The Best Laid Plans

At this point I’m basically telling myself, “I told you so.” Plans. See, plans just don’t work for me. And it makes for so much more fun this way. After a great time in Brisbane and Noosa, I figured I might as well hit up Rainbow again on my way north. I would be driving right by it, after all. I also had a friend who is one of the guides for the Fraser Island trips who offered to let me jump on his tour. Sounds good.

This was all easier said than done. The road to Rainbow was still flooded, so after an extra couple of nights in Noosa (and I’m not alone in this), the 4WD company from Rainbow organized a caravan of Land Cruisers to come and collect stranded backpackers from Noosa. The ratio of people trying to get back to Rainbow to spots in cars ended up not being in my favour, so Amanda and I were left behind in Noosa. Amanda is another Canadian working in Rainbow for one of the hostels. With a second pick-up later that afternoon, we were confident in the fact we would be getting to Rainbow at some point that day and spent the afternoon having a couple of drinks and chatting. We were at the Noosa Junction on time, ready to get picked up, when we received a call from the 4WD boys, essentially culminating with, “We’re not coming.” A moment of panic was followed quickly with reassurance they had booked us on a privately chartered minibus. We somehow managed to become responsible for organizing said minibus and getting the remaining stranded backpackers sorted and on their way. I never thought that I’d be trying this hard to get back to Rainbow. With a higher level of excitement than I would have anticipated, we finally saw signs for town. I hadn’t told too many people that I was coming back, and even after having only being gone for a few days, I had a brilliant reception. Nearly everyone I knew happened to be at the bar when I walked in, and I had an excellent welcome “home” night. I hit the hay and woke up late and cheery to greet grey skies, a three-day trip to my favourite island on the menu.

The weather would have had to try quite hard to be much worse. For the most part, though, our group kept their smiles on and we had an amazing trip. I had a bit of a different experience than my first tag-a-long trip, and spent most of my time chilling in the guides’ area of camp. I think this may have had something to do with the fact that my patience level for backpackers was pretty low after the travel job. I was more interested in relaxing, sipping on rum, and chatting than skulling goon (really cheap, horrible, awful “wine” that is the backpacker staple) and partying with 150-odd travellers.

The first time I visited Fraser on a tag-a-long, we stayed at beach camp. This is essentially a couple of rows of non-permanent tents, and a pail with a plank on it as an emergency toilet. Gas cookers and a string of Christmas lights for both ambient and functional lighting completed the ensemble. This time around, I was at K’gari, the permanent campground (though still with non-permanent tents). K’gari is on Aboriginal land and I got to meet a couple of the Aboriginal people who live there. Spitting into the fire and whistling were believed to bring about evil spirits and were not to be done while in the campground. Not whistling is harder than you think, especially when I’ve been trying to learn to whistle for the last couple of years and have been practicing at any given moment.

Fraser Crew

After a lovely three days on the island – intermittently spoiled by drunken Irish antics – we headed back to the mainland. I was set to head to a place called 1770 in the next couple of days. 1770 is where Cook first landed in Queensland, (his second landing in Australia) in the year 1770 (go figure) and has two things that appealed to me: cheap surfing and a deserted island castaway trip. Such is my luck with getting where I’m meant to be; the buses were not dropping anyone off at 1770 for a few days. (Is this getting repetitive and boring yet?) I swapped some dates around (take that, Plan!) and decided to head straight to Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands. I booked my bus for Tuesday evening (arriving Wednesday morning), and shuffled my boat forward a couple of days to leave on Friday morning.

With little of the fanfare from previous “I’m leaving Rainbow” nights, I had a quiet drink at Fraser’s on Rainbow, and said goodbye to the people who happened to be there. Approximately twenty minutes before my bus would take off, I got word that buses were only going as far north as Hervey Bay (about two hours north of Rainbow) and that everything north of that, including Airlie Beach was not accessible. The woman at the call centre for Premier bus must have thought I was a bit unhinged, because when she told me this I could not stop laughing. The hilarity of my inability to get out of this town was not lost on me, I assure you. With little hope, I changed my ticket to the following day and ordered another drink.

