Monday, April 30, 2012

The Sunshine Coast

It appears from my last few posts that I'm doing a Queensland theme, so I thought I'd stick with it and give my opinion on the Sunshine Coast.  Located just north of the capital city, Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast stretches roughly from Caloundra to Noosa, approximately 60km (37 miles).  There are 5 national parks contained within this area, so obviously it not completely developed and covered with concrete and buildings.

The coast is a great centre for tourism, and there are plenty of attractions and points of interest to keep everyone happy.  One of the most well known would be Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo, located at Beerwah, at the foot of the Glass House Mountains.  The Zoo is laid out well, with plenty of wildlife to see and of course the crocodile shows at the Crocoseum.  You know you can't miss that!  They also have elephants and tigers and such, in addition to the native Australian critters that you'd expect to see.

Glasshouse Mountains
Not far from Australia Zoo is Aussie World and Ettamogah Pub - a structure that has to be seen to be believed.  Filled with lots of fun rides for the kids, or a paintball park for the big kids, there's lots to see and do.  Also close by is the Buderim Ginger Factory, where you can do a tour of the working plant, enjoy other exhibits, shops and restaurants or rides for the kids.  To get an intriguing view of some ocean life, you can visit Underwater World, at the Spit in Mooloolaba.  (How are you doing wrapping your tongue around some of these words??? J)  I have to say, it's an awesome feeling standing in a clear tunnel, surrounded by huge sharks, stingrays, eels and all sorts of brilliantly coloured fish, close enough that it feels like you could reach out your arm and touch them.

Moving further up the coast you have a wide selection of beaches to choose from.  One of the things that many Australians take for granted is how lucky they are to have relatively uncrowded, beautiful beaches.  I guess that's one of the best parts of travelling; seeing how your country differs to others.  Some of my favourite stretches of beach are located near Coolum.  It's a smaller, quieter area than Caloundra or Noosa.  However, if it's nightlife and culture you're after, then Noosa is the place to see.
In the hinterland, you have a very different atmosphere.  There are a couple of scenic towns, Maleny and Montville, set up on the Blackall Range overlooking the Sunshine Coast.  These quaint little townships are almost like artist retreats, so there are lots of galleries to peruse and craft work to admire.  For the wine connoisseur there are some boutique wineries to stop and sample at along the way.

For the sports fans, there's horse racing at Corbould Park in Caloundra, more than 10 golf courses to choose from, and the Big Kart Track (Go-Kart racing) in Landsborough.

All of the places I've mentioned are possible to visit as a day trip from Brisbane, but to really see and enjoy the area, I would suggest spending a couple of days on the coast in one of the smaller towns so that you can get a real feel for the place.

Noosa Heads

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Gold Coast

The Gold Coast.  Does that phrase conjure up an image for you?  Do you imagine a golden sunset over the ocean, or a gold-tinged sunrise glinting off the water and making the sand sparkle?  I have been lucky enough to witness both scenes, on many different occasions.
Located in southeast Queensland, the Gold Coast is just 80 km (50 miles) southeast of the capital, Brisbane, on a newly upgraded/expanded highway, making the drive a breeze.  Alternately, you can also fly in to the Coolangatta airport which is more conveniently located, but has less flight options than Brisbane.

Surfer's Paradise is probably the most well known of the beaches in the area, but by no means is it the only one!  With approximately 57 km (35 miles) of coastline, there is plenty of great surfing and swimming to be had.  From a safety perspective, the Gold Coast has Australia's largest professional surf lifesaving service to watch out for you.  Remember, swim between the red and yellow flags (and don't forget the sunscreen).  If a day at the beach doesn't appeal to you, there's always plenty of great shopping, especially jewelry and art.  Pacific Fair Shopping Centre in Broadbeach is a good place to wander and browse the shops, have a bite to eat, or to see a movie.
Surfer's Paradise
There are amusement parks galore, all within a 30 minute drive.  You have Sea World, Dreamworld, Wet'n'Wild, Warner Bros Movie World and the Australian Outback Spectacular.

For those of you who like to commune with nature, I recommend a visit to World Heritage listed Lamington National Park, located in the Gold Coast hinterland.  The beautiful rainforest is a great place to beat the heat, where you can enjoy the waterfalls (over 500 of them) and bird life, or be more adventurous and do a walking trail (more than 150km/93mi - all clearly marked).  This area is one of the most important wildlife refuges in the region and is home to some rare and threatened animals.  You'll also find some plants here that can't be found anywhere else. 

So, let's do a quick rundown.
  • Beach ü
  • Sunshine ü
  • Amusement Parks ü
  • Shopping ü
  • Wildlife ü
  • Rainforest ü
What more could you possibly ask for? 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Whitsundays

During one of my last trips home to Oz to visit the family, I was lucky enough to make a quick side-trip to The Whitsunday Islands, off the central coast of Queensland.  I don't know about you, but I usually need a holiday after spending time with my family :-)  Anyway, I flew into Proserpine (or the Whitsunday Coast, depending on which airline you fly) and it was a quick 25 km (16 miles) to get to Airlie Beach where I was staying.  Talk about a picturesque location!  It's set on a bit of a peninsular, but it has a sheltered bay with a man-made lagoon and play area for the kids to run around, right near downtown.  It was October when I went, so the weather was fabulous and not too hot yet, and my timing was good because I made it before jellyfish season (November - May).  I still strongly suggest sunscreen, regardless of when you visit, as that Queensland sun is mighty powerful.

Whitsundays from the air

My first afternoon/evening was spent wandering around town, poking into all the little shops and boutiques and, of course, enjoying some fresh fish and chips.  Although I'll admit, I was pleasantly surprised at the range of food options available.

