When you tell people you’re going to Oz there are almost immediately a host of recommendations. Then there are a number of expectations. Standards, givens. Almost expectations. Sydney, Great Barrier Reef, Outback, Uluru (Ayers Rock as it used to be called).
Then you say we’re going to Noosa and are met with interesting responses. Some look crestfallen: surely some mistake? (They’ve never heard of it.) Some are non-plussed. (They’ve never heard of it either.) One person said “Oh dear.” (In the same manner as they might have responded to news of a nasty ingrowing toenail or parking ticket. They’d never heard of it.)
Other folks had much more of the as-if-given-electric-shock response. “Noosa! That’s my favourite place IN THE WORLD.” Delivered with more than a touch of envy I noted at the time. And this from one of the calmest, most travelled folk you could wish to meet. Others, with only marginally less emotion, made variations on “mmmmmMMmmm” making me wonder if Noosa was a delicious cake.
All this is running through my mind as we fly “down” from Singapore. We cross the equator furtively, under cover of darkness. No we don’t. We just fly. It’s only the Beers aboard – only this Beer, actually – who is vaguely aware of the imaginary line running round the tummy of our planet. I have a disappointingly central seat on the (Air)bus so can’t look outside to see if there really is an enormous red stripe 37,000′ below. The on-screen maps show Christmas Island starboard somewhere in the dark.
[Pitch to Channel 5: Here’s an idea for a reality TV show. “Christmas Island Incest.” The premise is that you put members of the same families – the kind who want to go on “reality” TV shows – blindfold on a transport plane. Obviously, we won’t tell individuals who they are competing with/against – keeping them separate – and then throw them out above this atoll. Presuming the survive the descent due to unfortunate – accidental, natch – parachute dysfunction, the ‘hidden cameras’ will record them as they attempt to make, er, special hugs dressed as Santas for cash rewards. If not involved in a ‘cuddle’, there are prizes for inventive ways of putting the ‘huggers’ off.They only win prizes if they keep on the Santa hats and beards during the whole thing. The finale is a big reveal of their true identities to each other… whaddya think?
Except there are no hidden cameras . It’s more of a Charlie Brooker dystopian vision and British society will be a better place as the transport has left them there forever. Everyone’s a winner. (Okay, I adopted the idea from Douglas Adams and his Golgafrinchams.)
I soon discover this whole idea won’t work as…
- the Christmas Island we flew over is actually another Christmas Island – what are the chances eh? – and not the irradiated atoll of lingering certain death. (Even the former nuke test site looks lovely nowadays.) Why would we send “contestants” to somewhere they would actually enjoy? To this individual, the persons deserving of being on famous on reality TV are precisely NOT those who want to be “famous on the telly”.
- Also, members of the same family might recognise each other’s voices, tattoos, irregular numbers of digits on hands/feet, folds of flab etcetera.
Pish and tish, my TV pitch lies in tatters. Annnnd back to the blog.]
Where were we? Ah yes, flying into Aussie airspace. We make landfall somewhere near Darwin in the Northern Territories. I fall asleep. I awake two hours later and… oh. We’re still flying over the Northern Territories. (We’re not on a slow plane, this is a clumsy illustration of how biiiiig Australia is.) Eventually we cross over into Queensland and as we descend into Brisbane some 8 hours after departing Singapore. Clearly I am still struggling with scale.
We emerge from the terminal blinking in the perfect morning sunlight. After an unnecceasry wrangle with the rental company we are on our way in a generously proportioned, floaty-boaty Toyota Camry. (Top Tip: stand your ground. “No, I won’t pay extra for a bigger car. You have failed to have in stock the size car I have pre-paid. So I’ll be on my way in the next size up for the same price please.”) Soon, we are on the Bruce Highway – no, seriously – and in Noosa Heads in next to no time. (No time at all for the chauffeured sleepy Beers.)
A quick pit-stop at the florist and we arrive at the door of my cousins. Door knocked, kids lined up with gifts: “Hello!”
Teen’ who answers door is not familiar to us. This is fine as we’ve not seen cousin Karen & Phil for donks. (20+ years.) Naturally, we won’t recognise their offspring. It becomes a little more awkward when we don’t recognise the teens’ parents either.
Momentarily we are directed to the correct house. (My bad, they’ve moved to a rented property.) And a Welsh welcome ensues: a mug of tea. Perfect. We pick up as if we saw them last week.
So, what’s Noosa like? California dreams it was Noosa. It just doesn’t remember when it wakes up.
From the upper deck of the Surf Club with a dangerously cold beer (frozen) to hand watching the sky go pink over gentle, perfect (longboard) surf rolling in from the Pacific. It’s hard to imagine a cooler place. Not that the temperature is cool. It’s ‘autumn’ here now and a lovely 30C at 5PM. Time for another quick sundowner.
To celebrate our first whole month on the road I trying a new sport and we take our cousins to dinner. The former is Stand Up Paddle surfing. You ride a generously proportioned surfboard standing up with a paddle to propel yourself. They should call it Stand Up Paddle surfing. [Oh look: They do.] It looks gloriously simple too. Having now tried it for the first time on a very gentle river, I can tell you that it is simple. Well, at least until you have to paddle, turn, stop and do other such fancy-dan tricks. It’s safe to say that I mastered the basics. IE: Falling off.
