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Signing Out of Australia

AUSTRALIA | Monday, 15 July 2013 | Views [628]

Comfort zone. That place where we feel most at ease - familiar, understanding our surroundings and our expectations, daring to believe we have a degree of control in our daily lives.

Travel to different cultures challenges us to step outside of all that is familiar and expose our fragility, our lack of understanding leaving ourselves vulnerable. Over the last six months I have experienced familiar cultures, if not places, a small step at a time. I look back at my journey thus far and am reminded of a sort of roller coaster ride - the smooth, easy build up rising to its zenith, pausing momentarily before hurtling down into the unknown. An abyss from which you will emerge somehow changed forever.

On board Qantas Airlines again, I will soon be descending into unknown territory. Yes, I am out of my comfort zone for the first time since I began this journey, and just like the imagined roller coaster ride, I am aware of the knot of anxiety tinged with the quiver of excitement and adventure.

Last seen tearing myself away from Magnetic Island, I travelled to Mission Beach pausing for just two nights - long enough to meet yet another travelling companion. The Queensland travellers road runs primarily between Brisbane and Cairns making it easier to meet people as generally you are all travelling in one direction, or the other. Alison and I head up to Port Douglas in her little rented car and to the only hostel with available accommodation. On arrival we learn that whilst it is low season everywhere else in Australia, we have landed smartly into high season in Northern Queensland. Melbournians in their droves in search of some winter sun have headed North, along with the rest of the world wanting to admire the glorious beaches and rainforests of the area, not forgetting the Great Barrier Reef.

There is a reason why only some hostels have availability and along with the party kids we squeeze into dank dorms tinged with signs of mould in the darker areas. In fairness to the hostel, I have come to see that the up keep on anywhere that caters for this type of traveller is a pretty thankless task. All you can do, is try to avoid the places they go.

Port Douglas is tropical, touristy and yet retains a quaintness that is no doubt part of its charm and contributes to its popularity. We take a river tour on a small paddle boat, captained by Jenny who somehow manages to drive the boat, provide a live running commentary, chat to passengers and take bookings on the phone all at once. We are in search of crocodiles and Jenny is on first name terms with the locals! Charlie, the large male has gone off on his annual two week vacation, although no-one is quite sure where he goes each year. We see a small female with a distinguishing scar on her nose gained from standing up to Charlie’s aggressive bedside manner. We learn that mangrove trees take in water through their complex root system channelling the unwanted salt into an old leaf which then turns yellow before being discarded.

There is no time to visit Cape Tribulation so I settle for the final few nights in Cairns. Current high tide levels, strong swell and tropical downpours mean that a snorkelling trip out to the reef is not feasible so instead I decided to take a trip through the rainforest to Kuranda on the Skyrail which opened in 1995. The 7.5km journey was constructed by lowering pillars by helicopter to minimise disruption and only 5 trees were cut down. I imagine there are some pretty unfriendly inhabitants who live there and expect the less time needed on the ground was probably to everyone’s mutual satisfaction. Browsing the slightly hippie town all too soon I need to catch my return train. The Kuranda Scenic Railway was opened in 1891 and it does not take much imagination to realise the hardship of the lives of the men who built it. Part of the movie Avatar was filmed in this 100 million year old rainforest. On-going conservation work ensures that tourism leaves a minimal footprint while maximising revenue for sustaining it.

My final destination is a return to Brisbane where my old friend meets me at the airport and we enjoy my final days here eating out, meeting friends and visiting Stradbroke Island. At long last I am rewarded with a sighting of whales, albeit somewhat in the distance. I have felt very at home in Australia and would be sad to leave if I did not feel so strongly that it won’t be all that long before I am back.

For now though, it is goodbye to the land of drive-through bottle shops (to buy alcohol), grungy hostels for grungy kids and pokies (gambling slot machines). More specifically, to the tropical climate of the Sunshine State where canopies filter the sun’s fierce rays, rain can cascade down only to disappear moments later, stunning beaches, teeming seas, endless sugar cane fields and rainforest beckon you to enjoy the outdoor life to the full. This is Queensland and this is why I will return.

Tags: australia, backpacking, cairns, comfort zone, great barrier reef, mission beach, port douglas, travel buddies, tropical

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