After our second night at the Big 4 resort-camp-ground-and-theme-park, Steph and I decided last minute to cancel our remaining days to jump on a boat that taxis around the 74 Whitsunday Islands and camp on one of the islands instead. We packed up and left our camper land at 6:45 to catch a bus to the harbor. As usual, I was lucky to have Steph around to keep me on track; I got distracted by a tree frog I found under my towel and almost missed the bus.
We board the boat at 7:00 and take off with a heap of backpacks and eskies and water jugs in the center and eight people sitting on benches around the perimeter. I walk to the front of the boat to watch the recently risen sun sparkle on the endless ocean surface. As the distant green rocks keep moving closer, we all stand at attention, mesmerized by the beauty of the undeveloped islands. Stephanie tells me that the 74 Whitsunday islands are actually a single landmass, and we are just seeing their highest peaks above the surface.
There are three other groups of two traveling with us. The first is a young couple, possibly honeymooning; they can’t wait to get to their island retreat. They look Israeli, but we find out later they are from Switzerland. She wears flowy white pants and a white tunic and has a white flower pinned in her black hair. He has curly dark hair and a beard that’s only a couple of weeks old. He wears a white shirt also, unbuttoned farther than the point that society likes to tolerate, but just far enough for everyone on the boat to know that he is on vacation, and that he has a very hairy chest.
There is another pair of girls on the boat who are camping on their island for a whole week. They don’t speak English to each other, but I can’t tell where they’re from; they sound Eastern European.
The third group is two guys in their late 20’s. They are thin but muscular; they look like they have been backpacking for a long time. One of them has dark hair and glasses and speaks with a French accent. He carries a blue guitar and an expensive Nikon camera. His friend is American, probably Californian: salty blonde hair, loose tank top, no shoes. No body here wears shoes. Except me, I am wearing hiking boots.
Our first stop is at a small island with a small wooden sign inserted crookedly in the sand that reads WHITSUNDAY ISLAND NATIONAL PARK- CAMPING PERMITTED, NO FIRES. The boys get off here and wave goodbye as the boat motors away, marooning them on the uninhabited island. We stop at three more islands, some are like the first and some look a bit more established. The honeymoon couple get off at a larger island and head toward a large building labeled, “Wilderness Resort”. We all laugh about the irony of this title when they leave.
The boat continues to pick up passengers and drop them off as we cruise through the mountains peaking above the sea. We finally arrive at Hook Island, our destination. Steph and I each have our packs and one jug of water. Two couples get off the boat with armfuls of luggage. These people are strange and I’m wishing we could have the island to ourselves. I think I’m wishing for too much.
Camping on the island was fantastic. The last image I will have in my head of Australian wilderness is the beauty of these islands. After weeks of running against the wind, both physically and mentally, we finally got to sit down and breathe. We didn’t have a damn thing to worry about or even think about while we were there (except maybe the colony of wildly fatal jellyfish drifting through the waters of north Queensland this time of year, but we had stinger suits for that). Our last night together, we shared a Christmas pudding and a bottle of scotch with our generous island mates. We all sat around a small lantern with small glasses of liquor and small servings of sweets making small conversation about where we come from and why Sydney public transport is only on time 5% of the time. It was nice.
I haven’t gotten through the rest of the photos from the walk yet, but they will be up as soon as I have time to edit and post them.
For now, I flew up to the Gold Coast today to spend another week on the beach before my group meets for our final days together. I have been living in a hostel in Melbourne, working on my photo project for around 8 hours a day. It’s been difficult transitioning from camping so far away from civilization to living in a huge commercial city. Sometimes being surrounded by strangers makes you feel more lonely than being alone.
The neighborhood I stay in is really nice, though, and doesn’t feel so much like a fast-paced city. The Fitzroy/East Brunswick area of Melbourne caters to a younger crowd; it’s super trendy and everyone is very cool and fashionable. The neighborhood has a good vibe, and everything is close so it’s very walkable and easy to support small local markets and restaurants. I stayed in the same hostel I did the past two times I came through Melbourne, The Nunnery. I can’t say enough good things about this place! It’s in an awesome location, the people are wonderful, the old building is fantastic, there is always someone to talk to, the kitchen is great, and the other guests were really respectful about keeping the room for sleeping, and hanging out for elsewhere.
