From the border, Karen and I rode to Palm Beach to sign the papers at the real estate office of Neil and Robyn, distant relatives on Karen's mother's side of the family. They treated us to tea and cake in their office, with an offer of a night's accommodation at their Tallebudgera home. This was quite unexpected, as we had only met Neil a few months before when we had flown to Queensland to look at some properties, and had spent only a few hours with him. We accepted Neil and Robyn's offer, rode out to their house, and shortly afterwards killed one of their pets!
Let me explain. Neil and Robyn had given us directions to their home, the keys to their front door, and instructions on how to disarm their burglar alarm system. They also explained that we could sleep on a lounge which converts to a double bed. They would not be arriving home until well after dinner because of a meeting they both had to attend.
While we were walking around their gardens, looking for birds and enjoying the view through the trees down to the coast, Karen noticed something on the inside of their lounge-room window. A spider. A very large spider. Karen reckons it covered the entire window, but a less terror-stricken mind (like mine) would say it was as big as your hand. As this was to be the room we would be sleeping in, Karen and her morbid fear of spiders insisted on its death. Immediately.
I knew our hosts were fairly green in their outlook, so I looked under the sink for some insect killer, reasoning that if I found some, then it was okay to spray it in their house. I found some, and zapped the spider. It cringed a little, but did not move from its position on the window. We assumed the dose was lethal. Just as I finished spraying, a wild thought popped into my head.
"I hope it's not their pet spider" I said to Karen.
"Don't be ridiculous! Who in their right mind would keep a pet spider, especially one that big. Spray it again."
We checked out the spider a couple of more times during the evening, but it had not moved, so we thought no more about it until Neil and Robyn arrived home.
"You don't happen to have a pet spider, do you?" I jokingly asked.
"Yes, we do!" replied Robyn. "A big huntsman that has been living here for about three weeks. We have been following it around the house. It will be in the kitchen one day, and then we will see it a few days later in the bedroom, then the next day it will be out in the hall. It has been fascinating!"
"Whereabouts did you see it?" asked Neil.
Karen gave me one of her if-you-say-one-bloody-word-I-will-throttle-you looks, so I swallowed the apology that was on the tip of my tongue and pointed. While we made our way over to the window, I was hoping that the spider had crawled away to die, or had fallen down onto the floor, and that their was no tell-tale fly spray stain left on the glass. The curtain was pulled back. The spider was still there and everything looked reasonably non-incriminating. I don't know whether Neil and Robyn were aware of the sudden relaxation of tension in the room at that moment. We closed the curtains again, and settled into a delightful, yet guilt-ridden evening of wine, conversation, port and photographs until almost midnight.
At Karen's insistence I checked the spider before retiring. It still had not moved. In the morning I looked again. Sometime during the night the spider must have succumbed to the insect spray - it was toes-up on the floor. I picked it up on a piece of newspaper, took it outside and disposed of it behind the barbecue. To this day Karen and I have never confessed to Neil and Robyn about killing their pet spider.
Most of their other pets were blow-ins from the surrounding area too. In the morning we helped to feed a family of kookaburras who were regular visitors, plus a pied butcherbird and assorted rainbow lorikeets. Robyn cooked us a breakfast of bacon and home-grown eggs, and proved to be a real inspiration. Not only does she hold down a full time job, but she also spends a lot of her spare time doing various crafts. We were especially impressed by some of her applique work. Karen and I are always amazed to discover that it is the busiest people who find time for the most time-consuming hobbies. While we were visiting, Robyn was also propagating the seeds and plants of a specific Australian native shrub, to later plant around her home in the hope of providing extra habitat for a rare and endangered butterfly. And although she was out at a dinner until after ten on the night we stayed over, she still did a load of washing and drying for us overnight as well as preparing our breakfast.
Looking south towards Burleigh Heads
Still feeling guilty about the murder of the spider, Karen and I rode to Burleigh Heads, primarily for old times sake as we had stayed there a couple of times in the past and really loved the area. Then it was on to Surfer's Paradise via a truly great bike path under clear blue skies for ice-creams at Maccas before collecting the keys and riding to our house. We had been advised that our new tenants had requested a fence around the backyard, and we had agreed to the request as most people who rent houses normally have either kids, or dogs, or both, so an enclosed yard would always be desirable for potential tenants in the future. Karen arranged for a fencing contractor to call around for a measure and quote in the afternoon, so we set up our mats and sleeping bags in our otherwise completely empty lounge-room and read until he arrived. After agreeing to his price, Karen telephoned the O'Reilly's bus company to arrange a side trip to Lamington National Park in two day's time.
