Thursday, January 22, 2009

Freedman Down Under: coasting it

After the boozy delights of Margaret River, we jetted into Brisbane, landing at midnight to a humid 32 degrees. We jumped onto the cheapo shuttle bus and asked the driver what he would recommend we do in the 36 hours we had in the city. His reply was "leave". Not promising. Then we got to another damn youth hostel, which looked modern and pleasant enough, but did involve sharing a shoebox of a dorm with a German couple, and on the most ridiculously squeaky, wobbly bunks of all time, complete with piss-proof rubber-coated mattress.
Following a restless night, Wifey woke up a little before me and wanted to get some totally unimportant object from the bottom of my bag (I schlepped a fair amount of his stuff, as he tried unsuccessfully to shoehorn everything for a 3 week trip into hand-luggage to avoid Tiger Airways stiffing him, which they did anyway). The bag being right by the bed, and me still trying to sleep, he then made the deadly mistake of waking me fully to ask where his unimportant objects might be located. After confirming they were really not up his fucking arse, and trying to rummage sleepily with one hand through 20kgs of my stuff to find his unimportant object, there was only one thing to do. Cue Freedmansdad-esque tantrum upending of bag and liberal dumping of all items across floor, before calmly retrieving said unimportant object from the bottom of the bag, handing it to him, rolling over with an enormous rattle and squeak from the bed, and going back to sleep.
Anyway, onward into Brisbane, where we started with a little stroll along the very pleasant Queen Street Mall, dropping off the broken walking boots and Wifey's Stinkenstocks at a shoe repair place. Then a little Aussie breakfast in the glorious outdoors, including my first taster of ubertreif, a nice rasher of chazer. Totally disappointing experience, not repeating that. Just salty, greasy and a bit leathery. Wondered if I'd sent the bacon to the shoe repair place and had the cafe fry up some boot.
Then we did a little self-guided tour of Brizzie, and fell in love with the place. Shuttle driver obviously just a depressive, because it's really lush. Imagine mini-London with tropical weather... awesome river frontage, a South Bank complete with wicked artificial beach and lido area, with backdrop of nice cluster of skyscrapers and historic buildings, botanical gardens with real wildlife competing to be hand-fed some crisps. Okay, the other difference between Brisbane and London - in fact between Oz and Blighty - is the scum. Or general absence of it in Australia. Well, it is probably there, it just knows what it is and how to behave when mingling with everyone else, coupled with some draconian punishments for people who step out of line. Mostly there is a real sense of civic pride, so public spaces remain unvandalised, and roaming gangs of feral youths are replaced with roaming packs of cute marsupials. The city beach would last about a week on our South Bank, and not just because it would be under a foot of snow just now.
We crashed over that evening with Wifey's lovely friend Catriona, in her sweet-ass flat with city views and a top-notch swimming pool. Out in the evening for a slap-up dinner, then back to the flat for drinks on the balcony and an episode or two of Peep Show. Ought to just big that up and say that during my time here, I was supposed to work my way through the delights of Ken Wilber's Theory of Everything and have instead got through every single episode of Mark and Jez re-enacting scenes from my life. I AM MARK CORRIGAN!
Off in the morning to collect the hire car, then a very civilised lunch by the river with Catriona (plate of most excellent marinated salmon and avocado, twice-fried chips, and a very indulgent little dessert, and yes, a bottle of something sparkling), and then the start of our Big Schlepp - a couple of hours' drive up the Sunshine Coast to Mooloolaba. Pretty grim hostel again - just cannot get used to rooming with total strangers who live out of rucksacks smaller than my free bizclass goodybag - but at least it was very near to a proper whack-in-the-wok noodle place, for a kilo of fried carby goodness.
Just up the coast from Moo is lovely Noosa. The plan was to have a night there before heading off for 3 days to Fraser Island, but it turned out we were wrongly advised and all the tours either left on inconvenient days, or were full. So we just hung out in Noosa instead, partly because we had stumbled across a lovely twin room and balcony at Noosa Backpackers, but also because of the total gem of an eaterie next door, Global Cafe, where the quality of the food was matched by the shaggability of the staff. I may have fallen just a little in love with the 18 year old blonde waitress. The food in this place was just superb, down to the wonderful Marco-Pierre-trained Stacey. We ate there every night, and on the last evening she even prepared a Spanish special as we had said it was a fave cuisine - a divine gazpacho and some of the best patatas bravas ever.
We passed our days bodyboarding on the stunning beach, fressing of course, finding a little slice of Zion, taking a walk in the national park, where we saw our first wild koalas and also went skinny-dipping on the nudist beach. On re-emerging Daniel Craig-like (only with even less left to the imagination of course) from the water, a fellow naturist and total raving hom (thanks for that word Jules) came sprinting up, canap├ęs jiggling, and as I sat on a sandy bank, stood right in front of me - you do the maths on this one - and said "would you like me to piss on you?".
I gasped and thought about it for a moment... I've treifed out already, why not give the Other Side a try? He could see my bewilderment and added that my back looked very red (I caught the sun a bit when swimming at Yulara) and he thought it was a jellyfish sting. I declined as politely as one can when a stranger has his cock 2 inches from your mouth, and have since spent several hours perfecting my new gay Aussie accent for recounting this tale.
Moving back down the coast, we stopped off at Alma Park Zoo to meet some domestic furries. Highlight was of course the koala-cuddling. Don't we look like a lovely father and son?! Also we entered into a debate with this kangaroo about zoo funding and the role of the late Steve Irwin in preserving Australian fauna. He was a very deep thinker.
Then back through Brisbane, where we collected our shoes and I caught up with my old boss Grant from BP in Grangemouth, who's from the Gold Coast and has since gone back there to work for a big nasty conglomerate, on their coal-mining side. A man after my own capitalist heart, or what there is of it. After a few pints with him, Wifey and I headed down to Surfer's Paradise, which is an impressive bunch of skyscrapers and big straight beaches, still just tacky and overdeveloped compared to Noosa and other Sunshine Coast beauty spots. Just the one night there. Groan - another youth hostel on the cards. Joy - twin room all to ourselves that turned out to be a very nice self-contained flat, for about fifteen quid each. Groan - no working lightbulbs. Joy - across the road from a dirt-cheap Mexican place. Groan - worst meal so far on the trip, totally not authentic, can make better myself.
And so on down the coast in the car, chipping away the miles, a little stroll here, a little paddle there, a major fress everywhere, nights in motels, hotels, hostels, over the course of 4 days:
- Byron Bay (a little drive around, lighthouse view and picnic, check the box, decide Noosa was more our scene)
- Ballina (I had a swim in the world's biggest pot of tea, Lake Ainsworth, decent dinner by the water, Wifey's most beautiful photo of the trip perhaps)
- Yamba (night in a fairly crazy hotel)
- Coffs Harbour (picnic on the docks, little stroll)
- Port Macquarie (total blank!)
- Forster-Tuncurry (motel, good curry for dinner, nice brekkie overlooking the lagoon)
- Nelson Bay (boom net, dolphins, waterslide off back of boat, excellent tom yum ka soup)
- Newcastle (like our one but with a beach and hot weather, door policy that got shirty about Wifey's thongs - that's the flip-flops, not choice of undies - he was going commando that night anyway)
Then the final 2 hours driving down to Sydney, climaxing joyously in a bombastic rendition of our official tour anthem, John Farnham's You're The Voice, as we crossed the Harbour Bridge.
More on this leg of the journey anon.

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