Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Skydiving in Mission Beach, Queensland

It takes about three hours longer than planned to reach Mission Beach, thanks to a delayed and then broken-down bus. Luckily, I meet some fantastic people on the way, but I'm so tired when I get there, I just want to crash in the nearest bed.

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Mission Beach is yet another place in Oz that is so poorly connected to the rest of the world you'd think you were on Mars. There is no public transport serving the town, no mobile phone service for some networks, no Wi-Fi (AT A HOSTEL, I MEAN FOR GOD'S SAKE THAT IS RIDICULOUS) and one supermarket that is closed on Sundays. It's infuriating. Now that I've been to Asia, I realise I'm perfectly okay without a phone and the web for a bit. But that's because I was in less developed places, where there is more to do. In Mission Beach, however, there is nothing to do. The only reason I went is because it's from there you can skydive over the Great Barrier Reef. I later learned Mission Beach used to be livelier, but a recent hurricane destroyed a huge area and it's taking a while to get back up to speed.

Nevertheless, you can't beat another picture of clear blue sky and deserted sand. So here's one of Mission Beach for you:


It looks a bit like the island from Lost, minus the bad writing, polar bears, rubbish ending and the feeling you've wasted six years watching a show that the writers knew was going nowhere not that I'm digressing or anything but really come on that show could have been so good and they just ruined it RUINED IT all to keep people guessing and there was no conclusion to anything I mean what was that polar bear all about and why did the shark have a Dharma Initiative logo and why when Mr Eko crashed was the land in the shape of a question mark and while we're on the subject did they ever explain why Mr Eko was mute for 42 days no I didn't think so and why did The Others take that kid, you know the one whose dad was Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet and then went batshit and killed those two what were their names Ana Lucia and hmm the one that went out with Hurley for a bit ANYWAY BACK TO THE MATTER AT HAND.

The next morning, I go for a run. Four kilometres in the wrong direction. There is no shop from which to buy water so I am a big sweaty heap of a mess when I get back. The hostel, despite its owners clearly living in the dark ages, is lovely, with a pool (!) and gorgeous lawns on which to relax. I finish reading my book and potter about, then meet up with some friends I met a few towns ago. The nice thing about going up the east coast of Oz is that everyone follows the same route (well, mostly everyone), so not only do you often bump into people you've hung around with before, you play the annoying guessing game with a load of others. It goes like this:

"I'm pretty sure we've met before."

"Me too! But I can't place where!"

"I know, it's annoying me. Did you go to [insert Australian location here]?"


"Hmm. Maybe it was there?


Repeat with different person.

Friday - the day after - is skydive day. Skydiving was an unequivocal must-do for me. I even sacrificed going to the Whitsundays so that I could afford it, because the cost for a 14,000 ft dive, with DVD of the whole thing, plus a day of "Extreme Rafting" (more about that terror-filled brush with death later) was getting on for £350. I'll pause while you intake some breath sharply. I wouldn't say I'm a daredevil or anywhere near an adrenaline junkie, but I think years of sitting at a desk have made me want to try riskier stuff, so the day arrives, I sign my name on the dotted line - you know, the one below the sentence saying "you may die and if you do don't even think about suing us" - and meet the people who will be jumping at the same time.

I meet the instructor who will be jumping with me. He's a cutie. Yay! God, I'm so shallow sometimes. He takes me through what can only be described as vague instructions re: what to do when you jump. Basically, you have to push and pull your arms, legs and neck into certain positions before and during the jump. It's pretty straightforward, so on goes the harness and before I know it we're all getting on the plane. Now, when I say "jumping with me", it means this guy (his name escapes me, it was probably something cute and Australian) is literally strapped to me. Or me to him, whichever. It's kind of awkward. The plane is chock full. It's too exciting to be nervous, but I'm jumping out of the plane last, so I get to see eight people go before me. The noise they make when they boing out of the plane is similar to the noise of a wine bottle being uncorked. I'm not sure if they jump, or are pulled by the wind.

