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Finally (!) Leaving Port Douglas

My morning routine has been roughly the same ever since I arrived in Australia nearly two months ago (and in New Zealand two months before that).  I get up every morning around 7 a.m., turn on my laptop computer, load an MP3 album (usually Jann Arden's "Living Under June") and hop in the shower, then I get dressed and check my e-mail.  You would think that after listening to "Living Under June" for 120 straight mornings I might get tired of it.  But Jann's a terrific singer and her voice reminds me of home, so her album has become like an old friend.  I get occasional pangs of homesickness over here, and especially in the mornings for some reason, so listening to American music (well, Canadian music in Jann's case) every morning after I get up helps assuage those feelings.


Here's Jann Arden singing one of the songs I listen to every morning to remind me of home.  This is Insensitive.


I packed up my gear during my last morning in Port Douglas while listening to "Living Under June" once again and an hour later I walked into the lobby of the Lazy Lizard motel, checked out, and said goodbye to Geoff, the good-humored owner.  After spending eight days at the Lazy Lizard, I figured Geoff thought I'd never leave.  He was sorry to see me go, actually, and as I handed him my key, he asked, "Del, are you a writer?"  I said no and explained that I'd been cooped up in my room at the Lazy Lizard to get my website caught up after spending the last three weeks driving across the Outback.  I gave him one of my DelsJourney travel cards with my website address and told him to check it out someday and keep in touch, and he bid me farewell with a cheery wave.


I hopped in the Camry and, after saying goodbye to Port Douglas, my wonderful home for the past eight days, I headed south on Highway 1.  The next time I visit Australia I'm not sure where I'll go exactly, but I do hope to come back to Port Douglas and stay at the Lazy Lizard again.


The morning was warm and sunny as I drove south through Cairns and on towards Townsville.  A couple hours after leaving Port Douglas I passed through the cute coastal town of Tully, which has the distinction of being the wettest city in Australia.  People think of Australia as being a very dry continent and most of it is.  But the northeastern part of the country is very tropical and gets oodles of rainfall, most of which falls between October and April (i.e., now).  Tully gets the most of all, averaging 160 inches a year.  That's over 13 feet of rain, or more than one foot a month.  After doing the math and thinking about all the time I had lived on the soggy Oregon coast, which averages "only" 80 inches a year, I was glad that I didn't live in Tully.


Above:  The cast of McLeod's Daughters, my favorite Aussie TV show.  Gee, can you tell why?  Yep, it's just your "typical" Outback family!

I continued down the highway that afternoon and pulled into the phonetically-challenged city of Ayr late in the day.  Ayr is a city of about 5,000 folks that's surrounded by endless fields of sugar cane, which is a major crop here on the northeastern coast.  I'm guessing that Ayr has the distinction of having the shortest name of any city in the world (no, Oz doesn't count).


After checking into a cheap motel, I strolled around town and discovered that Ayr, despite missing several potentially-viable consonants, is a pretty nice place.  It was very lively after sunset, with hundreds of folks out and about, strolling up and down the main street, most of whom were decked out in shorts and t-shirts while savoring the warm weather.  I got a large pizza in downtown Ayr for only five bucks, my first pizza since leaving the U.S. in December, then I brought it back to my motel room and enjoyed it immensely while watching what has become my favorite Aussie TV show, McLeod's Daughters.


McLeod's Daughters, In case you've never seen it, is a campy Australian TV drama about a family of four beautiful young women who live on a ranch in the Outback.  Like a lot of things Australian, it's admittedly a bit sexist by American standards, so I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I got hooked on it when I was in New Zealand back in December.  In fact, it's become my Wednesday night addiction these last four months, no matter where I might be.  Despite the sexist overtones (or perhaps because of them), McLeod's Daughters is hugely popular here and is one of the highest-rated TV shows in Australia. 


I'd mentioned the show to an Aussie guy in Port Douglas a week earlier and and he smiled and said, "I've been to the Outback a lot and I've never seen women like that there."  Neither have I, mate.  But who cares?



Above left:  Ready to hit the road after a week in Port Douglas.  This is the front seat of my Camry, well-equipped with my Lonely Planet Guide, maps, two cameras,  camcorder, MP3 player – and a steering wheel on the "wrong" side.

Above center:  My first stop was the Australian Sugar Museum near Innisfail.  As you probably know, I have a strange affinity for food museums.

Above right:  The Sugar Museum's self-guided tour was, um, sweet.



Above left:  Looking north near Ingham.

Above center:  I spent a night in Ayr, a pleasant town in the heart of sugar cane country.  This town was really hopping, even after sunset.

Above right:  Quite possibly the world's largest mango, near Bowen.

An Easter Weekend in Airlie Beach

The next morning, my Camry and I left Ayr and continued heading south down Highway 1, bound for the like-sounding town of Airlie Beach.  Driving in Australia is very different than driving in the U.S. because, among other things, most folks here don't drive faster than the posted speed limit, something I still haven't gotten used to.  If the sign says 100 k.p.h. (62 miles an hour), just about everyone travels 90 to 100 k.p.h. and hardly anyone drives faster.  Of course, back in the U.S., speed limits are more like "suggested" speeds and no one actually drives at the posted speed limit. 


