Thursday, 26 August 2010

Island life

The alarm went off at 4.15am. But it's Saturday, I thought, in my dreamy state. Then I remembered, we were catching my 'work train' in order to be at Roma Street station bright and early to start our Moreton Island adventure.
At 6.45am we were picked up in a 4x4 and driven to Moreton Bay to catch the Micat over to the island. We couldn't have asked for more perfect weather - clear blue, and very still. The ideal conditions for a cruise across the Bay.
As we neared The Wrecks, where the Cat moors, we could see the beautiful expanse of white, sandy dunes coming into focus. Moreton is a sand island and has no roads, meaning the only way to get about is in 4x4s. It is also 95% National Park, so there are only a few tracks to avoid disturbing the wildlife and protected plants.
Waiting to greet us on the sea shore was Wes, our tour guide for the next two days. Being the middle of 'winter' (it's still around 28 degrees!), there were very few people on the tour. On the first day it was just us and two Italians, and on the second us and a Danish couple.
From the beach we drove straight to The Desert (this is its actual name!). I suddenly felt like the prize idiot. Everyone was in shorts, vests or even less and guess what I was wearing? A SCARF!! I joke not. In my defence, when we left at 5.30am, it was actually quite nippy and up until the Saturday it had even been fairly overcast. Anyway, after hiking up a massive sand dune I was sweating big time (did I mention I was also wearing black jeans??). What was I thinking??
At least it wasn't just me who was well wrapped up - the two Italians were sweltering in their black tops too!
The reason we were here was to do sandboarding. As the name suggests, it involves sitting/lying on a board and sliding down dunes. With some of the highest dunes in the world and very pure sand, Moreton is the ideal location for such an activity. Sandboarding is notoriously dangerous (I can mention this now we've returned unscathed!), as many people try standing up on the boards, essentially 'surfing' down the sand dune. Oddly enough, when it came to my turn I decided to stick to just lying on the board.
Being a big fan of tobogganing on the Moors when it snows, I really enjoyed sandboarding. I actually found it very much like bodyboarding (something which I've done a lot of in the past) so found it quite easy shifting my weight and steering. Dan, however, struggled a bit more at the start and, on his first go, ended up with a mouth full of sand! His second go was much more successful though and both of us wanted to stay longer, but there was a tight schedule and we had to dash off. This is one of the disadvantages of going on an organised tour.
Next we headed north, driving up the beach towards Cape Moreton. This is the only rocky part of the island. It is thought that this area of rock is the reason the island was formed (over the years the sand has built up around it). Although the island has many no-vehicle zones, the majority of the beaches are not restricted. I'm not sure if this is good or bad really. It's good in the sense that it makes travelling around the island much quicker than if you had to always use the tracks, but there's something just wrong about zooming along a beautiful, deserted beach in a Land Rover.
We were dropped at North Point, where the Danish couple were waiting for us. They had already camped the night before, and warned us how cold it would get! The Italians looked pretty pleased that they were only on a day trip! We chilled out here for a while, walking along the beach to Champagne Pools and Honeymoon Bay. You can get an idea of the tranquillity of the place just from the exotic names!
Whilst we were relaxing Wes prepared lunch - a feast of bread, meat, salads, donuts and cookies! We all sat round the 4x4 in the sunshine, exchanging travelling stories.
