclaiming themselves Australian.  

Brisbane itself is a modern business city with all the usual company offices in the city centre or Central Business District (CBD) as the Aussies call it. Because the architecture and general layout is similar and people speak the same language as us (almost) there is none of the same intrigue as the Asian cities held. However the big difference between Brisbane and anything in the UK, despite the cold mornings in winter, is the wall to wall sunshine, pristine looking buildings and general ‘outdoor living’ culture. 

Unlike UK towns and cities, the riverside walkways are not hangouts for junkies but are well used, clean thoroughfares for walkers, cyclists and joggers, complete with regular outdoor gym equipment for morning exercise routines – at least so I was told by those who recognise such instruments of torture. 

Having just about sussed out the train system into town – I still maintain the timetables displayed at the station show different platform numbers than the train arrives at – we set out to explore the CBD and buy some warmer clothes for the frozen south we were heading to next. At the weekend, Geoff and Janet steered us back onto the tourist trail by taking us to Mount Tambourine (slightly disappointingly, only called this as a result of mispronunciation of its aboriginal name). After walking one of the forest trails, seeing some fantastic views and expressing some dubiety over Geoff’s  ability as a wildlife guide, we (I) managed to pass some 'tat' shops without buying anything, before heading down to Surfers’ Paradise. Driving through the CBD with its multiple high rise towers it was difficult to see the attraction that made the place one of the highest priced real estate in Australia but then we hit the beach. Mile upon mile of white sand, rolling surf and light blue ocean suddenly explained why the place is so popular. 

Going out for dinner that night highlighted the cosmopolitan nature of the city. Three Scots and one Englishman went to an Italian restaurant in Australia and were served by a waiter from Belfast – there’s got to be a joke there somewhere. 

Having spent the last two months practically shackled to each other 24 hours a day Vicki headed off to see her long lost distant cousin in Brisbane then on to Melbourne to see Matt Barret while I stayed with Geoff and Janet for another couple of days before driving to Sydney.  I splashed out and hired a Toyota Corrola with Satnav (Susan – my new female companion for the next week or so - and boy was she demanding).

The following day (my birthday) I picked Vicki up at her cousins and we headed north to Redcliffe to go on a whale watching trip.  Despite Susan’s best efforts to get me lost, we made it just in time to catch the boat and spent a wonderful day on a catamaran with clear blue sea around us and hump-backed whales swimming alongside. As usual, the photographs don’t do it justice but to be watched by, and make eye contact with, a whale swimming only 50 metres or so from the boat is an awesome experience.  

The following day, after Janet and Geoff had given me my ‘birthday dinner’ – thanks again – I headed off for my road trip to Sydney. Well almost; I actually went and picked up Vicki again and we went to the tackiness that is Australia Zoo (Steve Irwin’s place). Having heard so much about it and been told it could take two days to get round it, we were expecting something far more impressive than we actually saw. Whether it was the fact that we had already seen so many of the animals in the wild (and touched a lot of them), seeing some animals in a zoo, albeit a well laid out one, just seemed very tame. Other than finally seeing some kangaroos (and hand feeding them) we were quite disappointed in the experience and completed the visit in about two and a half hours. Heading southwards on the Pacific Highway felt like a true road trip.

Telling Susan I wanted to go to Sydney resulted in a Satnav command you don’t hear every day; “follow the road for one thousand kilometres”. Having planned to travel the distance over five days I used my usual planning method of a map and some coloured dots and selected ‘towns’ to stop at. The town along the Pacific Highway might well be tourist hotspots during the summer months but in winter, they serve to highlight just how young the country as we know it actually is. There is still a feeling of ‘frontier town’ where people live with modern conveniences but the towns haven’t yet gained an air of permanency.

Ballina, approximately 200km south of Brisbane symbolised this more than most with a complete lack of any sort of character to the town which seemed to be consist mainly of ‘Op Shops’ (charity shops) and pawnbrokers.  If it wasn’t for the steady stream of massive trucks passing through the centre (which I did think were quite impressive – big American trucks hauling two artic trailers behind them), you would have expected tumbleweeds to appear at any second. Having said that, when the only accommodation along the route is motels next to the road, the novelty of the trucks wears off as your room vibrates every five minutes throughout the night. 

Despite the lack of culture along the route, the visual highlights more than made up for it. Almost the whole east coast consists of paradise like sandy beaches with rolling surf. In addition, once you ventured off the highway by a few k’s (I’m getting the hang of this Aussie abbreviation) places like Byron Bay and Port McQuarrie looked like a set from Home and Away with friendly shops, pristine town centres and beaches to die for. It was enough to persuade me to spend a whole $6 on a body board at a car boot sale and give it a bash. After much terror at the site of each approaching wave (they look a lot bigger when you’re viewing them from sea level and they’re starting to break as they come hurtling towards you) I decided my career as a professional surfer wasn’t looking very promising.

The last stop for me was Newcastle, approximately 150km north of Sydney. Having not booked any accommodation along my route, I had become accustomed to driving past several motels and simply picking one. Newcastle, being a much larger, industrial city seemed to mark the end of the road trip, at least psychologically. I had reached civilisation again, complete with confusing industrial areas, multiple roads (rather than the single line on a grey background the Satnav had been showing for the past few days). Having had another argument with Susan, I eventually found a cheap hotel just as it was getting dark.

Venturing out in the car to find some food, I managed to reach a chip shop just close enough that I was able to find my way back to the hotel which now held all my worldly goods. The following morning I discovered (around 4.30am) that a) there was no sound insulation given by the window, and b) after having driven around in circles the night before, that I had somehow ended up on the main road from Newcastle to the Pacific Highway, complete with trucks. Getting up for the final push, I headed back onto what was now beginning to feel like an old friend, the Pacific Highway – or as Susan rather ingloriously referred to it, the “One”.  

Arriving in Sydney around lunchtime, I ignored Susan one last time, avoided the river tunnel and drove over the Sydney Harbour Bridge – which I then had to go online and buy a toll pass for (for some stupid reason they’ve removed the toll booths and you have to buy a ‘E-pass’ – not the easiest for non Sydney residents!) 

Driving over the bridge however I suddenly realised just how far I had travelled. Despite having been in the country for nearly a month and having seen places like Ayres Rock, the bridge more than anything made me feel as though I truly had travelled to the other side of the world.  

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