The next day I had already arranged a day cruise out to Hamilton Island on a former racing yacht, although we couldn't dock at Hamilton due to wind conditions.  Wow, what a great experience!  It was what I consider a good sized group, about 12 passengers total, including crew, and it ended up being a friendly, happy bunch of people.  Lunch was catered on board when we stopped at a tiny island that I can't for the life of me remember the name of (there are SO many!).  Anyone who was interested could go for a walk on the beach or go snorkeling.  I'll take a snorkeling trip any opportunity I can get, so off I went.  Snorkeling, and more so scuba diving, to those who have not experienced it can best be described as visiting another world. The feeling of being weightless in the water combined with the amazing vista of sea life and coral waving in the 'breeze' transports you to another planet.  I can see how easy it would be to lose all track of time and sense of where you are as you're held captive by watching your surroundings.  The colours are so brilliant that they're indescribable.  Even the truly talented photographers can't really do justice to the entire experience.

Souvenir shopping took up most of the next morning before heading back to the airport for my flight back to Brisbane.  It's only about an hour and half flight (about 2 hours to Sydney, 3 to Melbourne) which is nice because I didn't lose the whole day travelling.  Other than being too short, this trip was great and I hope to do it again in the near future.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Cute & Cuddly or Dangerous & Deadly

Of course I am biased, but Australia is filled with some of the most unique wildlife on the planet.  Naturally everyone is familiar with the kangaroo and the koala, but those are just the tip of the iceberg.  The Tasmanian Devil is so unusual he inspired his own cartoon character!  We have the platypus, an odd-looking creature with a snout that looks similar to a duck's bill, a flattened tail and webbed feet.  The male platypus has spurs on their back legs that will inject toxic venom when he's feeling aggressive.  They can be found along the east coast of Australia.  On the other hand, there's also the rainbow lorikeet (a species of parrot) whose brilliant colours are indescribable.  Rest assured, they can be noisy buggers, especially when they're eating the almost-ripe mangoes from your tree!

I won't sugar coat it - we do have some of the deadliest animals in the world, from snakes and spiders to jellyfish and octopus.  Like with any country you visit, you do have to pay attention to your surroundings.  Perhaps it's a good idea to view those critters in an aquarium or wildlife sanctuary, and try to avoid them in their natural habitat....

There are plenty of great places all over the country to view the different kinds of wildlife.  For example, no trip to Sydney would be complete without a visit to Taronga Zoo or The Aquarium. The zoo is situated right on the harbour, across from the Opera House, offering spectacular views from many places within.  The aquarium, located in Darling Harbour, lets you explore an underwater paradise filled with exotic sea creatures.

If you're headed further up the coast to Brisbane, I definitely recommend stopping in at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.  It's the world's first and largest koala sanctuary, although they do also have a wide variety of other Aussie wildlife in a natural setting.  Approximately an hour and a half north of Brisbane, on the Sunshine Coast, you'll find Australia Zoo - home of the late Steve Irwin "The Crocodile Hunter".

For a truly unique experience, try feeding the wild dolphins at Monkey Mia (a 10 1/2 hour drive north of Perth in Western Australia, or 2 hours by air).

Regardless of where you travel within Australia, there will be plenty of opportunities to see some of our odd creatures.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

More than a big, red rock

Uluru Ayers Rock, one of the most recognizable icons to depict Australia, is also the largest monolith in the world - visible from outer space.  Upon your first view, nothing can quite prepare you for the contrast between the red sand stretching to the horizon in every direction and the huge Red Rock jutting upwards like the toe of a sleeping giant sticking up through the desert.  It is a mystical place, one to be savoured at dawn when you can watch the Rock change colours to meet the new day, or at sunset as the last rays of sun beam across the empty desert and highlight the fissures and crevices of Uluru Ayers Rock as it settles in for the night.

The Aboriginal People of Australia lived around Uluru Ayers Rock for more than 30,000 years before 1873 when its presence was first recorded by William Gosse, a surveyor for the new European settlers of Australia.  It was named Ayers Rock after the Chief Secretary of South Australia, though officially it is now known as Uluru Ayers Rock to honour the original Aboriginal name.  

Kata Tjuta
Uluru Ayers Rock and nearby Kata Tjuta have great religious and spiritual importance to the local Anangu people and are the subject of many tales and myths handed down through their Aboriginal Dreamtime stories.

Located in the geographical heart of Australia it is approximately a 3 hour flight from the main cities of the east and south coasts and is almost equal flying time from Sydney, Cairns or Melbourne.

Perhaps the best way to get a feel for the immense size and scale is to see it up close from the air.  A tour by helicopter will throw it into focus very quickly.  Other tours available (walking, vehicle based, or by camel) will get you up close to the Rock at almost any time of day.

You can find much more information (and inspiration!) here.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Throw Another Shrimp on the Barbie

OK, most people have probably heard this now famous line bandied about at one time or another.  For some, it might bring to mind a gathering of mates around a BBQ, beers in hand, laughing and having a good time.  For the foodies out there, it would be the thought of succulent prawns (most Aussies don't call them shrimp) - ones that are SO big they're worth the effort of shelling, like the king prawns.

Australia has a wide variety of seafood available, including some very unique characters like the Moreton Bay Bug.  I know, it sounds pretty nasty, doesn't it?  But I promise you, it's not an insect, it's actually a type of lobster.  They're found along the northern coast of Australia all the way from Western Australia and over down the coast of Queensland to Moreton Bay (near Brisbane).

You might hear some strange words when people are talking about seafood.  Yabbies, for example, are a type of freshwater crayfish (or crawfish or crawdads, depending on where you live).  Barra, short for Barramundi, is a sweet tasting white fish that is also very popular for sport fishing.  The most common areas for this type of fishing are in the Northern Territory and Queensland.

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