Luckily, the sun came out and dried up whatever particular patch of road seemed to be the issue, so I was on the bus the next night (for a cruisy 14 hours), and arrived in Airlie with plenty of time to catch my boat the following day. Next: the boat.

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Stuck. Part I.

The ocean was back to blue again. From the top of the hill, my view of the ocean and the beach stretched endlessly. A bird let out a tentative chirp, accompanied by the slow drip of drying out trees. It was about ten hours after my bus was scheduled to depart from Rainbow Beach, and I was perched on a friend’s balcony on the top of a hill. In Rainbow Beach.

Rainbow Post-Storm

Torrential downpours had been hammering Rainbow nearly non-stop for over 24 hours. Since the recent cyclone (refer to previous post involving me bitching about stranded backpackers), the weather has been pretty … tropical. Heavy rains have been a part of almost every day (or night). But nothing like yesterday. By two in the afternoon, the water was already flooding over the access road to Rainbow. This morning it was confirmed: no bus. Not even phased, surprised, or disappointed, I commenced enjoying my last day (in theory) by doing mostly large chunks of nothing interspersed with excellent activities including a swim in Seary’s Creek and an unbelievable steak dinner with friends. From the boardwalk, Seary’s Creek looks like oil – thick, dark, and ominous. This is, in fact, the case, but when you get into the creek (which is freezing cold on a good day), you realize the water is not black, but red. It’s filled with tea tree oil and feels incredible on the skin.

Seary's Creek

The day was ideal, and somehow made me feel better about The Plan, as it demonstrated that nothing is going to go in accordance with it, and The Plan is just going to have to change. I’ve also been offered the opportunity to go to Fraser Island again with one of the guides, which is more tempting than not. Dates may need some more shuffling and Rainbow may require a revisit.

This seemed as good of a moment as any to reflect on the last couple of months. As the birds came out of hiding and patches of sky appeared from behind thick grey clouds, I sat on a balcony with incredible views of this place that I’ve grown to love. Cozily wrapped up in yoga pants and a hoodie, glass of red wine in hand, Rainbow reflection time began (insert video montage).

Ah, so … Rainbow Beach. This is not a place I would have imagined myself living when I arrived in Australia, but it turned out to be the perfect spot. If the surf were better, this would be the ideal surfer town. The pints are cheap, there are a couple of regular spots with live local music, and everyone knows one another. The “local” crew is essentially anything but, and is comprised of a handful of people from all walks of life, both Australian and foreign, who have chosen to make this beautiful corner of Queensland their home. Rainbow is sustained by tourism, mainly generated by the pull of Fraser Island, so there is a constant flow of traffic that prevents things from getting too stale. After staying here for some time, I have discovered some of the magic of this place that escapes many of the people that travel through – indeed, that escaped me in the beginning.

There is no doubt that the place is beautiful. That’s clear enough for anyone to see. What you don’t grasp immediately, what you can’t, is how truly exceptional the people are. I have become close with some, will see a couple again, and will have fond memories of the rest. The people who have chosen to make this small town their home are very often the unique combination of open minded and well travelled, competent and intelligent, and impossibly laid back. The beauty was in the little things. Trying to run a quick errand and having it take 30 minutes because you bumped into four people you needed to chat with along the way. Not even bothering to call anyone before showing up at the bar because you knew that there would be someone there you were friends with. Closing shop (not our shop …) to go surfing, or because it was a fantastic day outside, or because it was a shit day (or a cyclone). Not ever having to wear shoes or proper clothing. Things that couldn’t fly in Sydney.

So all being said, despite my reservations upon arrival, and my eagerness to get back on the road again, I will most definitely miss this place. Love heart.