After lunch we all piled back into the vehicle - a bit of a squeeze now, with the two extra bodies - and headed up to the oldest lighthouse in Queensland. As with everything in Australia, it is immaculately kept and is a real focal point on the island. It is from here that most of the whale spotting takes place. However, the whales were not out for us and the most we saw was one lonely dolphin riding the waves. I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies.
As it was starting to get dusky we headed to our camp for the night, near Blue Lagoon. I'm not going to lie, when they said facilities were provided they were being a bit too vague. The 'facilities' were a camp stove under some tarpaulin and a cold shower! I was grateful that we were only going to be there for one night! However, due to the small group, we were able to get a huge tent to ourselves, which meant the chance of a half decent sleep.
Before dinner we headed down to check out the Lagoon with the Danes. It was beautiful watching the sunset over the water, whilst drinking beer and having a laugh.
Then it was back to camp, where Wes had prepared a slap-up meal consisting of sausages, burgers and fresh fish.
With nightfall came the cold we had been warned about. So, to keep warm, we all huddled round the camp fire before retiring to bed just before 8pm.
Sunday started early, as Wes wanted us to witness sunrise on the beach. Even though part of me was looking forward to a lie-in, I'm glad we made the effort to get up. Again, it looked like it was going to be another hot day, with a clear sky providing the perfect backdrop.
There's something really magical about being up so early, it makes you feel like you're the only people on Earth!
As the day got into full swing we went for an early morning walk along Spitfire Creek. Wes had been told there were Aboriginal remains somewhere along the path, but we didn't find anything. We still had fun looking though, and we saw loads of weird and wonderful plants that we'd never seen before.
Because there are very few people doing the tours in winter, Wes had to leave us at the camp for the morning whilst he went and collected a few more people to take them sandboarding. We didn't mind though, as it gave us time to relax at the camp and go for a nice stroll along the beach.
At around lunchtime Wes returned with the day trippers and we had some food, before heading off towards Cape Moreton again.
This time we were given the option of either bodyboarding or climbing up the rocks to get a look at the view. Dan and I chose the latter. After a bit of a hairy scrabble in flip flops (why am I always inappropriately dressed?) we reached the summit.
Dan being Dan decided to go a little bit further - just to scare me I think - as he had spotted something extraordinary. If you look very closely in this picture you will see a bunch of fisherman perched on the edge of the rocks! I think that's what they call 'extreme fishing'!
Our final destination on this whistle-stop tour of the island was at the shipwrecks, for some snorkelling. The ships have been deliberately sunk off the shore to provide a breakwater for small boats.
Despite the fact it was starting to get a bit chilly, there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity of getting into the crystal clear water. It was certainly refreshing after a bumpy, hot ride in the 4x4. However, the wind had got up which made it a bit choppy for snorkelling. I gave it a go, and did see a few tiny fish, but I was happier just splashing about in the waves.
By the time we were all bundled onto the ferry homeward bound, Dan and I were absolutely exhausted from all the sun, sea and salt air. A couple of cappuccinos revived us and we had a lovely journey reflecting on a fantastic weekend away from the city. 

