Tourist Trauma

Tuesday 11th November 2014   Day 64

We had pencilled in today for whale watching, so the first job was to ring one of the companies to book our cruise. The most convenient was an afternoon departure, which gave us time to relax, so we thought. With time on his hands Eric decided to confirm the pick up point for the two trips we had booked for our next stopping point, Brisbane. When he contacted the company and mentioned the dates there was an immediate “I’ll call you back”, which raised suspicions. On the return call being received Eric was told that owing to the G20 summit in Brisbane this weekend both tours had been cancelled. A request to speak to a manager swiftly followed and Eric’s displeasure at trips which were booked in June and then cancelled at the last minute was clearly expressed. In the end it was obvious that world leaders took precedence and a compromise was agreed, that we would do the Lamington National Park trip on Thursday and a full refund would be acceptable for the other trip.

Having dealt with that disruption to our plans Eric checked the ferry timetable. IEHADHRP he would have realised that the ferries did not conform to a regular timetable. As a result the ferry we had planned to take did not actually exist, but one was leaving in 25 minutes. Luckily we were pretty well ready to leave and were able to catch this earlier departure.

On arriving at Circular Quay we walked around a bit, admiring the Australian themed bronze sculptures in the nearby Herald Square and walking up George Street and viewing Australia Square. On our return to wharf 6 we boarded the small boat that was to take us in pursuit of the leviathans. Although near the end of the migration season, with mothers and calves returning south to their feeding grounds in the Southern Ocean, hump backed whales had been seen close to the coast in the past few days so the captain was optimistic. He was also optimistic as to sea conditions with the promise of little swell development, despite the moderately strong south easterly wind. In the event he was wrong on both counts. No whales were in evidence, although we did have some excellent dolphin fishing displays as compensation, and the sea produced some very lovely movement in the boat, with plenty of spray for Eric who sat near the bows. Joyce, having retreated to the back of the boat after the first couple of swells, was still hanging on for dear life at times. As we turned for the return journey, the sea calmed and she was able to get down the stairs and enjoy a coffee indoors, only venturing back to the bows when the boat entered the estuary.

Somewhat disappointed we returned after two hours, having expected a three hour trip, and were given a voucher for another cruise, valid until the end of the 2014 season, 5 days hence.

The earlier return gave us the chance to visit the Sydney Museum, built on the site of the first Government House. The displays were well presented and very informative and we were granted the concession price for entry. One temporary exhibition was on the work of Harry Seidler, a prolific architect, one of whose projects was the main building of Australia Square that we had visited earlier.

On being politely ejected from the museum at 5.00 pm we debated the virtues of travelling to the Surry Hills area of Sydney to find dinner. Eric was not feeling 100%, having been rocked about on the boat, therefore we elected to eat in an Italian restaurant on the Quay. On finishing our excellent meal of pork cutlet and lasagne we reached our ferry departure point just as the gate closed, leaving us to catch one half an hour later.

Back in our room we packed for the morrow before turning in.


Wednesday 12th November 2014   Day 65   Travel travails

Primrose very kindly offered to run us to Edgecliff station at 11.30 so we took our time over breakfast and last minute packing, although this did take longer than anticipated as we sought to keep our cases to below 20 kg and hand luggage to 10 kg, to fit in with Tigerair regulations. Primrose kept very well to time and we were soon on the train to Central station. The double Decker coaches conveniently have seats in the entry level to the coach where we could sit with our luggage.

Having negotiated the lifts at Central we were again soon ensconced on the train to the airport which carried us swiftly to the domestic terminal. Finding the desk we queued patiently for 25 minutes before presenting out IDs to the agent, only to be told that the flight actually left at 1555 not 1355 and that we were too early to check in.

This gave us time to eat our picnic lunch and at the appointed time we joined the queue to receive our boarding passes. Having obtained these we went through security only to be stopped as Eric’s nail scissors appeared in the x-ray. Interestingly as part of the Tigerair packing strategy Eric’s wash kit had been put in hand luggage on two previous occasions without any problem. Having sacrificed the potentially lethal weapon we relaxed in the departure lounge, with Joyce enjoying a tour round the shops. Despite our non souvenir policy Eric had been attracted by a decorated boomerang in a shop at Circular Quay, but had resisted despite the object being small and light enough to carry or to post home, with the latter strategy running the risk of the boomerang coming back. Joyce pointed him to a shop on the concourse selling boomerangs but again he resisted the buying urge.

