Day 326: Townsville, Queensland, Australia 21/08/2012
With our flight to Townsville in the evening, we have another lazy morning in Brisbane, successfully introducing Gavin and Stacey to the Australasian continent through Danny's PS3 and trying to tackle the gaping holes in the blog. Danny is off work today (thought he was working) so after a slap up lunch we say goodbye and head to Chelmer station. Noone here to help us top up our Go! Cards and with the machine not playing ball, Danny kindly drives us to the airport.
A nice easy flight - a nice time to fly - and before we know it we are in Townsville, being met at the station by Mark and Maria. We are then taken to our home for the next week at Erin and Gary's magnificent new home, located in masses of land and found right on the banks of the Black River. Cue a smiling Thomas as dinner is served. Roast beef, roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings. A very comfortable night in the guest room and the brand new bed.
Day 327: Townsville, Queensland, Australia 22/08/2012
Wake up in this fantastic house with the huge garden and endless exploration potential of the Black River awaiting. We go for a walk down the banks of the river - huge sandy silt plateaus that are underwater during the wet season apparently. After losing a foot in a rather soft part of the river bed, we walk barefooted to mock the hoardes of snakes we expect to see (but don't) and head back to the house for a spot of lunch. It is much warmer up here than further south (especially Sydney) and the 'cold' winter we have heard so much about (apparently jackets have been worn at least twice this winter) seems to be a figment of everybody's imagination...
After some roast beef sandwiches we walk round to Mark and Maria's house, which is much further than it seemed in the car last night. The sun is beaming down now and the back of the neck starts to get a bit warm and pink. A quick drink at M&M's before we take Peggy and Riley - Erin and Gary's playful one year old son - on an exciting grocery shop, being shown the sights on the way. A great dinner of fish and chips is enjoyed down on the seafront at the Strand. Barramundi, calamari and cheesecake all go down a treat. Can see me coming home literally twice the man I was when we left. A quick trip up Castle Hill to see the twinkling lights of Townsville follows tea, which itself is followed by an early night.
Day 328: Townsville, Queensland, Australia 23/08/2012
A trip to Magnetic Island is in store today and we are joined on the 7.45 ferry by the geriatric brigade. Forced to sing to oneself to drown out their incessant and innane chatter. Immediately see a crew of rock wallabies when we arrive on the island - pretty much half ticks the box of seeing kangaroos. We then spend the morning on a walking trail, seeing an echidna (a kind of porcupine thing) in someone's garden. A stunning day on this beautiful island and things get interesting as we take another walking trail in search of Horseshoe Bay. The trail disappears abrubtly and we are forced to go cross-country...we traipse through sub-tropical rainforest in our flip flops, battling through the undergrowth and trying to avoid disturbing any poisonous snakes. This 'trail' then brings us out through someone's back garden onto the road we left at the start of this little episode, so an hour in the baking heat hacking through the home of the ominously named Death Adder in our 'thongs' brings us out approximately one minute further up the road than when we started. Progress I suppose.
A kindly old Mancunian by the name of Frank takes pity on his two bedraggled and sweaty compatriots and kindly gives us a lift to Horseshoe Bay, where we hire some snorkelling gear. Whilst walking to the best snorkelling point, an obnoxious Californian couple and an obnoxious Aussie couple are joined by an obnoxious British couple in cooing and photographing a wild koala. Full box ticked this time by this graceful and slow living marsupial. Much bigger than expected. A quick, very cold snorkelling expedition just about sees the day to an end and we are soon back on the ferry to the mainland. A good dinner round the campfire at Mark and Maria's is the perfect end to a perfect day.
Day 329: Townsville, Queensland, Australia 24/08/2012
Another early morning for us today as we are visiting the Billabong Sanctuary - with Erin, Riley, Maria and Peggy - to see some more of the Australian wildlife and learn more about it. An immediate sighting of a kangaroo ticks another box a great morning is spent living some dreams - stroke a wombat, hold a python, wrestle a crocodile and pet a dingo. Also see some more famous Australian residents in their natural habitat, Bogans - the Aussie equivalent of a serious chav or redneck - enjoying the crocodile show (amazing how high they can jump) and venomous snake show, though they wonder why they can't hold a deadly snake. After watching the croc show we see a small freshie in the park lake and when Maria asks the keeper about this, it turns out ot shouldn't be there. Worrying.