During the afternoon we had a good look at our house. We had inspected it for about half an hour at our only visit many months before, and had gone through with the purchase more because of our impressions of the house than because of any definite memories of its features. It was better than we remembered, with built-ins in all three bedrooms which we had forgotten, and an en-suite in the master bedroom that we had somehow forgotten as well. Because the house was so good, we decided to celebrate.
The house in Southport
We walked into the Southport central business district at dusk. With no vouchers, we found the ticket prices at the movies too expensive, so we ducked into a nearby restaurant for some good Indian food and watery house red, and ended up spending more than the movie would have cost us. So it goes.
Next day we walked into Southport again, and then down to the main beach of Surfer's Paradise for a swim. We lunched at a three dollars ninety all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant then walked back to Southport to shop at Australia Fair. The walk back to our house seemed a lot longer with each of us carrying two bags of groceries.
It was raining the next day as we packed our gear for the trip to Lamington. We went next door to ask our neighbours if we could use their phone to call a taxi, and if they could keep an eye on the house while we were gone. Richard and Chrys agreed to watch the house and insisted on driving us to the bus-stop. They also invited us to a dinner after we returned!
Although staying at the famous O'Reilly's guest-house would have been preferable, our budget limited us to the camping area just up the road. We set up the tent in misty rain and headed off for two short walks, the first to the Python Rock lookout. Initially, we had excellent views of the inside of a cloud, but a lucky breeze lifted the cloud to reveal the scenery.
We sighted a new bird on this walk - the Albert's lyrebird - stalking it through the rainforest and watching it for about fifteen minutes. Many Australian birds have very specific habitats, and the Albert's lyrebird is limited to a very small pocket of rainforest straddling the New South Wales and Queensland border. Karen and I were lucky to see it. We would not always be so fortunate. On quite a few occasions we would pass beyond the range of a desired but unseen bird, frustrated by the knowledge that we had no chance of sighting it again on this particular trip. For areas near Sydney it would not be too much of a problem, but when later we missed birds in the far north of Queensland, or in the south-west of Western Australia, our feeling of disappointment would be great.
A Lamington sunset
Dinner, like all our meals at Lamington, was spent in a covered shed with two picnic tables and an open fire stocked with damp wood. The rain finally cleared completely just before a spectacular sunset of red and gold, and was still absent the next morning as well. During breakfast we watched a few buses pull in and disgorge thirty or forty tourists who immediately went gaga over the semi-tame crimson rosellas, king parrots and Lewin's honey-eaters which gathered in the gardens for their daily feed. After a cursory walk around the grounds and a stroll through the guest-house, the tourists piled back onto their buses and disappeared down the road, bound for another equally superficial experience elsewhere. At times like these, Karen and I realised how lucky we were to be able to take the time to experience all of the beautiful places Australia has to offer. When we asked people how long their holidays would be, and received the standard annual leave answer of four weeks, we would feel really sorry for them. It also made us realise how hard it would be for us to go back to a nine-to-five existence with less than a month of holidays per year after our return.
Karen climbing ladder on treetop walk
After breakfast we did a treetops walk on an elevated boardwalk about twenty metres above the rainforest floor. At two points we climbed even higher to platforms accessed by ladders and built on strangler fig trees. The highest of these was thirty metres above the ground - ten storeys high! Having survived this walk, we embarked on another, the seventeen kilometre Toolona Creek circuit. Almost immediately we spotted two new birds - the logrunner and the yellow throated scrub wren. We took a few photos of waterfalls as we made our way up towards the Toolona lookout on the edge of the scenic rim, even managing to spot the famed Lamington blue spiny crayfish in long, wet grass right beside a creek. The going was average, with boggy mud in some places and very slippery in others - a typical rainforest track.
One of the Lamington waterfalls
The track became a series of switchbacks as we neared the top, but we eventually reached the lookout with its awesome views across towards Binna Burra, down to the coast and Murwillumbah, and out to the totally unexpected (but should have been bleeding obvious) Mount Warning. The scenic rim is the remnant crater of a massive volcano with the igneous plug of Mount Warning at its centre, so a lookout on the scenic rim must have views of the mountain. We had not even considered the possibility. Bloody idiots!
The mud, switchbacks, distance and climbs on the walk had wearied us somewhat, so we took the relatively flat and direct "Pensioner Track" back to O'Reilly's, feeling a little guilty. We did the treetop walk a second time, as penance.
