Byron Bay was really fun. It's a total hippy hangout, so it reminded me of home a little bit (sob...), and of Pushkar. Lots of dreadlocks and barefoot backpackers everywhere, and a nice atmosphere. We camped in a lovely site just out of town with an amazing stretch of beach, and had some awesome beach time. There were some tiny children surfing there with their dad, and they were amazing at it. Reminded me of seeing Mina climbing when she was tiny, as if gravity just didn't happen to her!
The next day we had planned to go kayaking, but the trip was delayed because of choppy seas. Never mind, we said optimistically, let's hire boards and go surfing. So we grabbed some boards, wiggled into our wetsuits and approached the sea, only to discover that a strong wind had blown hundreds of stinging 'bluebottles' into the beach (Portuguese Men of War)! Bummer. So we beat a hasty retreat.
Kayaking was back on the next day, so we headed out early and after a quick introduction we jumped in the sea and kayaked through the surf and out into the open ocean (getting soaked but having lots of fun). We went right out to sea to spot dolphins, and after a couple of hours of happily paddling about we rowed achingly back and caught a wave back to the beach. I'm pleased to say that, unlike many in our group, neither Stu nor I stacked it, rolled the kayak over or fell in! I even stood up for a while in the kayak to survey the horizon for dolphins. Hurrah! (Photos to follow.)
From Byron we drove to Lamington National Park in the mountains to camp overnight, which meant crossing the border into Queensland! The drive up took us up winding mountain roads past some incredible scenery, with vineyards and bright purple jacarandas in the valleys below - gorgeous. We found a campsite where there were loads of tiny wallabies jumping around us and beautiful bright red parakeets everywhere, as well as the more common brush turkeys which tend to hang around lots of the sites. We spent a lovely afternoon walking through the subtropical rainforest in the park, which included a tree-top boardwalk. At one point we climbed up two steep ladders to a tiny platform 30ft up in the canopy (it creaked quite alarmingly so we didn't stay up there too long). We also saw a strangler fig tree, which starts as a vine that wraps itself around a host tree growing stronger and stronger until the host tree dies and the strangler fig is left with a hollow space in the middle. We climbed inside this one, and being me I rather foolishly clambered up the inside, slipped, and got my foot trapped! Stu rescued me though, so no problem.
Jacarandas in the national park:
The treetop climb:
The strangler fig:
On our way back down the mountain we did a quick stop at an alpaca farm to meet this lovely fella and his contemporaries. You can see from his ear tag that his name is Roy:
From there we went to Brisbane, which we both loved! It's a really nice city, even though the weather has been a bit crummy. On our first evening there we went to the Castlemaine XXXX brewery for a tour (which included several yummy beers).
Here's me with the first beer I've ever poured from a proper pump:
The following day we did an immense walking tour of the city, which took us from all over starting from the South Bank Parklands area, which has an articficial lagoon and beach right in the centre of the city, on the river side!:
The South Bank in Brisbane has lots in common with the South Bank in London. It has a big wheel like the London Eye, which we had a ride on, and a big Performing Arts centre. We also went to a big Museum, the Modern Art Gallery, the Botanical Gardens and a historical tour round the second oldest building in Brisbane to learn about the city's convict past. Apparently, Brisbane was founded because the European settlers wanted a place to send the convicts who had re-offended once they were already in Australia. It sounded like a harsh place back then, but it's gorgeous now.
There were some really incongrous buildings in the city centre, like this church, which we thought looked like a gingerbread house:
The wheel at night:There are huge black-headed ibis everywhere in the cities here - they're considered a pest!:
After a circuit of the city, we took the CityCat (a catamaran ferry service) back across the river to the South Bank, where we met up with Stu's mum's friend Jan and her husband Lindsay. We had a lovely evening chatting with them and listening to live jazz inthe performing arts centre.
There was more horrid rain yesterday, so on leaving Brisbane for the Sunshine Coast (!) we took ourselves to Underwater World in Mooloolaba, where we saw lots of exciting underwater creatures, including massive sharks. Then we went to a ginger factory, where we learned how ginger is farmed and processed, and then had a yummy tasting session trying lots of ginger-based foods. Delicious. I pretty much wanted to eat everything in their shop, but I restrained myself.
The ginger factory. (You're not supposed to eat this guy...):
Phew! We're now in Noosa - the weather still isn't great in the Sunshine State, but we're hoping it improves. There are lots of great beaches here, so fingers crossed for some sunshine to complete the package...