Happy 2008 to all of you! It’s hard to believe that we’re writing about a place while we are still here. We haven’t done that since Beijing, where we started this trip. We’ve been here for almost five weeks and have been so busy having fun in the outdoors, we haven’t taken the time to update you. Our bad. Now, on to the good stuff....
Noosa - Paradise Found?
Most of you have never heard of this place. It isn’t world famous like the Great Barrier Reef or as visually recognizable as the Sydney opera house. There is no world renowned sporting Events here like there are in Melbourne, and there aren’t millions of people here. You’ll find Noosa in an area of Australia known as the Sunshine Coast. I know that when Americans visualize a “Sunshine Coast” in Australia, they conjure up Kangaroos and red sparse landscapes that run to the ocean. I was guilty of this misconception. The Sunshine coast is about 100 km or so north of Brisbane on the east coast of Australia. It meanders for a few hundred kilometers up the coast. The Sunshine coast is covered in lush forest with eucalyptus trees, tea trees, pine trees, and untold other greenery for as far as the eye can see. Noosa is a town that is nestled on a beautiful bay with a spectacular National Forest nearly surrounding it. The town itself is pretty small, but just like San Luis Obispo, other towns run together to form a community much larger than a single town. Noosa Beach, Noosa Junction, Sunshine Beach, Sunrise Beach, Perigian, Coolum, Noosaville, and Tewantin, are all towns in the Noosa area that form this community. The downtown areas in both Noosa Junction and Noosa Beach are designed for walking, with quaint shops, restaurants, bars and pubs, surf shops, or even travel agencies for local excursions. Noosa Beach is a bit more up-scale and touristy with brand stores like Hugo Boss, Billabong, RipCurl, and higher end restaurants and jewelry stores. We have spent most of our time in these two towns, whether playing, shopping, going to the movies or dining out.
The main feature of the Noosa area is the ocean and all the activities that take place in, on, or around it. Water sports are king here, and every day the local Sunshine Coast paper carries sports articles, human interest articles, and even business articles about the beach, or for that matter the rivers, the waves, competitive surfers, competitive lifeguards, and even competitive nippers (children lifeguards). The surf and the ocean is a way of life here and we have seen all things surf-able in the swells; Long thin paddle boards, short thick paddle boards, hobbie cats, kayaks, jet skis, kite boards, surf boards, boogie boards, ironing boards (ok, I’m kidding about the ironing boards). We’ve always thought that San Luis Obispo is a very healthy and sports minded place, and by American standards it is. But SLO town and the surrounding area doesn’t hold a candle to Noosa. Just about everyone looks incredibly healthy, and in tip top condition. It isn’t uncommon to see buff 50 year old women out for a paddle, or a run, or a group of 65 year old men in stellar condition striding from the water in their speedos after a few kilometers swim. There are a lot of cyclists, runners, hikers and of course water enthusiasts of all kinds.
Even with the sunshine coast label, the weather hasn’t been perfect while we’ve been here. We’ve seen oodles of sunshine but a fair few storms as well, with greater than average rainfall for this time of year. For the past two weeks, we’ve had a few cyclones hovering off the coast that have produced some very wet days. In fact, the sliding glass doors are being pelted by sideways rain from an offshore cyclone as I write this. But even with that, this sports minded community doesn’t seem to slow down in their outdoor pursuits. I’ll give you some prime examples later.