A lot of the people who stay at the Nunnery are semi-permanent residents; they come to Australia with a holiday-work visa, get a job in a bar or a stationary shop on Brunswick, and work until they’ve saved up enough to keep moving. I love that in the time it takes me to make a cuppa and eat my oatmeal in the morning, I can have a conversation with 3 different people from 3 different countries, and hear 3 more having their own conversation in other languages.
I can’t really say that I have totally fallen in love with Australia, but I have definitely fallen for the new world of independent travel I’ve found. It’s not like I haven’t traveled before, but the kind of travel I’ve done with my family- the kind that is popular among ‘cultured’ people who like touring foreign cities and have the means to do so- shows you the world through a frosted window. It isn’t quite as structured as an all-inclusive group travel package where someone hands you an itinerary and drives your tour bus, but it felt like that to me when I was a kid along for the ride. When you go on a vacation like this, you get to eat in restaurants for every meal, have your bed sheets tucked in every morning, visit museums and go for long walks, take pictures of city streets, order dessert, and spend too much money on weeknights. Basically, you get to do all of the things you could do at home, but choose not to.
The other kind of world traveler is largely a mystery to the average vacationer: they probably carry a single, large rucksack with only a few changes of clothes, one kind of soap, and a laptop to blog about their experience (hah). They live a simple, sustainable life while they are traveling that could continue indefinitely. They make new friends because they share rooms with a dozen other backpackers and get to learn other peoples stories. They get to know the neighborhood well, because they walk everywhere and live locally. They live in the moment and in the place; they aren’t afraid to break the itinerary and change their course. And they can go anywhere they want because once you learn the secret, the whole world is opened up to you.
Traveling doesn’t have to be a vacation from life. Life can be a traveling vacation.
The walk started out cool and rainy, but our last day in the Cobboboonee forest the sun was out and the sky was clear all day. I remember feeling exhausted from the heat and trying to imagine how nice it would be to jump in a pool of cold water at the end, but told myself there would be no pool and not to set myself up for disappointment. It was our 4th day in and we hiked 22km in 10 hours. My feet were so badly blistered at this point that I could barely walk straight. I think this was the day that Andrea hurt her foot while we were walking, but she wasn’t too worried about the pain at this point. All three of us were pretty exhausted, but we knew that two of our longest days would be behind us once we got through it. It wasn’t until we got into camp that evening that I realized that there actually was a cold river here now and we could swim as much as we liked!
The next morning we had a short meeting about the possibility of taking a day off to rest and all agreed that if we were going to do it, today would be the time. The extra time in the morning gave me a chance to take some photos of the fog on the water as the sun was rising, and we all got to catch up on reading, writing, and relaxing.
Our rest day at Moleside camp turned out to be one of the best parts of the whole trip. It was the first full day of relentless sun, which probably would have been hard to hike in, but was absolutely perfect to sit on the dock and swim in the river. We still hadn’t seen another human since our first night camping. We had the whole day and the whole river to ourselves. We didn’t have to worry about being modest or shy or polite. I think this was a turning point in a lot of different ways: it gave me a chance to reflect on the trip and refreshed my body and spirit, it deepened my relationship with Steph and Andrea, and it showed me how happy I can be simply sitting outside all day with intelligent, interesting people to share the experience with. You really don’t need all that other bullshit after all :)
Good news about kangaroos, they do exist and they are very common almost everywhere in Australia. They are probably more like deer than anything else we are familiar with, but they move like rocking chairs with springs. Wallabies are even more common than roos, they are smaller and darker in color. Nothing is cuter than a wombat, but unfortunately I missed the chance to get a picture of any while we were in Tassie where they were common.
This strange little burrower is an echidna; one of only two egg-laying mammals (monotreme) on earth! They are shy and quick, hence the blurry photo, and like to rustle around in plants and snuffle in dirt. Similar to a porcupine with spines all over, but they look more like a pokemon to me.
This tiny bird is called the Superb Fairy Ren. They are adorable; they bounce around on the ground and usually travel alone or in small groups. They have a brilliant blue head and neck and black body.