More rain overnight failed to dampen our enthusiasm the next morning, especially after seeing yet another new bird - the highly spectacular regent bowerbird, which is known to most people as the black and yellow bird on the MMI Insurance logo. We were due to catch the bus out in mid-afternoon, so we limited our morning activities to the ten kilometre Blue Pool walk. This involved a descent and return climb of five hundred metres, but the attractive pool and further sightings of the Albert's lyrebird and the blue crayfish made it all worthwhile. The rain hit again during our ascent, when we saw another new bird - the White's thrush. On the trip back to Southport the bus stopped at the army town of Kanungra where we took the opportunity to buy a couple of bottles of wine for the upcoming dinner with our neighbours.
Pademelon and offspring at Lamington
Because it had just been purchased and nobody had as yet moved into it, our house at Southport had no electricity. We cooked our meals, and boiled water for coffee and washing up on our methylated spirit Trangia stove. No electricity of course meant no hot showers, so prior to going next door for dinner, I had a shave and a cold shower. Karen wimped out with just a wash.
Richard and Chrys were excellent hosts with whom we had a lot in common, apart from having kids and settling down. We dined on a chicken curry washed down with the white wine we had bought, and had good conversation while leafing through some of their sailing photos. Late in the evening we returned to the darkness of our house and our mats on the lounge-room floor.
Our sleeping gear on the lounge-room floor
We rose early the next day to pack the bikes and clean the house. Highway One into Brisbane was pretty bad, with narrow shoulders and fast traffic, made worse by occasional showers and a Mel flat tyre. A strong tailwind made up for these problems, as did the Logan information centre, which was superb. Not only did Karen and I receive free coffee there, but it was also served in crockery cups and saucers, with cake, and was personally delivered to our table on the verandah! What great service!
We diverted left through the south-western suburbs of Brisbane on our way to Chapel Hill and the home of Karen's Uncle Kevin. His wife Natalie greeted us, and got us squared away with much needed showers and a load of washing. Kevin soon arrived home from work, and Karen's cousin Alexander home from school, and we enjoyed a lovely dinner, celebrating our arrival in Brisbane, before Kevin and Natalie left us to "baby-sit" while they attended a prior theatre engagement.
Karen and I spent two more nights in Chapel Hill, with a day spent taking in the tourist sights of Brisbane, including the Queen Street Mall, the Myer Centre, the Treasury Casino (we just looked into the foyer from outside the front door as our clothing was "inappropriate"), the Art Gallery, Southbank, the Botanical Gardens and Mt Coot-tha.
We did not want to wear out our welcome with Kevin and Natalie - we would be staying in their unit on Noosa Sound in a couple of days - so on the morning of the thirty third day of our travels, Karen and I cycled out of Chapel Hill and followed an excellent bike path along the river into the centre of Brisbane. Soon we were on Highway One through the northern suburbs before diverting to Strathpine for lunch in a park. Karen had arranged a night's accommodation with some old friends in Narangba. Christoph and Leslie set us up on the floor of their son's bedroom and after being introduced to Eddie and Romi, Christoph's parents, we all shared a roast dinner!
Morning tea at Mooloolabah
Two days later we were firmly ensconced in Kevin and Natalie's unit after a seventy six kilometre day to Caloundra followed by a sixty five kilometre day through Maloolabah and Maroochydore to Noosa. Kevin drove up from Brisbane to spend another couple of days with us, and a couple of days after he left we were joined by Karen's parents from Sydney. We had arrived in Noosa on May 29th and would not leave until June 14th! A month on the road and then a fortnight's holiday in Noosa - what a way to travel!
Karen on the balcony of the Noosa unit
Fishing from the unit's private jetty
Highlights of our time in Noosa included fishing from the pontoon attached to the block of units, swimming in the pool, seeing koalas in the wild for the first time at Noosa national park, heaps of new bird sightings, a long canoe paddle from Elanda Point to Harry's Hut on the Upper Noosa River with Karen and Barbara, a bike ride with Barbara and Alexander out to the northern shore of the river via Noosaville and Tewantin, a paddle around Lake Weyba with Karen on a surf ski and me on a windsurfer (!) and a rather amazing visit to a local Indian restaurant.
Our favourite restaurant in Sydney is Ajmer's, an Indian restaurant in Balgowlah. Before the trip was over, Karen and I would suffer from withdrawal symptoms due to our deprivation from their wonderful food, even wishing we were rich enough to hop on a plane, fly to Sydney for a meal there, and then fly back to resume our cycling. To tide us over, we visited other Indian restaurants during our travels. One of these was The Magic of India restaurant in Noosaville. When Kevin and Barbara, Karen and I walked there one balmy evening and sat down to read the menu we experienced a feeling of deja vu. We had read this menu before. After studying it for a minute or two, Karen and I agreed that it was absolutely identical with Ajmer's menu, down to the last detail. We asked the owner if he knew of the other restaurant. He told us he had worked there for six years.
It looked like the coincidences were starting again.