That difference isn't surprising, though, because Australians are generally more law-abiding than Americans and more considerate towards each other, one of many things I like about this country.  The speed limit issue reflects something I've noticed here:  a greater concern for the communal good as compared to the U.S., where most people are just out for themselves while showing little concern for their neighbor.  It's one of many ways in which I wish American were more like Aussies.


Above:  Airlie Beach is the jumping off point for the Whitsunday Islands.  Though a bit touristy, it's a pretty nice town – and a good place to spend an Easter weekend.

This was the Thursday afternoon of Easter Weekend, which is a major four-day holiday in Australia.  And when I say major, I mean MAJOR.  Easter weekend in Australia is even bigger than Memorial Day or Labor Day weekend back in the U.S.  If you've been reading my website, you know that the biggest problem I had in New Zealand was visiting during their two-month summer holiday season, when everyone and their grandmother was out on the highways.  So with visions of that congested New Zealand experience dancing through my head, I was thankful to find a motel room that afternoon in Airlie Beach, which, as I learned, is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the entire country.  


Although it is a bit touristy, Airlie Beach is a pretty nice place, something like a small version of Key West, Florida, given its tropical setting.  There really isn't much of a beach here, however, and what little beach there is, you need to be careful of this time of year because of the "stingers," or deadly box jellyfish (see News:  March 25, 2001).  There's nothing like stepping on a box jellyfish to ruin your day.  A guy here had stepped on one a few days earlier and died, and a week before that another tourist got stung by one and she died too.  Yep, don't mess with stingers in northern Australia.


Airlie Beach is probably best known, though, for being the jumping-off point for a beautiful archipelago just offshore called the Whitsunday Islands, so-named by Captain James Cook back in the 1700s who sailed through them on Whitsunday (a religious holiday).  Well, he THOUGHT it was Whitsunday, but because he had unknowingly crossed the International Date Line earlier in his trip, it was actually, um, Whitmonday.  The Whitsundays are a beautiful group of islands, though, which I'll describe in more detail in my next update.


I unpacked at my motel room, then drove into Airlie Beach and walked around for about an hour.  Like I say, it's really a great little town.  Like Key West, Florida, it's a tropical town that's both a bit lively and a bit laid-back, and is drenched with lots of sun.  What made it even nicer was that, for some reason, it was packed with hundreds of beautiful young women.  I strolled down the main street while passing endless groups of tanned, bikini-clad vixens, feeling like I'd stepped onto another planet, especially after traveling across the estrogen-challenged Outback.  After traveling across the desert for three weeks and seeing very few women there, I now realized where Australia was hiding all of them.  But of course, I didn't stare.  Right out of a Beach Boys song, there were literally "two girls for every boy" (actually three girls) here and it was that way all weekend, everywhere I went.  But I'm not complaining.  


Above:  Trying to play a didgeridoo (or don't) in Mick’s shop in Airlie Beach.

Another thing that reminded me of Key West was the unfortunate abundance of kitschy t-shirt shops here.  Well, no, there aren't QUITE as many here as in Key West, where just about every other shop on Duval Street has a big sign outside that screams "Three t-shirts for $10!!"  But there are a lot of them.


I strolled into a t-shirt shop and chuckled at one of the shirts that was prominently displayed there, reflecting the risquι Australian sense of humor.  The shirt featured a humorous comparison between women's chests and various kinds of fruits and had a dozen comical drawings of topless women with the name of the appropriate fruit underneath, such as "Watermelons," "Cherries" "Bananas," and so forth.  I'm fairly modest and blushed a bit when I saw it, and would never wear something like that.  But I thought my dad would get a laugh, so I bought it for him as a gag gift.  He's pretty modest, too, and would never wear something like that, either, but I figured he might chuckle.


You probably wouldn't find a provocative t-shirt like that in any shop in the U.S., probably not even in Key West.  But Australia, to be frank, and as I mentioned above, is a bit more sexist and less politically correct than the U.S.  Some Americans might find that refreshing while others would find it unsettling, but like it or not, that's the way it is here.


While continuing my stroll through sunny downtown Airlie Beach, I popped into an Aboriginal shop, wandered past a hundred didgeridoos, and chatted with a cheerful guy there named Mick.  After seeing me eye a didgeridoo, Mick suggested that I try to play it.  He didn't need to twist my arm because I've been curious about didgeridoos ever since I saw "Crocodile Dundee."  I'm not much of a musician, however, and proved it in my futile attempt to play one.  The trick, as Mick told me, is to put your lips together and blow like you're blowing bubbles in water.  Playing a didge is a lot harder than it looks, though.  In fact, in my case, it was a didgeridon’t.



Above left:  Unpacking in my motel room in Airlie Beach.

Above right:  After getting caught up with some e-mails in my room, I headed down to the beach.



Above left:  Those darn stingers are everywhere.    

Above right:  Palm trees on Airlie Beach.  As I discovered (twice, in fact), this is a great place to eat fish and chips in the evening while watching the beautiful sunset.



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