The flight to Brisbane took 90 minutes and, because of the change of time zone forced by Queensland not applying daylight saving time, we gained an hour. Transfer to the airtrain platform at the domestic terminal was straightforward and we quickly reached our destination at Fortitude Valley station. The walk to the apartment block, Macwhirters, where our airbnb accommodation was located was not far and after a phone call we were admitted to our new temporary abode; a re-developed building with internal walkways between apartments. Our one was below the height of the adjoining building, so the main open plan living space was two stories high, with light coming in from the upper storey windows. Our room was at the back of this floor, with a fully encased patio, light coming through meshing 7 Ft above. There a further 3 bedrooms on a mezzanine floor, two of these inhabited by others airbnb guests.

We decided to pop straight out again to check tomorrow’s pick up point and to look for possible places to eat, exploring Chinatown, the next street across, in the process. We then headed for the supermarket next to the station to garner some provisions for tomorrow. En route we were entertained by the passing of a diplomat cavalcade accompanied by a flotilla of police cars and were then frustrated to find the door of the supermarket shut just as we arrived. A nearby convenience store provided some basic provisions and we then headed for Ric’s café bar for a $6.00 steak, it being steak night. Mushroom sauce and apple juice cost a further $4, producing a very acceptable meal, which was accompanied with easy listening live music. An hour ahead of everyone else we decided an early night was wise given that we had an early pick up for the trip tomorrow.


Thursday 13th November 2014     Day 66

As we got ready to leave for the tour we received a phone call advising us of a different collection point, 35 minutes later. As we walked to this street we were passed by the minibus, which stopped at a red light. Making haste we were able to board the bus in the middle of the street.

As we were the only two on the trip from Brisbane we immediately headed south towards the Gold Coast the rendezvous with another bus which would take us on the trip. Despite some heavy traffic we arrived in good time, our driver was a very well travelled lady who described her recent trip to Canada and Alaska (still on our bucket list). After 25 minutes the other bus arrived and we joined 8 other travellers under the care of the driver/guide Dave, who had something of the vocal qualities of Rolf Harris, giving us an excellent commentary.

The first stop was Mt Tambourine, a plateau at 500 metres, once part of a supervolcano and a significant market gardening and winery area. It was well populated and we stopped in a small town for the gallery walk, a chance to visit bespoke boutiques and bijoux cafés. Eric took the opportunity to acquire some fudge, including lemon meringue flavour and finally succumbed to the allure of a small boomerang, while Joyce bought chocolate Macadamia nuts (originally called Queensland nuts) and handmade lace. A coffee and a shared baked doughnut completed this part of the visit.

There had been a constant mizzle and low cloud cover prevented us from seeing anything from the viewpoint. Leaving the top we traversed the goat road, a single track, steep descent to the Canungra Valley. From here we climbed the 26 km of hair pin bends to O’Reilly’s at 1.000 metres, in the Lamington National Park at the top of another part of the supervolcano. This property is the heart of the tourism for this park and dates back to the establishment of Queensland’s first National Park where this pioneer family was in a unique location to develop tourism. It is also associated with the rescue of two survivors of a plane crash in the area.

Just before we reached O’Reilly’s we stopped at an alpaca farm to stretch our legs and feed the animals. As we drove up the mountain the vegetation went through distinct and sudden changes, from the eucalyptus dominated dry forest to rain forest of various types. Of particular interest were the strangler figs which germinate very high on other trees, extending their roots to the ground, then killing their host and standing alone.

At O’Reilly’s, the mizzle continued but did not prevent us from visiting the treetop walk, 30 metres in the trees, the mountain garden and part of the border track. We enjoyed watching the feeding of the parrots. As we walked around we saw and heard a wide variety of birds, seeing the golden bower bird (that attempted to share Eric’s sandwich), the yellow robin, scrubwrens, logrunners and brush turkeys and hearing the whiplash and cat birds. We also saw a lizard and a golden trapdoor spider was pointed out by another guide.

After two hours in the park we returned, with views of red necked a pretty faced wallabies with their distinctive white stripes and just catching a glimpse of the Gold Coast, again changing coaches, for our run into Brisbane. Once back at base we successfully visited the supermarket for vittles, enjoying a roast chicken and vegetable dinner, before retiring for another early night.


