Oct 5, 2016

Down Under, a Good Way to Be

Your body is not a temple
It’s an amusement park
Enjoy the ride

Anthony Bourdain

Queensland amazing and ancient wet rain forest - Not our picture of Australia in the least
Australia is stunning yet not exactly what we had anticipated.  The areas we visited we very green and luscious, unlike the parched desert it is often characterized as (think Uluru [or Ayers] rock much further inland).

“Where the wet rainforest meets the coral reef”

This slogan describes Queensland and the Sunshine Coast where we spent most of our time.  With miles upon miles of pure sand white beaches lined on one side by shallow clear aquamarine waters often protected by reefs or islands and on the other by giant wet rainforest (forest with 95% foliage coverage offering very little light at ground level and so densely filled with plants that it creates its own mist at times dripping on your head) trees covered with vines and crisscrossed by lianas.  It felt strangely familiar to us after visiting central Mexico and French Polynesia with their version of emerald lush tropical paradises without much of the eucalypti.
Another preconception we held, prior to visiting was that Australia was mostly flat.  But it is fairly mountainous along the whole East side making for very windy, narrow, and steep roads or paths under the canopy of trees no matter where you head out to.  Magnificent with never a dull moment when driving or hiking!

Typical path lined with very old tall trees, mosses, vines, etc
What a setting for the 11th World Championship Ironman 70.3 (locals call it Ironmate), the first one held in the Southern Hemisphere.  Although often cold, rainy, and breezy (after all it is the end of winter here!)  the weather was thankfully gorgeous for the day of the event.

Typical rig seen around OZ with snorkel and camping above cab. 
Nearly always present is the kangaroo catcher at the front as well.

Very compact, unlike RVs (which they call caravans here), they fit just about anywhere

When visiting a new place we anticipate to be, at the very least, slightly lost by either language, food or culture.   The only truly disorienting thing we encountered was the infamous driving on the left (but wrong to us) side, and the roundabouts.  Food that is truly Australian is very rare, major influences being England and Asia, nothing really “new”. The language had some interesting colloquialisms that were rather funny but not difficult to communicate with these friendly folks.  Coffees for example come as piccolo, short black, long black or flat white – you quickly learn what each of these mean.  Otherwise shorten a word and add “ie” at the end or “a” and you have an Aussie word.  For example a firefighter is a firie, a beer is a coldie and super cup of coffee is suppa cuppa.  A sandwich can also be a jaffle or a toastie depending of shape or if it is toasted.

Guess where selfies originated from?  Here in Aussie-land.

When you intend on using the turn signal, the windshield wipers go on.  When you try looking in the rearview mirror, you look right instead of left…  You don’t have the same problem when using the side view mirrors because you are used to looking both sides.  These are small details that take weeks to execute automatically so you are left with less mental capacity to truly handle the road challenges ahead.  We had driven roundabouts before but when you have to drive them clockwise from the left side of the road, it gets a little tricky at first.  

Aussie drivers go to driving school after which they have to display a large sticker with the letter L (for Learner starting at 16) on their vehicle.  They have to display that for two years and drive under the supervision of a full Australian license holder, cannot tow anything, must complete 120 hours of practice including 20 hours of night driving, and not drive over 90km/hr and have zero blood alcohol.  That is a long time but wait, there is more.  These laws are a little different from state to state but you get the idea!

They then have to display the letter P (for Provisional starting at 17) for the next three years before being free of labeling. Same rules as above except that now they are allowed to tow up to 250kg.  I’m not kidding you – a total of 5 years unless you do additional training and pass some extra tests to shorten this timeline.  They have very strict rules and seemingly nearly everyone seems to follow them.  We very seldom heard impatient horns or saw vehicles weaving in and out of traffic trying to speed ahead of everyone.  It felt very well behaved…  Great for newbies like us trying to fit in with our rental vehicle.

A movement is starting to take hold requesting that foreigners get the letter T (for Tourists) on their vehicles.  10% of vehicular accidents involve tourists who forget which side of the road to drive on, who stop suddenly to take a picture or swerve to see a kangaroo up close, in other words not paying adequate attention to the road.  Nearly 5 million people visit Australia each year and Australia only has 25 million residents…  That makes 1 in 5 people a tourist!  We certainly encountered them everywhere.
Honeyeater collecting nectar from banksia flower
Minimum wage is the highest in the world at around $AUD-17.98/hour with an automatic 25% increase for weekend work, casual work, etc.  That also includes four weeks of paid vacations and healthcare.  Of course prices tag along upward following such good wages but life seems well taken care of down under.  We rarely saw street people and even then they had good clothes on and seemed in fairly good health.  Many safety nets must exist to help everyone.  The BigMac Index says it would cost $0.70 more to buy one here than the average US price.  When you think that this $0.70 gives you all that is described above, it’s a small price to pay for a good life.  For us it seemed prices were very similar to the US except for housing and tourist activities which are much higher.