We saw this koala up in a tree along the walk one day. It was actually a pretty rare treat to see animals while we were hiking because they usually get out of the way before we arrive, or we are too busy looking down to see who’s in the trees above us. I saw 2 emus one of our first days in the forest, and then saw one adult with 5 or 6 babies the next day. I didn’t have time to get my camera out, but the emus were one of the coolest animals I saw on the whole trip. The move in such a strange way, like if a person was carrying a giant feathered lampshade over their head and their legs ran faster than the lampshade could keep up. ? And they honk.
The river was one of the best parts of the walk for me. The weather was sunny and clear most days and we took long lunch breaks where we’d jump in the water to cool off and eat pb&j on a dock in the sun together. I’d never taken a vacation like this before, but it was really wonderful. It was more purposeful than just lying on a beach somewhere, and more of a culture shock than visiting a foreign city. The simplicity and the bliss of every day was so beautiful, and I was really starting to appreciate the feeling of always being outside. I started out feeling uncomfortable in it but after a few days it felt so natural to bathe in a river and sleep outside every night. Never once on the whole trip did I miss facebook or shopping or any of the bullshit- the only thing I thought about, all day, everyday, was how much I miss my family.
It’s interesting, actually, how at the end of the day, when you have nothing else to distract you, all that really matters is the people who are in your life.
Someone told us that we had 5 weeks to design and complete a research project with a focus on sustainability. They will pay for our food and accommodation, within reason. We can go anywhere in Australia, but we pay for travel expenses. We can choose any topic we like, as long as it promotes sustainability. We can turn in a full scientific paper, if we like. Or we can write a song or paint a mural, if we prefer. The will give us credit at our home university, all we have to do is complete the project.
Someone told me about this walk in Victoria. It’s two weeks long, we carry everything on our backs, we hike 10-15 miles a day, we see 3 different major ecosystems. It will be the first time in your adult life you have gone two weeks without electricity, flushing toilet, makeup, showers, internet, news, advertisements, consumerism; bullshit. We use it to create a report on sustainability and someone else will pay for it.
I joined Steph and Andrea and the three of us jumped off together. (I’ll explain my research project in a later post). We left Melbourne for Portland, a small town in Victoria, on a short tram, a long train, and an even longer bus ride. We found an accommodating hotel pub to enjoy our last supper- a huge meal of grilled chicken risotto and lamb chops and all-you-can-eat veggie bar.
The hostel we had booked turned out to be a fairly long walk from downtown Portland, but the sweet woman on the phone said she would come pick us up from town. First thought was that this was a bit strange, that no concierge I’d ever met was ready to close up the office to pick up 3 guests at dinner time, but clearly this wasn’t going to be a typical hostel. Within minutes, Harold and Olive showed up together in a dark red sedan. They must have had nearly 180 years between them and they were just the sweetest couple you could imagine.
Their dog is called Holly: Harold + Olive.
They live a simple life on 12 acres of farmland on the outskirts of town where their own house sits beside their humble business, a series of parked camper vans set up for backpackers to stay.
Most of the land around their house is rented out to a sheep farmer. I took this in the morning around 7:00, just before we headed off on our first 12.6 miles. The walk started slow, the first few hours were hard. The first few days were hard. I barely remember what I was feeling that first day, and I was too lazy to write anything down when we got into camp that night. I do remember an immense feeling of relief when we found our first camp site. That night we had company, but oddly it was the last hiker we would see for 2 more weeks.
On the first day we slowly moved away from suburban neighborhoods and through farmland and open fields.
As soon as we left the outskirts of town, the walk took us to the Cobboboonee State Forest. It’s a dry sclerophyll forest with evidence of fire in recent years. Wallabies were fairly common, and we saw our first koala in this area.
Found this guy on the seat of the pit toilet at one of our camp sites. I didn’t use the toilet that night…
This naturally black pond is called the Inkpot. For some reason I remember this day being an especially difficult one. I think this may have been our last day in the forest, maybe our 4th day hiking. Days 3 and 4 were longer, about 14 miles each, and we were all starting to get really painful blisters on our feet by this point.
Sore feet probably explains why I was laying on my back watching the clouds until bed time that evening. :)
To be continued…