Thursday, 19 February 2015

A vacation up the coast

The Gensemer family may be moving to Brisbane (Don't worry, it is COMPLETELY unconfirmed when), so we decided to see it first, do some sightseeing, check out the local homeschooling group, and see whether we want to live there or not.

Some facts about Brisbane: Brisbane is a city of roughly 2 million. It is a very safe city, the safest in Australia if you put it on a population / safety ratio. It is also the third largest one, and earlier than Tokyo to see the the day. It is the most easterly city over 1.5 million.

Brisbane feels like one big town, rather than a city with suburbs like Sydney, in which you can feel like you are in Abbotsford or Manly or Palm Beach, not Sydney, unless you have gone away and your relatives don't know where Palm Beach is, or if you really are in the City, like in Circular Quay or Kings Cross or Chinatown.

How good it is to live there: The EIU has ranked Brisbane as number twenty on the list, over Melbourne (No.1),  Adelaide (No.5), Sydney (No.7), Perth (No.9), Osaka (No.13, No.1 in Asia), and even Tokyo (No.19), but has rated Brisbane over all of the dumps and over many, many very good places to live as well.

We drove past Port Macquarie, and we had already seen it. Port Maquarie is about four or five hours' drive from Sydney, up north, on the coast. The climate is slightly different there from Sydney, and already different animals and plants are present.

Coffs Harbor, 2 degrees north of Sydney, is 98,000 people, but it sure feels much smaller. After leaving the stuff at our cabin, we went to the beach. Swimming was not allowed, but I swam anyway, always aware of a dark cloud hovering overhead. It did not rain that day, though, and the orange, indirect sunlight made everything more beautiful. There were very many small, rocky islands in sight with a lot of exposed rock in sight. I guessed the rock was shale. The beach was also littered with colored pebbles, polished by the waves so they looked like jewelry.

After swimming, we climbed to the highest point of one of the islands that was joined to the mainland by a breakwater. From the lookout we could see a great number of rocky islands to the northeast, the rocky coast stretching to the north, and, to the northwest, the town and the beach. To the inland, right behind the town, behind the banana plantations, rose tall, ragged mountains that I had failed to see from the town. I had been to these mountains once before, and had stayed in a remote, solar-powered cabin that made me realize just how little human beings really need. To the south, across the ocean, I saw some distant mountains that looked like islands. Was I seeing the curvature of the New South Wales coast, or the curvature of the earth?

To the very close south, enclosed inside three breakwaters, was a beach with a very old jetty protruding into the water. We went to this beach, where I read from an information board that Coffs Harbor was named for captain Korf, a captain who was forced to shelter behind the meager protection of two islands. So Coffs Harbor was originally named Korf's Harbor. Before we went to the harbor, we saw some wildlife out on the breakwater; first a sea turtle, then a group of stingrays.*

After a swim from the jetty to the beach, I was tired and already ready to go. However, on the way home, we had to see the Big Banana. I admit I was unimpressed. There is a gigantic tourist industry built around the Big Banana, but the thing itself is not very interesting, just another sculpture, like all Australian big things.

On the next day, we left. Coffs Harbor is a very beautiful, calm place. I was kind of sad to leave it.

We did not stop for a long time in Byron Bay, as almost every parking lot was full, no matter how far from the main attractions it was. We did, however, drive up to the lighthouse. The vegetation was very lush, almost tropical, being five degrees north of Sydney. We also ate lunch there before heading inland.

Nimbin is a hippie town directly inland of Byron Bay, and is set in the mountains, deep in the Great Dividing Range. After eating a snack, we drove to Brisbane, passing by the Gold Coast completely, but arriving in the city before dark.

Even though Brisbane is six degrees north of Sydney, it sure does not feel like it. Just six degrees cooler in summer, and sixty per cent more humid. We drove to Ashgrove. The place we were staying (we found it on Air B&B) was on the top of a rise, so from the top of the fence you had a great view of Indooroopilly and Mt. Coot-tha. One of the first things we did in Brisbane was to go to the Mount Coot-tha lookout, where you could see Brisbane, Moreton Bay, the Gold Coast, and the large, sandy islands that made Moreton Bay (North Stradbrooke Island and Moreton Island). I could also see the airport, a space about ten times larger than the CBD.

Every Australian city has a waterway, and in Brisbane's case it is the Brisbane River, named for Sir Thomas Brisbane. On the south bank of the river, we went to some museums separated from the CBD. The Museum of Queensland is in the city hall and has a seemingly random collection of exhibits that include one about birds, one about species classification, one about sea life, one about rowboats, and so on. There was also the Queensland Library and two art museums in the same area.

If I went to school, I would have lots of time to go sightseeing. Unfortunately, I homeschool, so my work had to continue during the "vacation". However, we had the weekends.

The first Saturday was spent in the city itself, taking a walk that the Lonely Planet guide recommended. It passed some old buildings, Kangaroo Point, the botanic gardens, a university, and footbridge before winding up in the Queensland Maritime Museum. There, at the museum, there is a large ship, Australia's largest war relic, the Diamantina, sitting in a dry dock. There are six levels of the ship you can explore. I spent around an hour in the dusty interior of the ship, walking through storages, cabins, dining rooms, machinery, decks, and even the engine room.

There is also a pumphouse constructed to keep the dry dock dry, a shed full of old sailing boats, and even the boat Jessica Watson used to sail around the world.

On the next day, we drove to the Gold Coast hinterland, to Springbrook National Park. Springbrook National Park is on the northernmost stretch of the ancient, misty Gondwana rainforest, a carpet of green stretching almost nonstop from the Barrington Tops to near Brisbane. There were some lookouts and waterfalls in the park that we visited, and also a glow worm colony that we did not.

The next two weeks were a little uneventful, other than the time I cut my foot on a spiky rock (Do NOT swim in Moreton Bay!).

On the drive home, we drove through Main Range National Park to the New England Highway and the town of Lyra. A few hours later, we drove off the New England Highway and down Thunderbolts Way, a scenic shortcut from Uralla to the Hunter Valley, through the Barrington Tops. And then from there back home.

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