A grand day, err... week, out!

July 2001

So we've just spent the last seven days either going to, being in, or leaving hurredly from, Queensland. Actually, as we spent nearly all our time in Queensland on Boundary St, Coolongatta, it would be more accurate to amend Queensland to Extreme Southern Queensland and Extreme Northern New South Wales (as Boundary St is the border). We drove up with Peter Dawson (whom I share an office with) and then back again doing just over five thousand kilometers in a week! Some amazing and not-so-amazing things we saw:

So anyway, we drove up through Broken Hill, this being the quickest way. It's very Nullabor-like up there, but with a few more hills, and although you may be surprised by this, we generally agree that Western NSW isn't all that boring (at least, it was less boring than we anticipated). There isn't really much to say about it, except that we saw kangaroos (mostly dead unfortunately), emus, foxes, eagles, hawks and the odd feral goat. Actually, I have conveniently forgotten to mention that the route to Broken Hill was unusually tortuous that day. For some inexplicable reason, the South Australian Road Authority had decided to hide all the signs pointing to Broken Hill, so we ended up on the wrong highway and had to detour extensively. Easy to do, especially as the sun hadn't risen yet. We stayed the night in a little motel in Gilgandra which is somewhere north of Dubbo (if anybody knows where that is - Dubbo has Australia's safari zoo). Continuing our run of pre-dawn stuff-ups (and who is really capable of rational though at such ungodly hours?), we managed to leave both our extra-comfy car pillows behind (motel pillows suck) leaving us facing severe lumpiness for the rest of the trip. We had however made pretty good time - we were over half way there - so we decided to push our luck and take a slightly more scenic route to the Gold Coast than we'd planned. Specifically, we decided to turn east through Tamworth, cross the Great Dividing Range, and head up the Pacific Highway. This turned out to be a great idea - there was plenty of beautiful rainforest to entertain one's eyes, and several waterfalls to check out too. However, choosing a route that compromised between seeing this beauty and actually getting us to the Gold Coast before it got too dark ran us afoul of some unsealed road which of course was unmarked on all three of the maps we had of the area (beware - road washed away). So, it took us a bit longer than expected. The biggest surprise was the change in temperature as we came down out of the mountains into the coastal plain at Grafton. It must have been a good ten degrees warmer (I was told by a petrol attendant that Coonabarabran had -6C last night!) and it was just glorious. The drive up the Pacific highway was a bit clogged with traffic, and you end up getting pretty sick of sugar cane and banana plantations, but the scenery is pretty much river after river after river. Much like the southern NSW coastline in that respect (which is probably not all that surprising). Still we made it to Coolongatta in one piece sometime just after dark. Of course, none of us knew where we were supposed to go (we couldn't find an address on the conference website - typical), so we had to find a phonebox and call them. But it was just down the road, so all was well. Of course, the place we were staying was advertised as a "first class unsophisticated international resort" which is Gold Coast slang for a hostel/backpackers. It was shabby - very shabby. But what can you expect from a university. Apparently last year the students were put up in the actual conference hotel (not shabby at all) but these damn academics learn from their mistakes too quick. We got the dud room (of course) which only had one key and smelt all mouldy, but we got by, mostly through the purchase of a pineapple which served as a lovely air-freshener. Fifty cents well spent I reckon. And while I am on the subject of food, I must rave about the Turkish Pizza joint across the street. Absolutely fantastic, the only whinge was that the vegetarian pizzas (which comprised half the menu) were a little oily. But with three types of cheese on them, that's to be expected (mozzerella, fetta, and "secret" cheese - no, I didn't ask, you wouldn't either). By the way, this whinge is not mine, or even Penny's, but in fact comes from Prince Whingeburger himself, Ben (who was also at the conference). Kudos for those of you who don't know Ben - he's a physicist whose only discernable interest is drinking vast quantities of whatever's going. But what was even cooler, was that the guys who ran it were Lebanese or at least of Middle-Eastern extract - so those of you who watched and loved that pinnacle of Australian sitcoms Pizza (SBS) will understand me when I say that the show was a completely and utterly faithful representation of this particular establishment. But enough about that. The conference was OK. The first few talks were really good, but by the second day, there were more than a fair share of crap ones too. Ben gave a very coherent and understandable talk on quantum computing. He spent most of the morning of the first day of the conference writing it (but unusually for Ben, he finished with over an hour to spare - this he filled in by inserting animations into his presentation). Considering that he had been up until 2am the night before (doing what Ben does best) it was a marvellous accomplishment (Pippa by the way, didn't put in an appearance that day until about 4pm - she was feeling "unwell"). Actually, you know what the best bit about the whole conference was? Every morning, they put a big bowl of mentos mints on each table. Oh yeah, and they provided free lunch and that sort of stuff. All you can gobble buffets too! Mmmm... And you get two hours lunch break which means you can stuff yourself and then wander down to the beach and walk around for an hour or so (or go paddling) before you have to return to the grindstone. By the way, I should mention that the conference itself was in a nice hotel - not a crappy hostel (Ben said "it's not too bad - I quite like it". I won't tell you how Pip described it) - it had a pool with waterslides! And security guards hanging around making sure that you are a genuine paying guest before letting you enjoy any of its luxuries (sigh). Anyway, talks good(ish), food better, etc... We had Saturday afternoon off, and a map of Australia near the pool table ($2 a game what a ripoff) suggested that there was a place called Mt Warning to the south-west that was worth a wander. The climb to the summit was said (by the map) to have some of the best sub-tropical rainforest left in the area. So we went and did that. Of course, there were five of us by then, three of whom were fit athletic types (ie everyone except Penny and myself). The drive there took about about an hour, so we arrived just before three. It could have been quicker but our car (which is gutless to start with) had severe problems climbing hills with three beefy blokes in the back. Anyway, we get there and we start out and its all beautiful with epiphytes and tree ferns and all that stuff, but we come to a sign warning us that the return trip takes between four and five hours and that we shouldn't begin after noon. Ignoring this obvious slight on our abilities we surge on. Actually the other three surged on (occasionally jogging their way up the mountain the freaks) whilst Penny and I pulled ourselves along the path, step by gasping step. About halfway up we reach another sign telling us that people have gotten lost and died on this mountain after dark, so if it is after 1pm, we should turn around. Another pathetic insult to our prowess (the time now was about 3:45). So up we go, and its all beautiful everywhere and occasionally you get a glimpse through the trees and see this incredible view looking out towards the ocean. Closer to the top, the vegetation changes from rainforesty things to sassafras and lichen, then to cactusy things and blackboys. At about 4:10 we made it to the final stage. This, unbeknownst to us, consists of hauling yourself up a sixty degree incline of rough volcanic rocks with a few meagre footholes half-heartedly jackhammered into the path and a thin chain to hang on to. And this is not just a small final ascent - its 200m high! The pain, the agony. There are some who think exercise is for fools, and some who seem to make it a way of life, but most of us have a line somewhere as to what constitutes healthy living and what constitutes being bloody idiotic. That line got lost somewhere back behind the horizon that day. Oh the pain, the agony! But after a final burst of adrenalin (or possibly the final burst of my spleen), we climbed to the top and were rewarded with sweeping panoramic views of pretty much everywhere from Surfers Paradise to Byron Bay. It turns out that Mt Warning is actually the plug from an ancient volcano, the remains of which form a ring of hills around the plug. It is also the first part of the Australian mainland to receive the dawn every day - something to remember for quiz nites there. Anyway, by this stage it was getting on to 4:30 so we made a dash down the mountain, the last third in darkness (some clever people had brought torches (ie not me)), to the car. Elapsed time: Just under three hours. I should mention that in coming down, we passed two more groups of people still climbing. Absolutely foolish, tut-tut. Anyway, we made it back in time for dinner (very important). The rest of the evening passed fairly uneventfully, except for a walk along the beach to Pt Danger. The park near the point was alas infested with schoolies, but the police presence there served to entertain us for a little while. The place is called Pt Danger because of the five metre waves which come crashing in against the rocks there making quite a moonlit show. Personally however, I think that it was named because some idiot managed to build a small concrete swimming pool out on the aforementioned rocks, the use of which must surely constitute the world's most dangerous spa. Still. The rest of the conference was spent eating mentos and things like that. We cruised up to Brisbane on the Sunday afternoon to visit people (about a 100km drive) and I can tell you right now that driving in Brisbane is a complete and utter mess. I thought Sydney and Melbourne were bad, but Brisbane seems to entirely consist of one-way streets which channel you in loops and twirls around the city (never giving you a chance to escape) until you are ejected in some place on the opposite side of town to where you wanted to be. Apart from that it's kind of nice. A great big river with huge cliffs on either side, and lots and lots of hills. I learnt two important things in Brisbane - first that Brisbanians (and even naturalised Brisbanians) huddle around the heater whenever the temperature drops below 25C, and second that Daria shows on payTV. Things to remember. Anyway, it would have been nice to have checked out the place more thoroughly, and especially to have gone up the coast a bit, but we had already planned to head south along the coast and check it all out more thoroughly. So we got up early (again ) and headed on out. This time, detouring off the Pacific highway to see Byron Bay and other assorted tourist meccas. Byron Bay itself was pretty but horribly developed, but there were a couple of beaches up the coast a bit, which in my opinion were more beautiful (and less populated, though I'm betting they're all horrendous in the summer). This took quite a while, mostly due to the roadworks that seemed to be taking place every ten kilometres or so, but it was all very pretty. Then we mooched down the coast a bit more to Coffs Harbour (past the big banana which was surprisingly small - the big prawn was much more impressive but I can't remember where that was (I can't remember where the big didgeridoo was either - you get that). The idea was to spend the afternoon stickybeaking our way back through the Great Dividing Range where all the waterfalls are. There is a road called "The Waterfall Way" which is supposed to have tons of waterfalls along it. However, either they are poorly marked or we had very poor vision, as we missed most of them. And due to us wandering around various places along the way (and all those bloody roadworks) it was about 3pm by the time we actually found any waterfalls. They were nice, but obviously much more impressive in the wet season (it was all very very dry up there so presumably they get rain in the summer months). Just before sundown we found what was listed on our map as the largest waterfall in Australia at 467m. In fact it was either 220m or 260m depending on which sign you believed and only one of the tallest waterfalls in Australia, but it was impressive nonetheless, dropping down into this incredibly steep gorge that you'd never expect would exist given the plateau like country that we'd been driving through. Anyway, it was cool. The next day dawned rather bleakly. We headed south through Gilgandra (to get our pillows), Dubbo, Parkes, etc... and discovered the most boring country on earth, the plains around Hay in southern NSW. Hours and hours of flat boring scrub, broken occasionally by a herd of cattle that was grazing on and around the road. Incredibly mind-numbingly boring. Much worse than the Broken Hill route (though the petrol was cheaper). It was late-ish afternoon when we finally got to Hay itself and we said "bugger all this for a lark, lets go home". So we drove lots and lots and lots and made it back to Adelaide about 10:30pm, making the days total distance 1501km. And , were we tired the next day. And here endeth the saga. I hope I have made you waste lots of valuable company time reading this rubbish, which for us, was definitely a grand week out. :)

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