2nd Nov 2016 – We began the third phase of our world trip, a month of travel Down Under to parts of the island nation of Australia. Just over 24 hours (not accounting for hours gained in timezone crossover to the east) of leaving the shores of India at Chennai, we landed in the Coolangatta airport of Gold Coast. The sixth largest city of the sixth largest country, Gold Coast is a major tourist destination that got its name in the 1950s from the inflated prices of its real estate, goods and services. Its long stretches of sandy beaches and surf along with theme and amusement parks are the key attraction for most visitors. Lesser known is the biodiversity that this region has to offer in the patches of ancient sub-tropical rainforest and mangroves that have managed to survive the onslaught of urbanisation and new-age thrills and are now fortunately protected.
Having arrived a little before 7 am and about 4 hours before we could check-in, Manish decided the best use of our time would be a visit to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary (which incidently also has the country’s biggest rainforest aviary) situated quite close to our AirBnB acco at Burleigh Waters. So we got our rental car and headed out with fingers crossed to get there in time for the morning Lorikeet feeding, a major attraction for all visitors. Which we did and then realised we were missing our beloved little Canon G7X camera! We had just spent a fortune on getting it repaired in Chennai after a fall it had suffered in the desert sand near Jaisalmer. A frantic hunt through all possible places yielded nothing. Bravely pushing aside the sinking feeling that it may have been left at the Kuala Lumpur airport near a security checkpoint, we decided to stay in the moment and marched forth. The mesmerising sight of hundreds of brightly coloured Rainbow Lorikeets flying in lifted our spirits. We were ever more grateful for our mobile phone cameras to be able to capture the beautiful moments!
Next attractions quite predictably were the koalas and kangaroos, the two iconic Australian marsupials. Looking at the layout map, we saw “tree kangaroos” listed and were eager to find out about them. We had never heard of them before. First up were the koala enclosures. We learnt that koalas sleep most of the day because their diet (leaves of specific types of eucalyptus) is low in energy. Like sloths (those adorable intoxicated looking arboreals we saw in the Amazon rainforest), they spend about 20 hours in a day asleep on trees 🙂
Later that morning we got to witness the care-taking of a couple of wild koalas that were under treatment in the sanctuary’s hospital before they could be released back into their natural habitat. Recent conservation efforts have helped improve the situation for koalas that were driven to the brink of extinction due to extensive hunting by European settlers in the early 20th century. Currently classified as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN, the gentle koalas face ongoing threats of habitat destruction and attacks by feral dogs.
And then came the legendary, curiosity invoking kangaroos. We learnt of the two main types of land kangaroos, red and grey, from the volunteers at the sanctuary. We were delighted to be offered an opportunity to feed some of the grey kangaroos.
And then the fascinating tree kangaroos, a complete novelty for us. We got to see a couple of Goodfellow’s tree kangaroos, an endangered species. A most exotic looking animal, it is quite different from its land dwelling cousins.
Next door was the “croc” enclosure where we learnt the difference between the much feared Aussie “saltie“, the powerful estuarine crocodile and the shy freshwater crocodile. And then the Australian Parrots and Cockatoo enclosure with its mind boggling variety of birds in so many different colours! It was an enriching morning, not just on account of being able to see and learn about the unique fauna of this island nation, but also conversations with the volunteers on their work and an enthusiastic discussion on cricket that Manish had with a staff member.
It was time to check-in and recheck all our bags for our camera, the former was the silver lining and the latter unfortunately the cloud :(. Groceries, SIM and lunch done, we tried to catch some shut eye and figure out our under-water camera strategy for the Great Barrier Reef, before heading out to the beach for an evening stroll. The views stretching from Surfers Paradise with its skyline in the north to the hills of the Burleigh Heads National Park in the south were pretty, though the summer evening proved a little too cold for our comfort.
Warmly clothed in our fleece jackets, we admired the esplanade with its wide walkways and public exercise machines overlooking the beach and its being put to good use by the locals who were out walking, jogging and running in summery outfits.
After twilight we drove down to buy a new Cannon G7X, armed with the underwater casing that we had bought a couple of months earlier. Much to the surprise of the salesman and our disappointment, the camera didn’t fit into the casing by just a couple of mm!! It was the newer Mark II version while our brand new $200 casing was for the Mark I model that (we had lost) had now been discontinued. So we decided to sleep over it.
The next day was an action oriented one starting with the Skypoint Climb, one of the highlights of Gold Coast. You are zipped to the top of Q1, one of world’s tallest buildings and from there it’s is a 40-meter manual climb up the stairs with safety harness attached to everyone. Exciting yet scary stuff, specially with blustery winds threatening to push you down !