Pool by the beach, boardwalk and playground
Boardwalk lined with pandanus
Thanks to our daughter-in-law Sam who booked it, we stayed at an affordable AirB&B condo on a third floor overlooking the ocean.  We scouted the area before the Ironmates got here with the grandkids to give them more time to get ready for the event and visit.

Rainbow Lorikeet - bird seen from our condo balcony by Adam Knapp
What more could you want than an ocean water filled swimming pool on the beach, near parks, playgrounds, boardwalks, and showers just walking distance from the condo?

What more do you need than excellent organic coffee, organic fruits and veggies, baked goods or ice cream made with local ingredients just across the way as well as good restaurants?
The view is splendid at King’s Beach in Caloundra.  The surroundings offer something for everyone.  Birds sing songs new to our ears every morning.  We are content and happy.

Spirit House, 2005
Craig Medson, Australia
Sandstone and marble

Infinity, 2005
Jaroslava Sicko-Fabrici, Slovakia
White marble
Gumleaf, 2005
Richard Newport
Spotted gum and stainless steel

Chronicle, 2005
Seung-Woo Hwang, South Korea
Black and white marble

We visited a little on our own (some of the things we didn’t think the little ones especially would appreciate as much).  Botanical gardens, Maroochy Bushland Sculpture Garden (pictures above), road sightseeing of amazing pastures, farms, beaches, etc. 
First time food for us:
  • Crocodile – rather dry with a slight fishy taste – had it on a pizza but also can be found as sushi (although we couldn’t find it)
  • Kangaroo – very lean meat, about what you would expect that from wild meat (found easily as burger, on pizzas, in store to cook at home)
  • Fresh Crumpets – with lots of butter – delicious
  • Lamington Cake – sponge/angel-like cake surrounded by chocolate and fresh coconut – nothing can go wrong there…
  • Moreton Bay bugs
  • Sand crabs
  • Whiting fish
  • Oysters – cooked or raw
  • Chocolate Mousse Fruit – same family as persimmon.  We had seen them in French Polynesia but they were not ready to eat yet.  They do indeed taste lightly like unsweetened chocolate and if very ripe, have the texture of drier than normal pudding.
  • Star Apple Fruit – another one we had seen before but not quite ready to eat.  Somewhat like white custard.
  • Halal Snack Pack – their version of Poutine (French fries covered with Halal meat (instead of chicken) and cheese)… 
  • And one we missed because they were not open: Camel's milk and cheese
Not for the faint of heart or calorie conscious.  Good comfort food.
To love or make you reminisce:

How lazy do you have to be to get one of these babies.

  • They call a cooler an Esky and even have some that are motorized!
  • You still pay for gas after you fill up – haven’t seen that at home for 10+ years
  • Not able to pay for already ordered drinks after it was discovered there wasn’t enough cash.  Person behind the counter said to enjoy the drinks and come back and pay later when we had the money.
  • Entered a small café where they claimed they had never seen a person from USA before!
  • Not once did we see bars on windows
  • Burgers are often served with beets (inside the bun) – either pickled or braised. 
  • You can still find places to lock up your luggage while visiting!  Airports, bus depots, train stations, etc.  Impossible to find in the US after 9/11.
  • 27% of Australia’s population is from another country
  • 5% unemployment (current statistic) is considered high.  They are used to only 3%
  • Instead of downtown, they use the letters CBD for Central Business District
  • Beer is extremely expensive compared to wine.  Not sure why.  We asked many and they said taxes depended on the alcohol content.  Still doesn’t make sense.  Others say wine was cheaper because there is too much of it produced in Australia. 
  • Australia gets his colors from the golden wattle tree (gold and green outfits at the Olympics for example)…
Golden Wattle, nice scented flowers.
Mixed in was some time to prep for the big event…
  • Decompressing from a very long flight with kids by the beach while reconnecting with family.
  • 1000 meter swim for Adam and Sam, their first in open ocean water.  They went in smiling and still smiling when they finished.  It always feels good to do/see/experience something new.  Of course the little ones had to dig in the sand while waiting.
  • A drive of the biking/running course to see what it would be like.  Steep place in the biking course, about 18% climb.  Biking is Adam’s strong point in an Ironman so he’s not worried about the following BIG day.
Pre 1000 meter open ocean race - having fun...
A humbling but fantastic experience for Adam who bested his overall time by 12 or so minutes but still was passed by many.  That’s what real world class competition including professionals and Olympian athletes does for you.  We are very proud of him and his family who supports him in every way.  Great job!  Thank you for letting us be part of it.

Token of the hard work by Adam Knapp

Liam - wide eyed and happy by Adam Knapp

Mia - fun in the sand

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you had a great time. Makes me look forward to our future. Great blog


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