Monday, 16 August 2010

Music and statues

With less than two months until we're back home, Jo and I have started to cram in as much sightseeing as possible with our remaining time off together.
One thing that we both like to do is watch live music. Every year, near Brisbane, there is a big music festival called Splendour In The Grass. If you just imagine Glastonbury but much hotter and without the mud then that's what Splendour is! We both wanted to go, until we saw how expensive the tickets were, ouch! However, some of the acts from the festival ended up doing performances in different cities in Australia, which they call sideshows. One act that did just that was Goldfrapp. It seems strange that we haven't seen her before, as she is an English act (but hey, so was Florence!) Anyway, she announced to be playing at The Tivoli in Brisbane which is a 10 minute walk from the 'Valley'. Once there it became apparent why it is a popular venue. It was built nearly 100 years ago and has since been restored in an art deco style, giving it a younger look but keeping its best features including a statue behind the bar which depicts a play from its early days, cool! After getting a much needed drink and enjoying the support act it was time. Alison Goldfrapp walked out on stage dressed in what I would describe as a mix between a chewed up video tape and a poncho! Sounds weird but with the added fan blowing a gale on stage, it looked very 'diva'!
She belted out such classics as Ooh La La, Strict Machine, Utopia and my favourite Black Cherry. The crowd were going wild and dancing their socks off. With her new album being on the dancey side you couldn't help but join in. After three costume changes and two encores it was all over. Jo and I looked at each other satisfied and ready for bed (we're getting old!)
The following day we headed to Brisbane Convention Centre for an exhibition by Ron Mueck, as two people I work with had recommended it. We ended up going on the final weekend, not realising how busy it would be. When we arrived we were greeted by a very long queue to get in. After putting our heads together we figured out a quick way in. The library was right next door, so we popped in, jumped on the internet, wrote down our booking number and then jumped the queue (who's the daddy?!)
Once inside, our jaws hit the ground. Neither of us knew much about the artist or what his work involved. Let me just give you a quick insight into the Australian-born artist.
Ron Mueck has amazing attention to detail resulting in art pieces looking very realistic and life-like. This type of work is know as hyperrealism, meaning the finishing product resembles a photo. With each of his pieces being very detailed and pristine it takes several weeks of hard work. He uses materials such as silicone and fibre glass to make each art piece. To get each sculpture identical to that of a human being he uses acrylic paint as well as real hair which is individually placed onto the body!! Each of his pieces takes hundreds of hours to make. Some of his famous exhibits include Big Baby, Pregnant Woman and my favourite Mask. 
The gallery included 12 amazing artworks, the first being Dead Dad. Lying in front of us ,as we entered, was a very small, but realistic naked man. Jo and I couldn't believe how real he looked. He just lay there on a big white platform, arms at his side, and eyes closed as if his time had come. However, in the following room was the other end of the scale - Big Baby. It seemed to signify one life ending and another one beginning. Here lay a 16 foot baby in all its glory with one eye open to the world. After seeing this I had no idea what was lying ahead!
There was such an array of art under one roof. Favourites included a guy sunbathing on a lilo, a man in a boat (Jo's favourite), and the one anomaly - a giant chicken (!)
Nothing could have prepared us for what we were going to see, which in a way was a good thing. We both left in awe and impressed at all that hard work from one man. I look forward to seeing more of his work and would recommend Ron Mueck to anyone who likes something a bit 'alternative'.
A week later my friend Joe managed to get free tickets to a stand-up comedy night. Jo and I jumped at the offer, as we both like a giggle. The event was held in Albion which is a little drive from where Joe and his partner Steph live. The venue was quite cosy, as the tables were quite close together. We ordered a cheese platter to share, as the meals were quite pricey. There were three acts that night, including two magicians/comedians which I thought were quite impressive. One trick that stuck in my head involved an inflated balloon and an iPhone. The magician pressed the balloon against the phone as it deflated ending with the phone having to be cut out of the balloon, WOW! I always loved magic as a kid and that truly blew me away. The last act of the night was five improv comedians. It reminded us of Whose Line Is It Anyway, which is one of our favourite programs. It involved lots of audience participation both on and off stage. One minute they were spontaneously belting out chat up lines from different occupations, the next they were acting out a political scene with the help from two members of the audience acting as their puppeteers (use your imagination!) All in all a very fun (and free) evening.
One big Queensland event that takes part each year is Brisbane Exhibition, which is shortened to Ekka. It takes place for 10 days. The main day is the Wednesday which is known as Ekka Wednesday. It is also classed as a public holiday meaning Jo got the day off. The bakery was still open but they let me have the day off to go and see it. That Tuesday night it rained cats 'n' dogs! It rained throughout the night which made us think twice about attending. Luckily the next day is stopped. We got there for just after midday. The whole show was pretty big according to our map, with lots to see and do. It was like Devon County Show on steroids! There was something for all ages; rides, competitions, live acts and of course the infamous showbags.
We didn't have a plan so we both just pottered around while looking at bits on the way. We saw a bike stunt show which Jo couldn't bare to watch - too scary. We watched a miniature version of Crufts which Jo loved, as they had baby versions of Paddy there (my parents' dog). There was also a big hall full of food stalls with freebies which I couldn't say no to! One of the biggest things about Ekka is the showbags - there was a very big building dedicated to them. Inside were lots of stalls selling themed bags. They ranged from Cadbury's to Pepsi all the way to Spiderman! Each bag had something different in from sweets to toys. All the kids go crazy for them and buy at least five each. Me being a big kid joined in and bought one :-)
As you probably know by now, Jo and I like to show you photos of us eating! So to keep up tradition here is one of Jo eating a giant sweet (or lolly if you're an Aussie) and one of me enjoying an Ekka strawberry sundae which is another signature tradition at the show. By the end of the day we were buzzing on sugar!
So there you have it. Another fun-filled blog. I hope you are enjoying them still (nearly done!) as we still love writing them. Keep your eyes peeled because within the next few days Jo will be doing a new blog, as we have just got back from a nice weekend away...!