Friday, December 5, 2008

Holiday to the Sunshine Coast, Queensland

Our holiday to the Sunshine Coast was so wonderful, so filled with amazing experiences, I cannot hope to capture it in a brief blog post. Let me then just give some highlights.

Day 1: We took a mid-day flight on Monday from Sydney to the small Sunshine Coast airport, located about 100 kilometers north of Brisbane (600 miles north of Sydney), on the coast of tropical Queensland. We arrived at 2.30, rented a car, and were at our resort by 3.30. It only took that long because the luggage was slow coming out. In fact, our resort was only about 5 minutes from the airport, and what an amazing place it was.

Our room at the Surfair on Marcoola Beach was actually a two-bedroom, two-bath condo with a full kitchen, appliances, and all the necessities of life. The huge balcony overlooked the pool area beyond which was the beach. I cannot do the scenery justice so you'll have to see the photos.

We spent the afternoon at the pool. Kent was fearful at first but soon came to really like the water. Miyako got to fulfill her dream of being a mermaid. She really loved the pool. That night we ate Pizza at the local Italian restaurant.

Day 2: We woke early to another perfect Queensland-blue sky. Jumping in the car, we set off toward Bribane to see some old friends from Sydney who moved up a year ago. On our way, we got a taste of Queensland's climate, topography, and fauna. It's quite different from Sydney: more tropical, much less developed, and interesting conical volcanic remnants scattered here and there.

Our friends live in Brisbane's northern suburbs, where they built a brand new house. The neighborhood, with beautiful homes, grassy parks, elaborate and very large playgrounds placed here and there, wooded bike paths, and a new community shopping center was the vision of an ideal world. The only thing I could compare it to, and I haven't been there myself, might be Celebration, Florida, a master-planned community built by Disney in the 1990s, meant to be the model American city. The irony is, however, that our friend's neighborhood is not all that unusual in Australia while Celebration, FL is truly an anomaly in the US. Moreover (and no offense to our friends if they're reading this), it's hardly a "rich" area. It's just a nice, new, middle-class suburb. By no means are all Australian communities perfect (not least of which includes our own) but so many look similar that I couldn't help but feel, once again, very fortunate to be here.

We spent most of the day with them at a massive indoor playground. The photos don't do the place justice. It was really wonderful, with slides, air guns, ball pools, and much more. Miyako probably had the most fun of us all. She got to see Claire, her first best friend.

Our friends followed us back to our resort that afternoon at which we enjoyed the pool together, checked out the beach, and shared a wonderful take-away Italian dinner. I washed it down with a newly-discovered dark beer from Tooheys.

Day 3: Another very hot day. We ventured off to the world-famous Australia Zoo, home to "The Crocodile Hunter," Steve Irwin. Steve died tragically last year, leaving his American wife, Terri, and two small children in charge of the zoo and their massive conservation and media enterprise. Since then, his daughter, Bindi, has become the star of her very own nature show, "Bindi, the Jungle Girl." She's a superstar in her own right now. Anyway, on the way to the zoo, I mused to Kyoko that it's possible we'll actually see Bindi and her brother, not because they are featured at the zoo itself but merely due to the fact that they actually live there (not in cages). Well, as fate would have it, just past the front entrance, there was an area where kids can play on a bouncy castle. And guess who was horsing around before school? That's right, Bindi and her little brother, Robert! I was surprised and excited but tried to play it cool. I just walked up to where she was, said hi and asked if I could take a photo. She was so gracious, forthcoming and almost frighteningly accustomed to the attention, I was really impressed. I thought it was a shame Miyako didn't recognize her but in retrospect, if Miyako had, she would have probably shied away.

The zoo was on the small side but it featured mostly native animals. We saw two giant tortoises. One was the son of a tortoise that was brought to Australia by Charles Darwin from the Galapagos Islands at the end of the 19th century. It died in 2006 at 175 years old. Miyako and mom fed elephants and lots of kangaroos. But the highlight of the day was the crocodile show. This, again, was beyond explanation but there is one thing I'll mention that really struck me. This was a live performance with extremely dangerous animals that cannot be trained in any way whatsoever. While the performers were doing the show--which boiled down to them feeding the animals large pieces of raw meat--you could tell that they knew what they were doing, but, shockingly, you could also tell that they were profoundly afraid of the crocks. They took no risks. They didn't tell jokes or mess around at all. It was all business as they fed the giant living dinosaurs.

On our way home, we stopped at the Giant Pineapple, a Queensland monument (significance: unknown). More time in the pool that evening.

Day 4: We drove north up the coast to Noosa, the resort town with the unusual feature of a beach that faces due north (that's toward the sun down here). Noosa was pleasant but very exclusive, white, and expensive. We liked the visit but would not want to live there.

We took an inland route back to the airport to see a bit more of the bush. We were struck again by how undeveloped Queensland is. Just a few kilos from Noosa was nothing but fallow land all the way to the horizon. Despite this, the roads were very well maintained, another thing that reminded us that the state is so much richer than New South Wales, thanks to the mining boom.

We flew back to Sydney that afternoon. It was nice to travel but coming home's great too. We had a wonderful time. Please enjoy the photos. We're on our way to explore the remote regions of our own state next weekend and pay a visit to our capital city at Canberra. Should be fun.

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