Island retreats

By Georgi Fogarty, University of Queensland

 

Arguably the most attractive part of moving from Manchester to Australia for a year is the great weather and beautiful beaches. So after being away for a grand total of ten months, in May I finally took a weekend off work and visited the largest beachy attraction closest to Brisbane that I knew of – Stradbroke Island. To be honest, it completely amazed me that it had taken me ten months to get here in the first place seeing as it’s around 3 hours door to door and it was one of the first things that inspired me to do a year abroad in the first place; an extremely fond memory of mine is first talking to an exchange student from the University of Queensland at the Manchester Go Abroad fair all those many moons ago in October 2016, and she told me that at the weekend she’d take a break from assignments and go to her closest island to sunbathe and watch dolphins swim. Who doesn’t want that? Me, apparently – after having my sights set on this magical mystical place for so long as a large part of my motivation to get to Brisbane, it had taken me a grand total of nearly a year to get there. Regardless, it finally happened!

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Celebrating getting our act together

Getting to Stradbroke Island involved a free weekend, a bus to the centre of the city, a train to the coast and then a ferry over to the island. This is probably the same effort, distance and price as getting from Fallowfield to the Peak District, but with sun instead of sleet and koalas (cliché but true) instead of rabbits. When I initially formed an image in my mind of the second largest sand island in the world, I was drawn to images of beautiful but desolate open and untouched spaces surrounded by nothing but sea. This was all true, with the edition of a few sparsely dotted hostels, bottle shops, restaurants and a boules club. So after checking into a cosy youth hostel on the north coast, we settled in for a long, hard day of soaking up the toasty autumn sun on the beach, still going strong at 25 degrees. The hostel was a classic surfer’s hostel, with sand in every crevice and a few battered acoustic guitars that had probably seen a lifetime of being played ‘Wonderwall’ on around a campfire on the beach, which was a very handy 20 metres away.

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The long, long walk from hostel to beach.

The beach is an endless stretch of white sand bordered with palm trees and shrub on one side and an extremely blue ocean on the other, straight out of a travel brochure. The colour of the sea honestly looked artificial, but the temperature was perfect and we spent a long sunny afternoon splashing around in the surf and playing cricket on the beach. It was hell. At dusk, we headed a little further round the coast to Stradbroke’s main attraction, the north gorge walk. This is a long, wooden board walk that spans a stretch of the cliffs around the north coast, and is definitely the place to be for sun set. From our high vantage point on the cliffs, we were also given a front row seat to huge leatherback turtles, manta rays and dolphins below us which was spectacular.

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The view from the highest point of the gorge walk

The Australian nature cliché didn’t end there though as heading slightly back inland we passed a dozen kangaroos (including bonus point of a mother with a Joey in her pouch!), wild koalas and as it got slightly darker, hundreds of bats.

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Poor quality picture, high quality experience

The sunset was easily one of the best I’ve ever seen, and we headed back to the hostel with rose tinted goggles feeling drunk on the wholesomeness of the day we’d just experienced. It’s easy to forget that it is actually autumn now on this side of the hemisphere when the days are still so warm, so the 10 degree lows of the night came as a bit of a shock. We managed to overcome this fairly quickly though by hoarding blankets from our hostel and huddling together on the beach for a pretty remarkable astronomical display.

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The next day consisted of similarly wholesome activities; sunbathing, surfing (which I discovered I am terrible at) and very sadly saying goodbye to the island. However, not for long; I plan to return at least once before I leave to make up for 10 months of lost time! But for now it’s back to daydreaming about dolphins in between assignments.

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