It's me next, and before I know it, I'm looking at the Great Barrier Reef from 14,000 feet in the air. I kind of feel like I can't breathe and my heart might explode, but that's okay, because this is exactly the kind of experience I worked my balls off to be able to do. After 60 seconds of freefalling, which feels like ten, the chute opens and we toddle down to the beach in a matter of minutes. It's wonderful. Utterly, utterly wonderful. My eyes are watering and my pulse is thumping and it feels really, really good.



Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island's name has nothing to do with the fact it is magnetic in any way, so let's just all calm down and face the front of the class. Apparently, that jolly old fellow James Cook had a compass that went a bit berserk when he sailed near Maggie Island (so-called by locals, and by locals I mean every other backpacker who visits), so his crew was all like WOAH IT'S TOTALLY MAGNETIC and he was like YEAH I AM SUCH A BADASS EXPLORER and one of the crew said NO I THINK YOUR COMPASS IS BROKEN GOOD SIR and Jimmy replied DON'T BE RIDICULOUS, SCURVY HAS CLEARLY SENT YOU INSANE, BOYS GET THIS MENTALIST TO THE PLANK AND MAKE SURE YOU ALL EAT NUMEROUS ORANGES.

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I digress. To reach Maggie, you hop on a little ferry from Townsville. It's fairly straightforward.


We stayed at YHA Bungalow Bay, which in typical YHA form is quite dull but nice and safe, as well as being generally good value for money. Rather than typical dorms, the rooms are three-bed wooden huts, set in the grounds of a wildlife park. It's all very cute, if a little contrived, but fun.

Or so I thought.

You know in horror movies, right at the end, when you find out who the killer is, or all the zombies have been killed (zombies are un-dead though, so is killing even the right word?), or the ghost has been exorcised, and the protagonist looks all pale and clammy and even though they're okay and all their friends are dead, bar the ones played by really famous actors, you know they're going to be really screwed up for a bit? Well, that's how I looked after two nights at Bungalow Bay. They were terrifying. I'd been in Oz nearly a month by this point but hadn't really encountered any of the legendary spiders or snakes or creepy crawlies you hear of. Until now.

The first night, it's just me and my friend in this three-bed hut. The roof is, at its highest point, probably about seven feet high. There are gaps between some of the wood planks, with low beds and a kind of mesh section of wall right at pillow level.

We go to our respective beds. The friend is out like a light. I am not. All of a sudden, something crashes on to the bin. I let out a yelp. We turn the light on. There are two geckos on the floor. Until now I had never seen a gecko, let alone realised they are not just harmless but actually good to have around, as they eat mosquitoes. One of the geckos has fallen into the bin. They have suckers on their feet which make them able to cling on to ceilings. But not this one, which has clearly been cursed with some rubbish gecko DNA. They scurry about everywhere. I figuratively shit myself. Not literally, as that would be not just gross but a severe overreaction. I spot something moving on the wall. Yep, they're legs. Eight of them. It's a massive dob-off spider hiding behind the light switch. We ignore the geckos and try to kill the spider with bug spray. Not only does it not die, it legs it (pun fully intended) down the wall on to the floor, where I squash it and hit it with my brand new Havaiana flip flops. Crisis averted. The geckos bugger off. We decide we need the loo. During the walk outside to the loo, something - probably a possum or similarly evil being - bobs right past us. I figuratively shit myself again. It's a dramatic night overall, and I get little to no sleep after we come back from the bathroom. Later that week, I learn the noise made by geckos - it's a smoochy little kissing noise - is them flicking their tails. Not some fang-exposing, stomach-rumbling signal they're about to eat you whole.

The next day, I'm grouchy and bitchier than my usual self. Not just due to tiredness, but of the fear of what's to come that evening. We do a pub quiz with a couple of friends we've met in Noosa, come third and drink the winnings. Fantastic! I'll be able to sleep thanks to this booze!