We aren’t actually staying in Noosa, but rather Sunrise Beach, just two communities (and 3km) southeast of Noosa. Our Condo is 3 bedrooms and is on the beach frontage street, overlooking Sunrise Beach. There is no daylight savings time in Queensland, so when they call it Sunrise Beach, it’s for a good reason. At 4:30 in the morning, the Sun Rises and blasts directly into the bedroom and Living room of the Condo. It has made for some very early and hot mornings. I have some shots of the condo (we’ve got the top floor) and the view from the balcony. Most mornings we go for an early surf, and then do some studying followed by more beach time and maybe more surf later, depending on tides. Hal, Maria, Nate and Kyle, have been here with us most of the time in a condo just next door, and we have pretty much done just about everything with them , collapsing at the end of the day, just from activities. We’ve traded nights holding dinners. One night would be chili at their condo, the next night fish at ours, etc…
We have become more attuned to the local tide charts then anywhere else we have stayed, and have started to use them to determine which beaches we will go to based on swell size and direction, wind direction and tides. We have become pretty familiar with the local points and beaches and have been selective as to where we are going to head out. We have four boards. We’ve been taking them on and off the car every day (literally) since December 2nd. Everyone is surfing and improving session by session. The point breaks in Noosa are absolutely incredible. Kevin Merck, probably are biggest surfing buddy would blanch at the incredible waves. Every morning at low tide they have been super fun. They haven’t been huge and scary but rather super nice at 3’ to 5’or smaller and super clean. Even Parker and Griffin who haven’t had much experience surfing, have been able to get long rides and learn how to stay in the green “breaking” part of the wave, snapping up pretty fast. Surfing has been a family sport for us here in Australia and in sharp contrast to the US, it seems to be a family sport for Australia. In the USA, folks think of surfers as zealous individualists who have a reckless and unquenchable desire for waves. In Australia, it is good family fun and entire families show up at beaches with boards under their arms. We saw 30-something dads with their babies on boards. We saw dads pushing their 6 year olds into waves. We heard “Hey Dad!” or “Hey Mom!” yelled as a little kid proudly finished off a great wave. And these weren’t little beach breaks. These were point breaks that required a few hundred meters of paddling to get to the wave. It was refreshing to see how much wholesome community surrounded the whole surf scene. It’s hard to imagine how any other country can produce competitive surfers with the support and geography that Australian surfers enjoy. We found ourselves surfing with this community everywhere we went in both sun and rain. The surfers were incredibly friendly and there was no territoriality at these beaches. Great people out for a great time.
We thought the Sydney Zoo was beautiful and it is, but the Australia Zoo in the Sunshine Coast is the nicest Zoo we have ever been to. This is the Zoo that Steve “The Crocodile Hunter” Irwin called his home from childhood until his recent and tragic death. This is his zoo, no mistake about it, and there is the most impressive collection of alligators, crocodiles and reptiles you have ever seen. The birds are incredible as is the Tiger exhibit. There are Koala Exhibits and a Kangaroo area where you just roam around with the little Joeys, petting them and feeding them as you cruise around. The viewing areas are spectacular and it is the cleanest zoo you will ever visit. The zoo features a giant stadium called “The Crocoseum” where they hold shows with snakes, birds and crocodiles. The shows are incredible and fun and the performers (really zoo keepers) show how much they love their work and their animals. In the show we saw, it became incredibly clear why crocodiles have remained off the endangered species list since the days of the dinosaur. They are purpose built for killing things that come near the water. The show lets you see up front and personal how they hunt and how quickly they can kill. The point is also driven home that this is a critter found “in your own backyard” because they end the show giving you tips for ensuring you aren’t the next meal for one of these guys. They tell you “When you’re in the north, stay away from the waters edge!” “NEVER dangle your feet over the water!” “If you go camping, make sure you camp at least 200 meters from the water’s edge”… stuff like this…. Scary!!
On the way to the zoo we found this awesome little carting track that wasn’t really little. It was called the “big track” and it was like being on a real scaled down race course. It was probably about a mile long and had lefts and rights, rises and falls. The carts weren’t super fast, but probably got up to 60kph or so and it seemed that Parkers went faster as he passed all of us at least once.
Christmas in Australia:
Let’s just say that if you’re from the states, it’s plain odd and maybe even wrong having Christmas in the summer. Remember that December and January are summer months in the Southern Hemisphere, and it is warming up, not chillin’ down. The sun is hot, there is no “white Christmas” and there aren’t flocked trees all over the place. You’ll also notice a lack of commercialism that is quite refreshing. It seemed to us that Christmas was more about a summer vacation and a good party than it was about a presents, lights, decorated trees, and a red guy in a suit. Oh, and I guess I should say that there aren’t very many visible churches here in Australia either. Maybe that has something to do with it as well. For our Christmas, we shipped our stockings to Noosa and had a nice little morning with a few Australian gifts, and our stockings filled with funny trinkets and candy. We left to visit Hal, Maria, Nate and Kyle, who took off to the south for the last two weeks of their stay. They moved to another surf town called Lennox Head which is just south of Byron Bay. We drove the 350km or so after opening our stockings and we enjoyed a few festive days and nights with them, surfing in a few spots like Byron Bay, Wategos bay, and Flat Rock. The air and water were unseasonably cold due to the cyclone off the coast, but it made it feel a bit more like Christmas. We spent the evening cooking, eating, drinking and of course watching Anchor Man, that wonderful Christmas film starring Will Farrell.
