A brief Brisbane stopover was on order so we could organise a million things – bureaucratic and otherwise, many of which required unearthing ‘stuff’ from our large storage unit where our worldly goods are stacked wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling. Unsurprisingly, the retrieval of said items wasn’t much fun at all, much like the government processes they were required for.
But stuff got done in the end. We also found a reasonably suitable mountain bike for the bloke, and sold our beloved road bikes (to make up for the financial shortfall after the theft of our new mountain bikes), but did so with heavy hearts – and with a tear in the eye as far as the bloke was concerned. He didn’t much like the separation from his fancy race bike.
There was also the matter of the new water pump which the bloke installed with aplomb, electrics and all. Moreover, he did so without resorting to colourful language. This rarely happens when there are tools involved.
When all the ‘city stuff’ was done we thanked our lucky stars and high-tailed it towards Noosa for a beach breather. Having spent a couple of holidays in the wider area previously, we didn’t feel the need for further exploration which suited us fine, I finished my work project and we chilled.
Hervey Bay – for those of us who don’t like the deep end
We made our way to Fraser Coast’s Hervey Bay, which we’d been looking forward to. The massive bay flanked by Fraser Island – the world’s largest sand island – seemed a great spot to stay a while.
Hervey Bay itself is an accumulation of various seaside villages that seem to have grown into one another over the years, now resembling a sizeable, if low-rise, foreshore development that stretches over 10 km, surrounded by vast suburban areas.
We had thought about popping over to Fraser Island, for a play in the sand, but reconsidered when we found out that the ferry fee for our vehicle was $290 for a 10 minute return trip (plus obligatory vehicle and camping permits for the island). And just like that, the island lost its lustre. The mainland was just fine. Besides, the bloke assured me that there’s plenty more sand where we’re going, and it’s all free.
All in all, Hervey Bay was pleasant stop-over with an abundance of easy spots to stay around the foreshore. It’s also the destination of choice for scores of Humpback whales who use the marine park as a maternity ward cum nursery. They come here in their droves from the Southern Ocean to hibernate and to calve. Tourism is massively geared towards this and is a major income earner for the region. All the same I should add that while we were there, business seemed very slow and punters were largely absent. Not sure if it’s just a particularly slow shoulder season or if it’s indeed an indication of the downward tourism trend that’s often bandied about. In any case, it sure wasn’t bustling and it actually made us feel slightly awkward strolling past utterly deserted bars, restaurants and cafes at the glitzy end of town – guilt almost overcame us, as if we should at least have a couple of drinks for charity. But in light of the large number of worthy charities, we refrained in consideration of our liver and our travel budget.
What also surprised us about Hervey Bay was the vast shallow beach that seemed to go on forever and never really got deeper. All the Fraser Coast Tourism advertisements with photos of happy people frolicking in knee-deep water suddenly made sense. I reckon you’d get tired of wading through the water (or running as the cheerful people in the photos always do) before you’d get anywhere near waist-deep water. On the up-side, it makes for a supremely safe swimming experience. The only health hazard I could detect would be the likelihood of chafing yourself on the sandy bottom while trying to get in a couple of breaststrokes.
When we got to Toogoom the tidal beach was even more dramatic. At low tide, the coast actually looked as if somebody had pulled the plug from the ocean. The lapping water disappeared at a rate of knots and ended up somewhere on the horizon.
Toogoom, by the way, is a sleepy nest just up the road from Hervey Bay. The name means “Place of rest” which is very apt. It has a seriously chilled vibe. The only noise comes from the large bird population that inhabits the wetlands in the surrounding a river system and foreshore.
It’s a paradise for nature aficionados and appears to have been overlooked in the recent property boom. No evidence of McMansions and new cheesy subdivisions, instead it features modest but well-maintained homes in established neighbourhoods, with only a small proportion of holiday properties.
Apart from a boat ramp, a groovy café cum bakery and a restaurant-bar, there was not much else, and that was just fine. To be fair, there’s actually also a caravan park but I’m still unconvinced that it’s for real. At first glance I thought it was somebody’s idea of a joke. It is the same size as neighbouring residential properties, doesn’t seem to have any typical amenities and has an appeal that is more “Adams Family” than “Serenity Caravan Park”.
Not that we’d be looking in caravan parks, of course. Seeing we’ve got our own self-contained set-up, we’re happiest when we can live in accordance with our ‘bush camping philosophy’. In Toogum we had a camping spot, right by the water’s edge adjacent to a nature reserve. It gave us a nice view of the river mouth and allowed us to watch scores of various water birds, including a sea eagle. His perch was atop a tree skeleton barely a few metres away from us, from where he surveyed his lunch-to-be.
A prickly encounter
In a similar vein, I’d been eyeing up a cactus that was laden with crimson fruit. I remembered from experiences in Turkey and the Canary Islands that the fruit was quite tasty. Clearly this was the perfect opportunity to rekindle my culinary memory and I was already getting excited with ideas of how to prepare and serve it. For a brief moment I also wondered why the fruit hadn’t been picked given that it was on a popular beach reserve, but didn’t think further about it.
I had a vague memory of the fruit being prickly buggers, never mind the mean spikes on the cactus itself. So, I asked the bloke if he fancied panna cotta with cactus fruit syrup. Turns out he would, but not if it involves handling the fruit.
Armed with my intrepid sense for culinary adventure, I grabbed my leather work gloves (you can’t ever be too well equipped!) and set off to gather the plentiful fruit which proved an interesting experience – chiefly because my rational mind must have been on holiday somewhere at that particular time. That’s the only possible explanation I can think of, otherwise I surely would have realised that cactus spikes puncture leather gloves with ease … and leave painful and deep wounds. Oh, and I might have also considered that it’s foolish to think I could peel cactus fruit without getting prickles stuck in me.
What started as a good idea, ended with countless prickles all over my fingers and hands, not to mention a bruised ego. It might only be due to my genetic mental condition (the bloke calls it “bloody mindedness”) that I actually finished making the syrup, before I started feeling sorry for myself.
For the next few days I winced every time my hands touched anything at all, giving somebody plenty to laugh about.
As for the bloody syrup, it’s still bottled in the fridge. Reckon it will stay there for a while. I will need to be free of prickles before I can stomach that particular desert. We’ll probably be well north of Bundaberg by then.