Queensland represents a huge and diverse territory within Australia and our experience there was a great mix of both nature, the city life, and time with friends. Queensland comprises the territory in the northeast of Australia and was originally settled by Europeans in 1824 as a penal colony. Brisbane is the capital and largest city in the state with another draw being the Great Barrier Reef located closest to Cairnes.
Our trip started with a flight from Melbourne to Cairnes where we spent a few days prior to flying down to Brisbane. We stayed in a small resort about thirty minutes outside of town right along the water. Each room was a separate bungalow in the jungle. The hotel had a nice restaurant and impeccably maintained grounds as well as a small bar on the beach overlooking the ocean. It was the perfect mix of feeling immersed in the jungle but at the same time close to the essentials. We spotted lizards, parrots, wallabies and saw signs of wildlife everywhere. In the evenings we sat on the beach and over a bottle of wine and food, watched the sunset while the local bats made their evening commute across the sky. I have never seen bats this big in my life - bodies the size of small dogs with enormous wingspans. I could not believe how big they were - an immediate reminder that I was on a new continent. Wildlife in many ways has evolved differently in Australia and as such, the sizes, shapes, and forms that wildlife takes can seem out of this world.
On our second day in Cairnes we spent an amazing time out on the water snorkeling the area and exploring the Great Barrier Reef. The trip was well organized, and there was a good abundance of wildlife. I will say though that for me it didn’t live up to its reputation. As we have all been hearing the last few years, environmental stresses have caused a lot of the coral and wildlife to die. I would also say that the water was not as clear as I had seen in Fiji. Such a consistent theme of our travels has been the impact of humanity on the natural environment. Australia was no different and for a country that is as socially responsible as Australia, it was sad to see that even Australia could not avoid the negative impacts of pollution and global warming. The experience was fun but also left me a little bit affected. Our society is irreparably damaging the environment. While it remains to be seen if we are hurtling towards our doom, I can say without equivocation that our activities are impacting future generations that will not be able to enjoy the same kind of natural beauty currently available to us. I am sure to be part of the problem and can absolutely act in a way that reduces my carbon footprint, but at the end of the day there is a lingering sense of helplessness in all of it.
On our third day we boarded a plane to Brisbane. On a previous trip to Antarctica, we made friends with a Queenslander named Bernadette and Wendy, a New Yorker. It just so happened that during our trip to Australia, Wendy was in Brisbane, so Bern invited us to stay at her home along with Wendy for a few days. The two were waiting for us when we got off the plane and we drove straight to a sanctuary for the many animals unique to Australia. Mandy had a true bucket list moment that afternoon when she held a koala in her arms and fed a group of wallabies. I saw my first Tasmanian Devil in the flesh and got more out of the park than most kids.
The next few days were spent going on small excursions outside of town, hanging out at the house and with a few trips downtown. Bern was incredibly generous and kind in allowing us to stay with her. She lives in a beautiful home just minutes from downtown Brisbane. The house came complete with a pool, big backyard, and a white cockatoo named Oscar who did not hesitate to let you know he needed some attention. I especially enjoyed picking wine and champagne from Bern’s cellar for lunch and dinner. She has an affinity for champagne and I was honored to help her enjoy it.
Brisbane has a beautiful and modern downtown and feels like a small city even though it boasts all the attractions of a big one. It also has one of the best nighttime skylines I have ever seen with many of the skyscrapers dotting the night horizon with unique colored light schemes. Its many modern skyscrapers make downtown look like it has grown quite a bit in the last few years. I would have to admit that we didn’t spend as much time as we normally would be exploring because we were so caught up spending time with Wendy and Bern. It was a pleasant change of pace to hang around the house, cook big meals, and spend time with one another. When on the go and traveling, so much emphasis is put on doing things, seeing things, and checking sites off the list that the normal human interaction often gets left by the wayside. With Bern and Wendy there, we had more of a reason to stay in then go out. I often forget how social we are when we are on these long trips. But as soon as we are spending time with friends, we get so caught up in the moment that we often fail in seeing and doing everything we had planned for. I have no regrets because the spaces in-between are sometimes the cause for the best memories and most meaningful moments.
On our last day, Wendy, Mandy and I drove about 90 minutes out of town to a nature preserve where a hiking path was carved through dense forest, and small footbridges were constructed high up in the dense tree canopies. At this height, you could experience the wilderness from the perspective of the wildlife in the canopies. The preserve is famous for birds that are taught to land on your head and shoulders for photos in exchange for food. We did a poor job of listening to this description so when we first arrived, we confused their friendliness for hostility and thought the birds were attacking us. It must have been a hilarious scene to watch with the three of us screaming and scattering as we ran away from what we thought was a vicious coordinated attack. I will never forget hearing laughter ring out from guests sitting about fifty yards away watching the scene unfold from their hotel balcony.
Wendy used to work for Court TV and on our drive back, she told us about some of the cases she covered. We also heard stories regarding the characters she worked with over the course of her career as producer, reporter, and personal assistant. Wendy has an incredibly dry sense of humor and every day we spent with her was full of laughter. We finished our last night with a barbeque Bern held for the top employees of her company. Bern is an entrepreneur and over the course of her career has built a very successful business. Watching her interact with employees gave me an exposure to other sides of her life I had not seen before. It was impressive to hear what she had accomplished and to sense the respect for her that her employees carried.
Our time in Queensland was split between two completely different experiences. On one hand, the nature and the beauty it had to offer and on the other, a stunning city and quality time spent with friends. The diversity of our time here is very indicative of Queensland itself. Although you may be drawn there by the natural beauty, you stay longer because of the people. I really hope to return soon, there is so much more to see. // Jeff