The Backpacker Special

My last day of work is in a week. As happens when the end is near, I’m ready for the end to be now. I’m already leaving Rainbow Beach a week earlier than I originally planned, but the last week of work before extended holidays is always a bit of a struggle. Of course, my life remains very cruisy; I write this while laying in a hammock after a half-day of work, speckled sunlight from a canopy of palms dancing over my words. The next few days will be filled with planning, sending out couchsurfing requests, and all of the excellent things that coincide with farewells – parties, drinks, hugs, and bittersweet “This is the last time I’ll be doing …” musings.

It’s too early for the Reflection-on-Rainbow post, so instead I’ll talk about what comes next. My coworker, Nikkie, had her last day on Friday and has already packed up and shipped out. The newest import to Rainbow is another Canadian who has been working with our company for nearly a year. She has a solid knowledge of everywhere I want to go, and I’ve tweaked my plans slightly on her advice. My frugality, dislike of planning, and general belief that most tours suck apparently makes me a travel agent’s nightmare. Nevertheless, I’m looking at spending a solid amount of money before leaving here, mostly based on the assumption that I will like scuba diving. Activities in the shopping bag at the moment include a PADI Open Water dive course, an overnight diving trip from Cairns, a canoe/camping trip in Noosa, and a sailing trip in the Whitsunday Islands.

It’s probably going to take me just over a month to make my leisurely way from Brisbane north to Cairns. A very large part of me hates even having a plan at all, but the rational part of me knows that I will be saving money this way, and that much of this does need to be booked in advance in order to actually do it. I can’t help feeling like such a tourist, particularly when I compare this next leg to the beginning of my Australia trip. In the beginning, I rarely saw the inside of a hostel, I scavenged rides, and I had not a single thing planned. Such is the nature of the touristy eastern coast of Australia — an itinerary is much more necessary than I’d like it to be. Part of me is still considering ditching the $220 hop-on-hop-off bus pass (a key ingredient to the backpacker special) and finding a more creative way to get myself and my backpack up the coast. Despite all of my reservations about the plan, there is a simple reason why this stretch of Australian coast is so popular and so busy. Because it’s amazing. The following weeks are going to full of some of the best things a person can do in Oz, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Planning

I’m eagerly staring at the two blank weeks at the end of my calendar, where it simply says Gold Coast. After Cairns I intend to catch a flight back south to the Gold Coast to visit two very dear friends of mine who are returning to Australia from Canada in March. At this stage, my bank account will be, I have no doubt, in very dire straits. Unless someplace new captures my heart along the way, I’ll be heading back to Sydney – my favourite city so far. After doing the small town thing for so long, I’m in desperate need of some urban chaos in my life.

Paradise

It’s apparently 21. According to our guide, you need 21 days to properly explore Fraser Island — to drive its tracks, walk its paths, and discover the many beautiful sites that exist, seemingly unnaturally, on the island. We had three. But we did our best.

The Aboriginal name for the island – the true name of the island – is K’gari. It means paradise. And it truly is. Towering rain forests, massive freshwater lakes, and crystal clear creeks live happily on this sandy bit of heaven. Fraser has extremely unique ecology. It is home to half (including the largest) of the perched lakes in the world — lakes that exist above the water table. The lakes and creeks have some of the cleanest water in the world, due to the natural filtration process of the sand. As air pollution gets worse globally, the water on Fraser is expected to be one of very few places that remains pristine. Dingoes (wild Australian dogs) also call the island home and, because of a lack of cross-breeding with domesticated dogs, they remain some of the few pure dingoes left in the country.

I visited the island on a tag-a-long safari. Essentially a guide (Geoff – legend) drives a lead car and three cars, packed with eight backpackers each, follow behind.

