February 18 – 24, 2019
We waved goodbye to SE Asia via the first of some long haul flights across the Pacific: Kuala Lumpur to Singapore for a quick layover, then Singapore overnight to Brisbane, on the eastern coast of Australia. The girls were in a good place – they had just spent a few very fun days with friends in Malaysia, and now they were heading to an English-speaking country with koalas and kangaroos. I was anxious about the next few weeks of fast travel, and re-entering the U.S., if only briefly. It would be familiar and language wouldn’t be a barrier. But for me, SE Asia was unfinished. I’d have to plot a return in the future.
Wayne spent a lot of time traveling in Australia as a young backpacker, so he was excited to show us this part of the world, and laid out a plan to drive south along the eastern coast from Brisbane to Sydney over the next week.
Our stopover in Singapore’s airport ricochet us back into the world of luxury goods for sale, over-the-top-technology displays, and fast food from all over the world.
Our overnight flight into Brisbane was uneventful, but as with any redeye, one never feels rested afterwards. We would pick up the rental car the next day, but now we needed some sleep. We were thrilled and relieved when the super energetic and friendly owner at Aabon Apartments & Motel let us check in early after our (delayed) 7am arrival. After a solid nap, we headed out towards the nearby train station to explore downtown Brisbane, enjoying the Florida-like weather and appreciating all of the train signs and announcements in English.
The Museum of Brisbane and City Hall clock tower was a fun place to explore for a few hours, with interesting video histories and displays of aboriginal art work. We ended up chatting with writer-in-residence Dr. Janet Lee for a long time about family travel and her work at the museum.
Annabelle and I took a quick dip in the free city pool, and we marveled at lovely Brisbane’s night time lights and family-filled parks as we strolled along the riverfront paths.
The next morning Wayne picked up the car, recalling his native left side driving skills. We headed south to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, just over halfway along the route to our overnight stop in Byron Bay. This expansive and beautiful park enabled us to check all of the must-see Australia wildlife boxes – kangaroos, koalas, dingoes, capybaras and crocodiles bigger than a 3-person kayak. We enjoyed speaking with the many retiree volunteers who each spend a couple of days a week at the Sanctuary. Their love for and knowledge of the animals, and how they were spending time in retirement, was impressive.
Byron Bay showcased high winds and huge waves resulting from Tropical Cyclone Oma, a strong storm that eased as it approached Queensland’s southern coast and northern New South Wales. We stayed 2 nights in Byron Bay, and adjusted to quite a different place from where we’d been the past 3.5 months. Everywhere you looked were young surfers and travelers (who all seemed to be tall, tanned and blonde), expensive beer and food, young acoustic guitar buskers and torch juggling on the beach.
Highlights were a big hike up to the Byron Bay lighthouse and the eastern-most point of Australia (that Wayne and I each got to run solo on alternate mornings), as well as the views of beautiful beaches, simply watching the surfers and the perpetual rolling in of waves.
We happened to be out for a walk on the beach on Feb 20, and saw what we thought was the sun setting behind the lighthouse but amazingly turned out to be a full moon rising. Of course there was a dance party, and it was pretty cool to experience (as I imagined 6-10 years into the future and two dreadlocked daughters dancing hypnotically in the middle of it all).
From Byron Bay we drove to Port Macquarie for a one night stay. The girls and I went for a walk along the beach, and spotted the strangest clusters of sandballs everywhere.
Back at the motel later the girls solved the mystery, thanks to the internet. Sand Bubbler Crabs are AMAZING!
We braved the snake warning signs on the path to discover cool-looking birds and plant names that cracked us up.
The next day we drove through Crowdy Bay National Park with multiple campgrounds. We stopped at one for a packed lunch, bathroom break and leg shakeout. While we reminisced about missing last summer’s camping season back home, we spotted among the beer coolers and picnic tables huge black lizards and, maybe not surprisingly, a few kangaroos lounging around a camper.
We just had to ask the couple…”Are they your pets?” No you silly Americans, they are wild kangaroos, small ones (there are grey and red, and these were pint-sized compared to how big the red ones can get). They hop around, find some shade and if they’re lucky a dropped marshmallow or two.
At our next overight stop in Nelson Bay we hiked up to the top of Tomaree Mountain and watched an incoming storm over the Fingal Spit, a sliver of beach only exposed at low tide that connects to Shark Island. We hiked down in a cooling rain, but the sea breezes and views were successful at improving some earlier sour moods (“I DON’T WANT TO GO FOR A HIKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!”). Nature cures.
Between Byron Bay and Port Macquaire we made a coffee stop in downtown Ulmarra and had a wonderful conversation with the lovely barista who owned the building. We talked travel, home/world schooling, surfing, and raising little people – he was a new father and a well-traveled adventurer who was mulling over the future ahead with his growing young family.
Wayne and I watched in awe and tried to get a word in as the girls held most of the hour+ conversation with their own opinions, recent experiences and questions (“SO, really, how do you stand up on a surfboard? That is CRAZY!!”). It reinforced to us how lucky we’ve been to have a front-row seat for this year of growth of our daughters. And, that around every corner you will meet the kindest, coolest people in the most random of places.
On to Sydney…