Holidays in the Southern Hemisphere
We manufactured a Halloween and glossed over Thanksgiving, but we knew that Christmas away from home, friends and family was going to be, as they say here in Australia, a bit ticklish. Luckily, Vance’s parents offered to meet up with us, and sunny Queensland was mutually agreeable and new to us all. Frankly, I think we got the better end of the deal because they played Santa and then some, schlepping gifts, school supplies and camping equipment half way around the world. And we wonder why we can’t get more folks to commit to meeting up with us this year??
It’s true that with only two weeks, we barely nicked one corner of this great country, but we’re consoled that we’ve logged visits here before, most extensively in 2002 when we spent six weeks on walkabout from Tasmania to Adelaide to Melbourne to Sydney, and most recently in 2011 when we spent some time in Sydney with the kids (thereby forever setting the gold standard for what qualifies as a “long” flight.)
This time, our first stop was Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world dotted with many lovely “perched” lakes which make for excellent outings and picnics. There are two routes for getting around on Fraser- along the beach when the tide is right where you can bomb along at 80 kph, or the soft, deeply rutted inland tracks where the top speeds are much pokier. A 4×4 is essential either way. I got the impression that the locals do not suffer the inexperienced or unprepared who get stuck on these tracks gladly, so we were grateful not to have any issues. Fraser Island also boasts a large population of dingoes, the most genetically pure, instinctually intact dingoes in Australia. Oh goody! Our rental apartment was in the community of Eurong inside a dingo proof fence but when venturing out, down to the beach for a walk, say, we were advised to carry big sticks and keep our children within arms reach. Our children were not so sure about that arrangement, however, we saw just three dingoes, all from the car, all completely disinterested, rendering the sticks and alarm unnecessary.
We celebrated a very low key Christmas on Fraser, with a big lunch and a nice walk to Lake Wabby and a swim. Santa found the kids and the grands brought a few treats, of course. I struggled to make a few traditional recipes in yet another spare rental kitchen, not knowing that graham crackers (for buckeyes) don’t exist in Australia, nor could I find the mini marshmallows I needed for my mom’s grape salad (only two Christmases of my life have I gone without it, and none willingly.) We made do, cutting big marshmallows up, substituting digestive biscuits for the graham crackers and and mixing everything by hand. We had a good supply of beer and wine, a great view and gorgeous weather. We survived quite nicely.
After five nights in Fraser we caught a flight to Lady Elliot Island, a blip on the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef big enough for an airstrip, a few buildings and not much else except for (what felt like) a million birds all in the noisy stages of courting, nesting, incubating, hatching fuzzy little chicks or trying to pacify greedy chicks almost as large as themselves. Friends had recommended Lady Elliot and it did not disappoint. We loved it, Christian, even though the tent cabins could be a little stuffy and the island smelled of bird do when the breeze died down! With grandparents on hand to keep tabs on the kids, we got to indulge in some prime scuba diving together and saw gobs of fish and corals along with funny humphead wrasse, mantas, bull rays, sharks, and once, delightfully, a pod of dolphins cruising by. We snorkeled with the kids, too, and hunted for hermit crabs, and spent New Year’s Eve watching an enormous loggerhead turtle momma lay her eggs, cover her pit, and then lumber back down the beach into the sea.
It wasn’t until we had said goodbye to the grandparents and had come off Lady Elliot, though, almost two weeks into our time here, that we had a day when we knew we were in Australia and nowhere else. First, a pair of kangaroos hopped through our campground, no big deal, like a couple of deer would wander through in the States! Later in the day we spied two koalas hanging out in the eucalyptus trees just off the path we were hiking in Noosa National Park. Seeing those two Australian icons out and about in the wild, we felt like we had arrived, just in time to move on. If we weren’t so excited about our next stop, we’d be sad. As it is, we are giddy with anticipation as we head to our favorite spot on earth, New Zealand. No need for New Year’s resolutions here, we are already fulfilling our long held dream and feel so fortunate to be doing so.
Happy New Year!