Tag-a-Long

Drivah

Because Fraser is a sand island, roads are virtually non-existent. Inexperienced backpackers attempting to make Land Cruisers scream through mountains of soft sand results in small amounts of terror, countless bogs and stalls, and even more laughs. I tackled some reasonably tough inland track driving, where the sand is at its softest, and also had an easy cruise along the main beach, which acts as the highway on the island. The best part is that those crazy cruises take you to some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. These places include:

Lake McKenzie:

Lake McKenzie

The Champagne Pools:

Champagne Pools

Waddy Point:

Waddy Point

And many, many more. The days were filled with cruising, trekking, and swimming. The nights were cooking, camping, drinking, and not sleeping. It may be sand, but hard-packed sand is not the most comfortable thing in the world to sleep on, especially when it appears to have formed a large bump directly underneath your spine. The first night I tried to navigate this awkwardly placed lump, and used my threadbare beach towel to pump up my pathetic mattress – a thin sleeping bag was all that I had between me and the ground. Preparation is not my strong suit, apparently. The second night I took advantage of being a pseudo Rainbow local and upgraded to sleeping guide-style on top of one of the vehicles (the one with guard rails) on a proper inflatable bed. Spending a night with nothing but a sleeping bag between you and the sky is truly excellent, as is rolling over and being able to watch the sun rise from said perch.

The best place on the island is Eli Creek. That water is fresh. You could be jumping into a creek in the mountains in Canada. A hangover cure and a shower, the best part about Eli Creek is the pure joy that you experience while floating down its lazy waters. Floating is right up there in the best things that anyone can do, ever. I’m not fussy on the form of floating; you can use inflatable rafts, you can use pieces of wooden door (as long as you share), or you can just use yourself. And that is what we did, our little pack of backpackers; we laid our heads back and floated in a little train all the way down Eli Creek. Perfection.

Eli Creek

While well travelled, Fraser still manages to feel a little wild. It’s just rugged enough to bring you back to the simple joy of things. Missioning up a sand dune and running back down so fast that your legs can’t keep up. Being properly hungry and enjoying your unevenly cooked camping meal like it was a gourmet dinner. It also reminds you to appreciate your creature comforts at home. Showers (30 backpackers with no shower for three days does not a rose garden make). Cold beverages. Beds.

As beautiful and peaceful places tend to inspire and encourage contemplation, I did a good amount of thinking on the island. I’m beginning to firm up some plans, which is good. Content and excited is an excellent combination.

Postponed

I didn’t make it to Fraser Island on Monday. Another company’s mistake with a booking, their panicked call around to see if any tours had a space left, and me being a local agent who can – in theory – go any time equals a bump off of the tour for me. Rather than further mess with our already complicated work schedule, I booked in for the following Monday and am hoping for the best. I still have a few weeks of bump-able time before I actually have to get to the island. I did get my regular two day weekend, which was spent doing your average weekend-y things: A solid mix of nothing, running errands, yoga, and going out dancing. Monday night happens to be the most happening in Rainbow, where an actual DJ spins at the local pub and people, occasionally even wearing heels, actually dance. The fact that the whole operation shuts down at midnight reminds you that you are still in Rainbow. In fact, the evening generally reminds me a bit of being at someone’s wedding reception, what with the wooden dance floor, awkward period of time where no one is on it, and communal everybody-knows-everybody dance circles that eventually emerge. Nevertheless, the night is always fun and, after all, beggars can’t be choosers.

Double Time

And we are off into another year! With all of the New Years countdowns and lists, the resolutions and goals, and the predictions for the coming year that populate our conversations, our news, and our online feeds, one begins to think about their own year, prospects, and goals. So with that in mind, and the fact that all of the experts tell us that goals are much more likely to be achieved when they are written down and shared with others (makes us accountable, after all), here are a few of things I would like to check off the bucket list in the coming year:

  • Get PADI Open Water Certificate.
  • Go on a vineyard tour in Australia. (This goes hand in hand with last year’s resolution to drink more wine — Best. Resolution. Ever.)
  • Attend a cricket match. (To soak in an aspect of Aussie culture that I currently do not see the appeal of at all.)
  • Go on a sailing trip through the Whitsunday Islands.
  • Live in another new country.
  • Buy a decent camera. (To feed into the larger goal of taking up photography.)
  • Do a 30 Day Yoga Challenge.
  • Finish TEFL course.
  • Perfect Pirate’s Warning. (My own cocktail, the recipe for which was started at the base of Mount Warning outside of Byron Bay, but still needs some tweaking).