“You did well mate” says my impossibly outdoorsy instructor. At the end of the session I wonder aloud to cousin Karen if he says that to all the punters. “You really were a punter weren’t you?” (Now that is top quality observation cuz.) I suspect I may have been flattered as I was also promised that I’d wake up with a six-pack next morning. (SUP-ing is a fantastic core workout.) Instead I wake up feeling second, even third hand and disappointingly chubby. No change there.
SUP Review-ette: what a lovely way to travel. You glide along, head held high getting a great view of the world around you. We paddled about 4km around the river system in Noosa passing many a millionaires waterfront pad up close. IE: it’s a delightful way to be nosey too. It’s a great core workout too. On the downside, I can’t see too many opportunities to do it in Ogbourne St George. Down the Gower though…
Stealing a little more time away from the home schooled kids and their teacher, I head to Main Beach to catch some surfing. Rather generously, the locals have arranged an international surf festival to coincide precisely our visit. Competitive surfing? An oxymoron to this observer. How so? Surfing is precisely what I’d do to get away from the competitive strains of modern life. (Did you know stress accounts for over 50% of workplace absence in Oz nowadays? I read it in the Aussie Telegraph)
Regardless of my views it’s brilliant to watch. A ‘crowd’ drapes themselves along the shore as a quintet of fit chaps are given 20minutes to impress the judges and amass a winning score.
These guys are on longboards – 8′ plus – and make some great moves. I itch with jealousy. I then note that these fit dudes are “seniors” and am all the more impressed. The are fit, fast, lythe and tenacious. Then I have a moment of depressing realisation. Seniors = 40. On paper I’ve been eligible for this class for a few years. A senior! Then I look at the contestants and regard my flabby self. It’s all I can do to stifle a self-pitying sob.
The surf theme continues as a generous mate of cousin Adam’s donates an old Malibu board for Mr Beer to take out. So, following the days surfing competition at First Point, I point the board out into the Pacific and paddle out.
NOTE: In my head I am still a teenage surfer who can mix it up.
In reality – as above – I am a fat senior surfer. With a mix of joy – surfing the Pacific! – and nausea-generating-anxiety – surfing the Pacific! – I head into the swell. Within moments a boy of around eleven cuts past on a glorious wave washing his head in the barrel like an excerpt from a high-production-values surf documentary. I lie on ‘my’ board with my jaw sagging. Bad move. The broken wave he’s riding pummels me and I flail around blindly trying to reclaim my steed.
Composure regained for a nanosecond I paddle to the ‘outside’. (Surfing parlance here folks, try to keep up.) It’s a glorious place to sit amidst people who are seriously good at their sport. I even catch a couple of waves before getting humiliated by fourteen year old boys. Not maliciously you understand, just utterly shown up as past it. Being a grown-up, beyond any form of ego, testosterone free: I am above retaliation and do not exact my revenge.
Actually, I do. As they paddle back toward the break around my beached-whale-ness I mutter the only relevant insult I can think of: “Virgins.”
This insult is somehow less relevant/appropriate to the young girl surfers who also show up my incompetence. And their Mums. All are excellent surfers. To add injury to insult I also slip over whilst manfully jogging back to the car and skin my foot. I resolve to never go surfing again.
Away from the sea we visit the Noosa Aquatic centre. Essentially a town swimming pool. Nothing remarkable in that eh? Er, actually… it is eons ahead of any British facility. We – the whitest, least sporty family there – regard what are surely future Olympians playing water polo, getting technique lessons and generally ploughing up and down the fifty metre pool. So here we are in a (small) town with the most glorious beaches and river system with amazing weather and they have a pool complex with an Olympic (50m) 8 lane pool, a 25m training pool, kids (shallow) 10m training pool and jacuzzi area etcetera. This public facility is both spacious and clean with a nice cafe to boot. The lifeguards wander around unobtrusively, without blowing whistles every 3 seconds and NOBODY DROWNS. (Take note Marlborough Leisure Centre.)
We do not visit the tennis centre next door, but I sense a future Pat Cash(an Australian)/Pat Rafter (a local)/Thomas Munster (another local) knocking up. (By which I mean warming up. Who they knock up is no business of mine.)
We do stop for what turns out to be superb coffee – flat white is the choice hereabouts – with a perfect chocolate brownie in a lovely cafe. Goodness me, everyone is so bloody happy. The staff are simply pleasant and helpful. They are agreeable to the point where the cynicism beaten into me by years in British/global business means I begin to regard them with suspicion. What is it with these people? (How twisted and sad I have become.) This unease is compounded by excellent customer service in the Post Office. Excellent customer service in the Post Office. (I wrote it again to illustrate it wasn’t a typo.) Aussies are brash and forward et al, but they do look after you. Everywhere we stop provides superb coffee.
Which is nice.
Up with the lorikeets – noisy lot – the following morning for a trip to (the late Steve Irwins) Australia Zoo.