Travel Outside the U.S.
A Solo Travel Adventure in Australia
The beauty of Queensland Australia with its Sunshine Coast, Hamilton Island Resorts, Great Barrier Reef and upscale city of Brisbane is closer than you think.
What do Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, Russell Crowe and True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten have in common, besides being talented and beautiful? They’re Australians, shining examples of what can happen when you uproot an English rose from the cold, damp climate of Great Britain and replant it in the wild, wide-open spaces of the land Down Under, the land of the Great Barrier Reef, golden sunshine, endless white-sand beaches, kangaroos, koalas and the most stunning people I’ve ever seen.
It’s a place so different, yet so familiar — so exotic and yet so linked to our own culture. In this topsy-turvy world, winter is summer and heading north takes you to a warmer climate. The flight from Los Angeles is 13 hours, but when you arrive, it’s a day and a half later. When you return, you get home “before” you left.
It was time to stop dreaming about this magical destination and just go. Qantas was offering killer deals to Brisbane, a city of 1.8 million on the east coast of Queensland. I caught the midnight flight, and within hours of arriving, I was paddling a kayak down the wide and winding Brisbane River, which zigzags through this sleek cosmopolitan city, framed on either side by high-rise office buildings and luxury condos.
Aussies are a friendly bunch, and since there’s no language barrier, it’s easy to strike up a conversation wherever you go. By the end of my first day, I was having dinner with my new kayaking friends, who assured me there would be no lack of companionship on my singular adventure. They urged me to join them for the nightclub scene that starts at 11 p.m. and ends at dawn, but I begged off, eager to get back to the Emporium, my luxury boutique hotel in a stylish part of town called Fortitude Valley. Fashioned of glass and steel with bold splashes of red, the hotel is surrounded by trendy eateries and shops.
My favorite part of my stay, however, was the wonderful bed. The Emporium claims to provide its guests with “exquisite sleep,” and it certainly does. The linens are silky smooth, and a pillow menu offers eight different choices, from goose down to Swedish memory foam — even a “snore no more” option. It was heavenly to slip into those sheets and sink into a deep slumber, dreaming about wallabies, cockatoos and Crocodile Dundee.
The unique wildlife of Australia was of great interest to me, so I was looking forward to my visit to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, which opened almost a century ago to protect koalas and other indigenous animals. I had planned to take a riverboat to the sanctuary, but just as I arrived at the dock, the sky turned stormy and, without a jacket, I was freezing.
A kindly fellow named Neil and his girlfriend, Leah, both from northern Queensland, were waiting for the boat too and lent me a cozy fleece. They were in Brisbane for the holiday — the Queen’s birthday — and were happy to tell me about their life in Oz as we chugged up the river admiring the homes along the shoreline.
to hold Harvey for hours) and it was thrilling to feel his soft fur and smell the eucalyptus on his breath.
I skipped on to see the other animals: joeys poking out of mama kangaroos’ pouches — a leg, an ear, a tail — sulphur-crested cockatoos, Tasmanian devils and dingoes.
A day later, back in Brisbane, I decided to confront my fear of heights by climbing along the top of the Story Bridge, 265 feet above the Brisbane River at its highest point. Twelve other daring adventurers joined me for the morning trek. We had to take breath analyzer tests to prove we were sober while Jim, our joke-cracking guide, kept us laughing so we wouldn’t chicken out. Jim pointed out the city sights as we climbed, chatting to us through wireless headsets. There were a few times when my knees started to shake — or maybe it was the bridge vibrating from the traffic passing below.
Jim warned us not to look backward, so of course I did. But one vertigo-inducing glimpse was enough. The climb was exhilarating, but I was happy to get back on terra firma, returning just in time to pack my bags and catch a catamaran to my next destination: Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort, located on Moreton Island.
The resort is an 80-minute ride from Brisbane and reminded me of a kids’ summer camp. There’s archery, catamarans for hire, fishing, four-wheel- drive quads for rent, snorkeling, parasailing, golf on the putting green, helicopter joyrides and, of course, the most famous attraction: wild dolphins that swim to the shore nightly to be hand-fed by guests.
I wanted to go snorkeling around the 15 deliberately wrecked ships that provide a haven for sea life, but the wind was blowing too hard and the sea was choppy. So instead, I signed up to go exploring on a four-wheel-drive motorbike along the steep white sand dunes above the resort. Joining me for the trip was Angela, from northern Canada. Angela runs a small hotel up near the Northwest Passage, where winters are 60 degrees below zero. She too was traveling solo, enjoying the beach and sun before heading back home to where “summer” means 40 degrees.
We decided to try sand tobogganing next. The idea is to climb to the top of an enormous sand dune and slide, face down, on a thin board, reaching speeds of up to 30 mph. Outfitted with goggles and a firm resolve to keep our mouths shut, we launched off the dune, crashing about halfway down — a good way to end up with sand in places you never knew you had.
I would have loved to play longer at Tangalooma, but my next stop was Hamilton Island in northern Queensland, a tropical zone located an 80-minute jet ride up the Australian coastline. Hamilton Island is one of 74 islands known as the Whitsundays. They rise up from turquoise seas — rocky hills covered with brush and trees. I had a room booked at the Reef View, a high-rise four-star hotel, but the options on this island range from three-star bungalows to the super luxe Qualia, the island’s crown jewel that offers private “pavilions” with plunge pools, deluxe furnishings and breathtaking views.