In order to fund these excellent endeavors, I plan to hang out in Rainbow Beach for approximately two more months. I have picked up a second job in a juice bar to fill out the hours currently lacking from the travel job. I now have another bonus from my employment situation: snacking on the overflow from delicious smoothies. Blended things quite frequently make it to my favorite things list, and it’s looking as though part-time at a juice bar and I are going to get along well. Additional bonuses include good coworkers and inspiration from customers, such as when a woman fresh off her travels to Borneo requested an apple celery juice. Apparently they serve this strange combination frequently in Borneo, and after making myself one out of sheer curiosity, I can see why. Delicious!

The juice bar also gives me something else to do, which is currently necessary to quell the restlessness I’m feeling in Rainbow. It’s really no surprise, especially after travelling for a couple of months, that settling in a such a small place would be cause for some unrest, but it’s making me realize that probably my number one goal for 2013 is to focus more on enjoying the moment. I worked for over a year to make it to Australia, and despite realizing that Rainbow Beach is not the ideal place for me to have settled down, I might as well make the most of it.

On a more serious side note, Australia is currently suffering through a heat wave. We are luckily unaffected, with temperatures remaining in the balmy 30 degree range. Had I been asked a few months ago if 30 degrees would qualify as “cool” I would have laughed, but one adapts. The major issue with hot, dry, and windy conditions – as you can imagine – is the severe risk of fires. “Severe” is actually an understatement, as fire warnings for large parts of Victoria and Tasmania have reached the “catastrophic” mark, which is about as bad as it can get. So far, Tassy has been the most seriously effected, with several out-of-control fires destroying around 100 homes in small towns around Hobart and leaving thousands of people stranded on the Tasman peninsula. The news has been referring to past bushfires in Australia, chiefly Black Saturday. In 2009, around 400 individual fires across the state of Victoria caused massive damage and took the lives of over 170 people. I’m not sure if I just failed to hear about this at the time or if it never made it to Canadian news. Regardless, I was largely unaware of the huge impact that bushfires can have here, though it does make perfect sense.

Prairie Girl on a Surfboard

I’m a creature of the land. I grew up in the middle of Canada, okay? Oceans were not part of the daily life. Maybe I should have tried harder to love winter, so I could spend time more time on a snowboard. On the ground. Instead, for some reason, I am drawn to the beach. And it seemed a shame to spend so much time on beaches in Australia and not attempt to jump on a surfboard. So that was the goal.

I still have ocean dripping out of my nose (attractive image, I know), and my arms – now reduced to jelly – are shaking as I try to lift up my cup of coffee. All because of – dare I say it? – a reasonably successful surfing lesson! Yes, folks. Today I surfed a wave. Several, in fact, with the assistance of the lovely Rainbow Beach Surf School instructor, Ty. I wish there were photos, for I’m sure they would supply some comedic relief.

I see why people do this. Getting hammered by waves and flopping repeatedly into the ocean does not sound like a good time, but I assure you, it is. Oh, and we must not forget swallowing buckets of saltwater. Nevertheless, I’m already waiting for my next day off from work so I can head to Double Island Point for better and longer waves. The prospect of having something to do on my days off makes Rainbow slightly more appealing. I feel as though I could draw a very irregular, spiky graph of my satisfaction with this place. Right now, happy levels in Rainbow are high. This euphoria may be enhanced by the caffeine/sugar high from the latte and apple turnover I treated myself to after said surf lesson, but I’ll take it.