The bird show brings the day to a conclusion and the two babies (Riley and me) have a sleep in the back of Erin's car on the way home. We have a few drinks round at the house of one of Gary's colleagues in real man territory - a garage full of motorbikes, quad bikes and beer. Another campfire at M&M's, where Liam's dog destroys everyone's shoes. The birds here - particularly the Coolie birds and Barking Owl - make a right racket. One even sounds like a woman screaming..
Day 331: Townsville, Queensland, Australia 25/08/2012
Welcome to the weekend. An early start as we head to Ayr for dinner with Noel and Zarn and to drop Peggy home. North Queenland is a big place - lots of space, lots of farms (mainly sugar cane) and the fragile Bruce Highway, the only real road and one that is often flooded and made impossible to follow. Ayr on the other hand is tiny - a town of 8000 or so made up of one tiny high street and a few shops. Very quaint. We meet the other Anne and David.
A real Italian lasagne and some cold cuts at Noel and Zarn's go down a treat and we just have time to make sure Peggy is settled before heading back. Apprehension in the air as I am due to be going to an Aussie stag do with Gary. This proves to be well placed as I am forced into drinking Jaeger, playing beer pong and eating heaps of roast pork. We are picked up three hours later a right state.
Day 332: Townsville, Queensland, Australia 26/08/2012
Shame and hangover go hand in hand after last night's festivities and Gemma looks after me very well...the girls make a trip to the shops and return to find the boys all asleep, Gary and Riley in the boy's racing car bed and me on the trampoline in the sun. A phone call for Gary soon sees us two on the quad bike down the river to help his brother get his truck out of the river bed where he has managed to get stuck. Two hours in the baking sun as a very sore young man sees me regret offering to help...not really what was needed.
We all make a trip over to see some friends of Erin and Gary, who have a house right on the beach. Another huge plot to add to the list and another great location. A couple of beers makes everyone feel a little better and Riley and Nash endure a naked 'best friend' photoshoot in the sand. A film, a good tea and a skype end the day far better than it began...
Day 333: Townsville, Queensland, Australia 27/08/2012
Wake up a new man, enjoying just how pleasant the mornings here can be...and a very quiet morning it is too, spent playing with Riley and the dog and enjoying the sun. We visit the Reef HQ in Townsville this afternoon, where some of the very strange, eerie creatures of the deep can be seen. The strangest creature of all is the man on the desk, who asks where we are from for the benefit of the computer. When I say London (near enough) he says 'I'll put Madrid, it's pretty close'. Ok. And it goes on as he asks if we have senior citizen's cards or student cards or just about any other card that springs into his head. I think he even mentions Pokemon cards.
Learn about the Great Barrier Reef and the incredible wildlife it supports and watch the menacing sharks swim around the aquarium as though they own it. A small polystyrene boy freaks Riley right out, but he seems to say at least this is better than a naked beach photoshoot.
Day 334: Townsville, Queensland, Australia 28/08/2012
Our last day in Townie - we have loved it up here - and we start nice and early. Me and Gem are tasked with looking after Riley whilt Erin visits the doctor. We sit at a coffee shop - great salmon and brie bagel, chocolate brownie for Gemma and a vegemite biscuit for Riley. All to the supermarket, where we get some stuff for tea and a quiet afternoon is spent in the patio hammock. A nap may or may not have occurred. There is no way of telling. Play with Riley for the rest of the afternoon - it will be sad to say goodbye to someone on exactly my wavelength.
We take a stroll down to the river with Mark, Maria, Erin, Riley and Liam to enjoy a glass of wine at sunset. A great spot and one to remember that's for sure. The sky turns a deep pinky orange, the bats come out and the birds make a racket in the murky twilight. The Barking Owls give it some. A good dinner and time to say our goodbyes again. Have had a great time in Townsville and vow to return! Back to Sydney tomorrow.