By Karl Vikat (University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia).
Lightly sparse news on the blog lately, times have been really busy, but I have been able to collect some notes and reminisce about the last month in the process, so that hopefully you’ll get a good feeling of what’s been going on.
The first weeks were loaded with socializing and meeting a great number of fellow exchange students and local Aussies. I spent the Sochi ice-hockey finals surrounded by a sea of red, joyous Canadians, celebrating a double threepeat with their women and men both winning gold to a tune of ‘O Canada’.
On the second weekend I finally got a look outside the city into close by Gold Coast, Surfer’s Paradise; Essentially the surfer’s hub, with a sand strip as far as the eye can see, reaching all the way to neighbouring Gold Coast (the city) and beyond. At Surfers’, we spent the day on the beach, rejoicing from the warm ocean waters and the surf breaking along the coastline.
In the afternoon, shortly before we were leaving, a triple rainbow over the Pacific Ocean emerged for a minute. Although imprinted in our memories, none of us had a lense wide enough to capture the mystical triad. Also, the cloud cover by then couldn’t do much to prevent the foreseeable consequence of not applying my sunscreen generously enough – yes, clearly I do understand now why Australians are so serious about it. In terms of our return; it is a quite convenient feature of trips into the well-connected area around Brisbane, that once you have done your daily bus trips to uni during the week, trips on the weekend are free.
In ‘O-week’ I had to sit through the standard introductory talks, however, since it’s Australia, they we’re spiced up with references to seriously deadly minuscule beings – spiders, jellyfish, frogs, snakes. Good to know that there is a jellyfish, the size of the thumbnail, whose sting will cause you two weeks of intense pain, that all the morphine in the world can’t soothe. Of course, we were also made aware of the red-yellow flag rule. Taking into account the considerable force the pull of the waves exert that I got to experience first-hand in Surfer’s Paradise, one might want to refrain from swimming out into the ocean with no lifeguard in sight. After all, these are some of the sweetest spots to work in that profession, so the competition should guarantee that your life is in good hands, as long as you mind the flags.
The week after, I headed out to North Stradbrooke Island, the second largest sand island in the world, located in Moreton Bay. Just a couple hours from Brisbane, we took the ferry over the bay to ‘Straddie’ and found ourselves a misty and humid sight, with the intense green of the rainforest shining over the island in a light drizzle. Its location off the coast and open to the winds of the ocean gives it a distinct climate, its refreshing morning coolness being particularly appreciated coming from still scorching Brisbane.
Whereas on arrival, Friday, we had to recharge our batteries by spending some time strolling and relaxing on the beach, recovering from the week behind us, the weekend was filled with veritable marches across the island.
Still, on Friday evening we headed out to Point Lookout, the northern tip of the island, where water has been lashing against rocks for millennia, carving out gorges and a coastline of smooth rocks.
In the surrounding forest, I first got to see kangaroos – we had previously mocked the seemingly misleading brochures at the hostel, picturing kangaroos and koalas, doubting we would see any on the island.
Considering that if they have not been brought over here by humans, these families must have had innumerable ancestors living off the same land here for eons. It was great seeing them grazing, hopping and even boxing (!) in the wild, before encountering their lazy counterparts in the zoo.
On Saturday, we made our way up sandy hills and parts of forest that were draped in the black of charcoal due to bushfires that had ravaged the island in January, to a rather peculiar lake. Bummeira, or Brown Lake, is a freshwater lake whose water sports a particularly smooth quality and brown colour. Surrounded by tea trees, their leaves sicker through on to the ground, and paint the water a distinct bronze.
After a swim and an invigorating meal of our weekend staple, roasted bread, and luxurious barbeque chicken we decided to call it a day and make our way back to finish the day off at the beach. We saved about 2h30 of what would have been a strenuous return journey, had it not been for a helpful local, himself still jetlagged from a recent journey to the Czech Republic, giving us a lift to the city alongside his crossbreed whelp. The following morning, when hiking to Amity Point, the first (and originally failed) European settlement on the island on Sunday, we had less luck than previously with fauna sighting and came across a dead koala on our path, who, it seemed, had just recently held on to the wrong branch and suffered a fatal fall. His relative, well and alive, dubbed Stevie by a fellow hiker-group who had also set out from our hostel and spotted him, unfortunately remained out of our sight in the treetops.
Back on the mainland, the usual weekend breakdown of train services struck us, yet, for those of you who might plan to head to Brissy yourself, you should know that this isn’t a problem. The price is the highest per-capita carbon footprint in the world, but you get an express service taking about one third of the time you would spend in the train, by a good-spirited bus driver and in good company.
So, that’s the travel so far, in the next post you’re going to get the full academic update.