Or not.

I wake up at 3am. I hear rustling. Something crawls over a carrier bag on the floor. I am actually sweating with fear under my sleeping bag. I hear a footstep next to my pillow, behind the mesh panel. I bolt out of the bed and sit on my friend's. Another footstep. It's like whatever's out there is watching, waiting, planning the right moment to pounce. Either that or it's a possum trying to get about in the night without waking anyone. But oh my god, what's that I hear on the doorstep? I open the door. It's a mega-sneaky possum going through the bin (I knew I should have destroyed that Tim Tams wrapper).


I can't take any more of this. I admit it. I admit defeat, and I admit being a pussy. But when a giant, genetically mutated possum-gecko hybrid with eight legs takes over the world, we'll all be sorry. I fall back asleep and wake again two hours later. I need the bathroom. Friend is fast asleep. Gods damn it I'll have to go alone. So I do, and it's so scary, Blair Witch Project-style scary minus the gratuitous snot scene, but I make it back, and I think that counts as facing a fear, especially as the YHA receptionist told us earlier there is a massive golden orb spider who lives above the door to the ladies' bathroom. And I just swanned right past it. Spiders: 0, Me: 1.

To celebrate this victory, enjoy some pictures of Magnetic Island in all of its horrifying glory.






Just like the guy from Crimewatch says, "don't have nightmares".

Townsville, Queensland

After the trip to Fraser Island, I went back to Noosa for a night to catch up with some people and do my laundry! Unsurprisingly, I ended up playing Mario Kart.

My next stop, annoyingly, was somewhere I didn't want to go but had to, due to the bus I was on. There are compulsory overnight stops and one of these is Rainbow Beach. Rainbow Beach sounds like Rainbow Road, which is arguably the hardest Mario Kart track (aside from Wario's Gold Mine, but this is debatable). I was hoping this meant the location would be exciting and full of Italian plumbers, talking mushrooms and hungry dinosaurs, but it wasn't at all. In fact, it was a very dull, one-horse town with a beach full of "multicoloured" (i.e. brown) sand. Ho hum. I made some dinner, took it easy and finished my book.

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I passed through the Town of 1770 and Airlie Beach (pictured below, yes it was overcast and not very warm at all) in the next few days, in order to get to Townsville.


Two snafus made this a more difficult journey than I'd anticipated.

Snafu #1: 1770 is a complete DUMP and the hostel I'd booked into was like Guantanamo Bay, minus the repeat plays of the Barney theme tune (and obviously the waterboarding, which for the purposes of UK media law MAY NOT HAVE HAPPENED AT GUANTANAMO BAY, IT'S ALL JUST UNSUBSTANTIATED RUMOUR).

Snafu #2: I totally missed my bus from Airlie Beach to Townsville, so had to pay again for a replacement ticket, then had a big homesickness barf when I got there.

Anyway. Turns out, Townsville is actually really cute. You can't get more of a generic name than Townsville. As it happens, this quiet little um, town in Queensland has a slightly student/bohemian vibe, making it a touch more interesting than the numerous beach um, towns on the east coast.

Townsville's not even a beach town, though (I'm totally shift+F7-ing the shit out of this blog entry now so as not to use the word town too much) - it's the jumping-off point if you want to visit Magnetic Island (more about that later). It's pretty quiet, with a cute market on Saturday (or Sunday, I can't recall which; constant travelling means you forget what day it is and rarely know the date) at which I bought some nice earrings. Yes, I'm that interesting. I also did a bit more running around the, ahem, municipality.


Not much more to say, except from the fact Townsville (damn I just said town again. And again) is where my super-duper, nearly-new, beloved black Berghaus fitted fleece jacket disappeared, never to have been seen since. Gutted. Oh and I met a guy there who had lived in the apartment block opposite Hannah and I in Salford. Small word, insert cliché here, etc etc…