Friday 14th November 2014   Day 67   Brisbane brouhaha

On the Blue Mountains tour a Canadian couple we were chatting to about travels in Australia mentioned the Brisbane greeter scheme, where a local takes visitors an a free 2 hour tour of the city. We had booked such a tour for today, leaving from in front of the Visitor Centre at 10.00 am. We decided to take the train one stop to Central and then walk to the meeting point. Having winced at the price of a paper ticket $4.90 each, apparently a Go card would have been 30% cheaper but who knew (IEHADHRP anyone?), we reached Central in good time and headed towards the Queen’s Mall, the location of the rendezvous. We then spent 10 minutes waiting at a cross roads for the green man, along with a large number of other people. All the traffic was stopped and eventually a cavalcade of police motorcycles led a fleet of cars and vans, past us the leading limousine carrying the South Korean flag. The G20 strikes again.

Eventually we were able to cross and found our Brisbane Greeter, Anne Kelley, dressed in her distinctive red T shirt, with two other guests. We waited for the final member of our group and immediately headed into the new Visitors Centre, recently opened in the foyer of the old Regent Cinema, with its generously decorated interior. Anne was very concerned as to what would actually be accessible to us, given the G20, and proposed a ride on the free ferry boat. So we headed toward the river, passing some historic buildings including the General Post Office, the building that housed General MacArthur’s HQ in the Second World war and St Stephen’s Catholic Cathedral and joined the ferry at Eagle Street Quay, riding it upstream to North Quay, admiring the riverscape of Kangaroo point, City Botanic Gardens and South Bank, and then back downstream, passing under the cantilever of Story Bridge to Sydney Street where we disembarked. From the ferry we had also watched the significant presence of security on the river, with the obvious enjoyment of the police as they sped hither and thither in their inflatables.

Today was clear blue sunshine 26 C, so the noon traverse across New Farm Park was particularly hot. We passed the memorial to the Sandakan death march of allied prisoners of war and reached the Powerhouse, a performing arts space created in the old power station which generated electricity for the originally extensive tram system, which was replaced by buses after a fire destroyed much of the tram fleet in its depot.

We left the tour here and had a picnic lunch in the park before heading along the river to try to see Newstead House, the home of the Wickham who had accompanied Darwin on the Beagle, and who had his ambition to be the first Governor of Queensland thwarted. The walk along the river (a newly laid concrete esplanade which replaced the pontoons washed away in the last flood) was excellent and despite the soaring temperatures we were cooled by a strong breeze. Part of the walk commemorated the US submarines which had operated from here in the Second World War. Amongst the developments of new apartments with large communal swimming pools were sympathetic conversions of older buildings such as the sugar refinery and wool warehouses. We stopped for coffee in a café on the ground floor of one of these.

We left the river and continued to walk north searching for the elusive Newstead, which was proving further away than we had been led to believe. Finally finding Newstead Park at 3.00 pm, with its sign ‘open Tuesday to Friday 10.00 -4.00, last admissions half an hour before closing’. We were therefore perplexed, as were some other visitors, to find it all locked up. We walked all around the building and, having heard voices and noticing an open interior door, Joyce resorted to calling out, at which point a lady emerged to tell us that it was closed, owing to a lack of volunteers. We pointed out that the Tourist Information had told us the house was open and hearing our English accent, she kindly agreed to let us in and showed us around, with no velvet ropes in place.

The house was built as a cottage in 1846 and subsequently enlarged, with landscaping burying the original ground floor and converting it into what appeared to be a one storey structure surrounded by a veranda. We were shown the original ground floor then admitted into the grander upper rooms, decorated with objects from the mid 19th century, guided by an auctioneer’s list of contents at the time. We enjoyed the privilege of the private tour with no restrictions as to access. Whilst chatting we discovered that her great uncle had lived in Ashtead, actually in Harriets Lane, the road we use to access our road. Small world!

On leaving the house we decided it was too far to walk back, so after buying an ice cream, we waited at the bus stop for a ride to the valley. The bus arrived sooner than expected as it was running to the Public Holiday timetable, forcing the jettisoning of ice creams before we could climb aboard. Wincing even more as we bought the tickets, $5.95 each, we were delivered to Chinatown, giving us only a short walk to our accommodation.

Seeing our drop off point as a sign we later ordered a take away which we much enjoyed before relaxing for the evening, while bringing the blog up to date.

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