The afternoon was spent at the Movie world park which frankly was an utter waste of time and money, with hardly any teenage attractions. We could not visit Dream World park as it was closed due to a fatal accident the week before.
We left Movie World within an hour and were back to our favorite Skypoint observation deck admiring the lovely views of Surfers Paradise coastline over a coffee/beer.
We saved the best for last – a visit to the lush “Hinterlands”, the ancient rainforests whose origin is traced back to Gondwana, the part of the supercontinent. Springbrook national park is 40 minutes from Burleigh Heads and comprises mainly of temperate, subtropical eucalyptus forest. With huge canyons, gorges, cliffs, scenic look outs such as Best of All lookout point, falls such as Purling Brook falls – it is a world apart from the hedonistic scene of Surfer’s paradise.
We also found time to chill and run at the beautiful Burleigh Heads national park – the vibes here are so much more relaxed than the hyped up Surfers paradise.
That concluded our whirlwind 3 day tour of the Gold Coast.
The AUD 50 excess baggage charge by Jetstar at 5 am the next morning jolted us out of our slumber and we landed in Cannes cursing the airline under our breath. We played along with the Punjabi taxi driver who sang praises of Kejriwal for the freebies and attacked Modi for being “anti-people”. Hmmm…
We are here in Cannes mainly to fulfill the life time dream of experiencing the Great Barrier Reef corals, apart from visiting the Daintree Rainforest and other natural attractions of Queensland. Both GBR and Daintree are World Heritage sites. A nice 2 bedroom AirBnB owned by a highly affable Aussie was a great start to the week. After a home made lunch and a much needed nap, we picked our rental car and headed straight to Palm Cove – supposedly the best of beaches around. After arriving, we wondered what the fuss was all about. With Goa in our backyard, we really don’t need to run around the world for beaches- was the lesson. Anyway, Mika made a nice sand castle and that concluded our first evening nicely.
It was an early start the next morning to Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation – where the “Rainforest meets the Reef” as the locals say. The whole region is a combination of forest, rivers, reef and also the home of Kuku Yalanji aboriginal people. It’s at the lowland between DainTree and Bloomfield rivers where the rainforest meets the reef. Crossing the Daintree ferry, we pressed on to Cape Tribulation which is famous for its beaches, mountains and “reef meets forest” view. Apart from lovely views along the way, we were also lucky to meet the elusive Cassowaries. The day was nicely signed off at the famous Daintree Icecream company which grows exotic fruits in their orchard and produces natural and yummy icecream.
The next morning we headed to Atherton Tablelands – full of greenery, giant fig trees, lakes, waterfalls and mountains. The Milla Milla waterfall circuit is the most popular with a bunch of lovely waterfalls
The day ended with platypus viewing at one of the privately owned farms in the Tablelands. Platypus is a duck-billed semi-aquatic mammal endemic to Eastern Australia. Very cool when they come up the water ! It is an exercise in patience as you are not supposed to make any noise and also they are extremely small in size.
The next morning the big day arrived and we boarded Compass Cruises for their full day tour of the Great Barrier Reef. You need to carefully choose an operator who takes you to pristine outer reefs. The pictures speak for themselves.
We had tasted blood and were determined to go to the outer reef again, another day.
Before returning the car the next morning, we headed off to Flecker botanical gardens, Kuranda rainforest & Barron’s gorge.
After a couple of days rest, the special day arrived – baby Mihika’s 13th birthday. Where have all those years flown?? To celebrate her grand transition to teenage, we had booked another Outer Reef tour with a new boat called Seastar. With corals and snorkeling at 2 locations – Michaelman’s cay & Hasting’s reef, Mika truly had an unforgettable birthday. A specially hired underwater camera was used for capturing the underwater proceesdings. Mika managed to take some “Nemo” shots too ! For dinner was her favorite pesto pasta in a pre-planned Italian joint followed by cake cutting at home. Daddy had to spend all afternoon the previous day, desperately running around in baking sun to arrange for the cake as every thing was closed, it being sunday; with good old Coles finally coming to rescue ! Well worth the effort for the ultra special day !!
We spent the last day lounging around the esplanade and its 4800 sq m artificial swimming lagoon – a great respite after the hectic trips to the reef.
Our Queensland odyssey thus came to an end and we were now ready to fly to Darwin (Northen Territory) to experience the Australian outback. Thanks for reading our blog and see you soon in NT.