At around two grand a night, Qualia was out of my price range, but I was very happy with my 15th floor room at the Reef View. Besides the stunning vista, flocks of cockatoos sailed past my balcony, laughing, chattering and at times perching on the railing. The hotel staff considers them pests, but back home they’re confined to cages, so seeing these playful parrots flying freely was one of the greatest thrills of my trip.
Once unpacked and relaxed, I decided to check out Romano’s restaurant, where I was delighted to find some delicious Italian food and a balcony overlooking the marina. At sunset, hundreds of fruit bats emerged from trees on the hill above. The next day’s adventures began with a scuba-dive. What self-respecting vacationer would leave this country for home without a visit to the Great Barrier Reef? And so I boarded the Fantasea, a high-speed catamaran that ferries passengers to Reefworld, a divers’ barge anchored next to the 1,600-mile natural wonder.
After several hours in the water exploring the reef, I boarded the Fantasea for the trip back to Hamilton Island. I popped a Dramamine, but once on the open sea, the wind kicked up and the boat flew through the air and slammed down on the water — hard. The staff was quick to pass out the barf bags, and before long, my own green face was stuck over one of them. I was dizzy for the rest of the day and relieved when I returned to my hotel room, where I could focus on a stable horizon.
I said goodbye to the charming cockatoos and hopped a Jetstar flight back to Brisbane, next bound for Noosa, on the Sunshine Coast. An Aboriginal word meaning “shady place,” Noosa is about an hour’s drive north of Brisbane — as long as there’s no traffic. But I arrived just in time for the Friday afternoon rush hour, and it seemed that everyone was heading out of the city. The shuttle bus finally delivered me to the Sheraton Noosa Resort and Spa some four hours later. The fresh fruit in my room was greatly appreciated, as was being able to flip on the TV and find CNN (God’s gift to American travelers) airing a segment on Nashville’s Fan Fair Week. It was a reminder of how the world is so very big and yet so very small.
Unlike the glitzy Gold Coast, south of Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast is laid-back and artsy, with more of a natural feel. The countryside is blanketed in thick forests laced with saltwater marshes. The homes are upscale but with a playful attitude. Prices run $1 million and up, and from what I’ve seen, no one here is suffering from a recession.
I was looking forward to shopping at the Eumundi Markets, an event that takes place every Saturday — it’s like a farmers’ market and flea market rolled into one big fair held under the shade of ancient fig trees. The market’s motto is “Make it, bake it, grow it or sew it.” Offerings include freshly baked bread, handmade jewelry, organic honey, fresh fruit and crafts, as well as fortune telling and street performances. It’s a great place to find some unique souvenirs.
My afternoon plan was to take a surfing lesson at the Noosa Learn to Surf school. The instructors claim they will have you surfing by the end of your first lesson, and they deliver. Walking back to my hotel through the wooded area just off the beach, I saw at least three weddings under way. Stylish women dressed in glittering gowns and men in tuxedos tromped through the sand to get to the clearings. It seemed like an appropriate visual metaphor for the Aussies’ fashionable yet rough-and ready personality.
On my last day in Queensland, I planned to visit the Australia Zoo, famous for its late proprietor, Steve Irwin, considered a national hero by most Australians. The zoo was on the way back to Brisbane, but rather than risk another bumpy bus ride, I splurged on a chauffeur-driven BMW sedan. Alex, who came to fetch me, provided yet another example of that distinctive Anglo-Australian handsomeness you see so much here. He offered me the scenic route, then dropped me off at the zoo entrance and waited for my return.
Billed as the “Home of the Crocodile Hunter,” the Australia Zoo is run by Irwin’s widow — but if you didn’t know better, you’d think he was still alive. His images are everywhere. His voice, too, emanating from speakers and Jumbo Trons all over the park — it’s all rather eerie. Even the emcee for the “croc” show was a ringer for Irwin. Was it just a coincidence or a marketing strategy? Despite all the commercialization, the message of wildlife conservation and ecological preservation was clear, and the zoo provides many opportunities for people to get up close to the animals.
Afterward, the charming Alex offered to drive me around Brisbane. I told him I felt like the Queen of England. He replied that Queen Elizabeth would be riding in a Bentley. Any other time I would have gladly accepted his offer, but I was starting to feel a bit melancholy about leaving this magical land. So I asked him to drop me off at the Emporium — returning to where I started some 10 days earlier — where I would gather my thoughts, my belongings and my new memories of this wonderful continent called Australia.
Arvo = afternoon
Billabong = a pond
Billy = a tea kettle
Brekkie = breakfast
Chewie = chewing gum
Clobber = clothes
Crack a fat = to get an erection
Give it a burl = to try something
Hottie = a hot-water bottle
Lollies = candy
Pash = a long, passionate kiss
Roadie = a beer you buy to take with you
See you in soup = see you around
Sheila = a woman
Spunk = a good-looking person
Sunnies = sunglasses
VISIT / STAY / DINE
Brunel Worldwide Chauffeur Drive
Fantasea Adventure Cruising
Hamilton Island Resort
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
Noosa Learn to Surf
Riverlife Adventure Centre
Sheraton Noosa Resort and Spa
Story Bridge Adventure Climb
SunAir Bus Service
Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort
Australia is the sixth largest country in the world and the only continent on Earth occupied by one nation.
It has an average of three people per square kilometer, making it a country with one of the lowest population densities in the world.
There are about 6 million singles in Australia – approximately 35 percent of the adult population.
In a 2006 survey, 34 percent of men and 32 percent of women said they would never marry.
Australia’s low crime rate makes it one of the safest places in the world.
Australia claims to have the world’s highest rate of literacy.
Newspaper reading per capita is greater than any other country in the world.
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