On the way home from Lennox Head, we drove through the Gold Coast and an area called “Surfers Paradise”. This is a clever name brought about by marketers who know what people who aren’t surfers really want, which apparently is ultra tall high rises, a few theme parks, lots of people close together, and a big beach break. It sure didn’t feel like a surfer’s paradise to us, but the downtown skyline is impressive, sporting the tallest building in the southern hemisphere, which of course got Parker completely stoked. He prefers Surfers paradise over Noosa. Man, does he like tall buildings or what. There is a ton of investment going into this area and no sign of that slowing down. Still, I like the slower pace of Noosa and the Sunshine Coast.
Outback around the corner:
We took a day trip up toward rainbow beach and Frasier Island, the worlds largest sand island. We used a map that wasn’t quite so hot and we found ourselves taking dirt roads and gravel paths for about 50km that were well maintained, but deserted. It is amazing how quickly you end up in the middle of nowhere. Within a 30 minute drive from Sunrise Beach you felt as if you were in the middle of nowhere and you could see rainforest that rolled to the horizon. Even in the Noosa National Park (that lays claim to some of THE best and busiest surf spots I’ve ever seen), you could take a path that would put you in what felt like the middle of nowhere. Griffin and I hiked one morning for a few hours and found a ton of huge skinks and a giant monitor lizard in the brush right next to the path. This was only 5km from our house. In this same park we saw Koalas just hanging around and sleeping in the trees. Hard to believe.
A cyclone settled off the north eastern coast of Australia and kicked up, *gulp*, 15 to 20 foot swells and the waves have been insane for a few days and will be until we leave. The swells have grown from one meter to 6 meters (yes 6 meters today) and it is something to behold. The wind is also blowing at about 30-50 knots. In the USA an approaching cyclone would mean evacuate and head inland. In Australia it means “Great Surf! Let’s get out there”. And out there they went. The swells are ballooning to 18 feet today and folks are in the water. In front of our House it is impossible and almost certain death to go out, even for the best, but the points are “going off “ and there are hundreds of people in the water.
Carol and I went out to surf on the 28th but didn’t go out. We backed off for three reasons. 1st, there were 100 people in the water every 100 meters surfing around each other; 2nd, Carol had a lesson at 11:15 and she didn’t want to be burned out by the morning session, and 3rd it was just to hairy. We took some pictures of the insanity for your pleasure. We saw some great waves and some great crashes too.
Carol took a lesson on this day which in itself was kind of crazy, but she had scheduled it, and they said “No Worries, the lesson is on!” The first bullet in the list of reasons to take lessons from the surf school reads: “Safe! - Noosa is the safest surf beach in Queensland. Learn in safe, soft, gentle waves in waist deep water with your coach right next to you”. Man, that is some comforting text, isn’t it? So carol takes her lesson at Noosa and the waves were breaking at about 13 feet in a giant ripping wall. There was a slight right break, but it was so fast, that only pros dared to go out. What a great day for a lesson! Within the first 5 minutes of her lesson, the instructor had to abandon her to save some swimmers that were caught in a nasty rip and were being sucked out to sea. Damn, this is good fun! This kept happening because the instructor could tell when a surfer or boarder was about to get over their head, and sure enough in a few minutes, someone else needed saving. Carol cut the lesson short – but said he was a great instructor and she learned some important tips to get her to the next level.
The waves were so big, they “closed” the beaches, which means the lifeguards stop patrolling it and just say the beach is closed. If you’re puzzled, you’re not alone, but I think they spell “beach closed” L-I-M-I-T O-U-R L-I-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y.
Later in the day, in front of our house in Sunrise where the swells were breaking outside of the shark nets, (which means probably 20 foot waves) we saw two Kiteboarders in the water. They were taking on the 50knot winds and just jamming north on the coast. I heard Carol scream “Oh my god” and I looked down to my right and a 3rd kite boarder (This is no joke) was sailing through the air at least 20 meters or so in the sky and he was in the air for 100 meters just screaming along. We couldn’t believe it. This guy made the X-Games extreme air competition look like a white guy high jumping contest. I guess this is what the Australians (or at least Queenslanders) do when they get told a cyclone approaches. The cyclone is supposed to continue to affect the surf for four more days and the wind is expected to continue to howl. I guess we’ll see more antics. Oooooo….. Kiteboarding…. More about that later…]