"Arctracer" Letters

Polly's Visit to Australia, Jan-Feb 2005

Polly arrived in Brisbane on the 10th of January at the Brisbane airport, exhausted and disoriented after flights of seemingly endless discomfort. She had a slight bronchial infection and pale skin, but the switch from winter in New Hampshire to summer in Australia should cure those. Although Polly was tired after her long trip we went on a 3-hour walk in the evening to the South Bank and its arbor which has bougainvillaea growing up the arches. She likes the lush green parks, palm trees, flowers in bloom, and wearing summer clothes. We walked through the Botanical Gardens near the boat and saw a variety of Australian gum (eucalyptus) trees, many Australian birds, hundreds of flying foxes that fly there each evening, and a possum in a tree just after dusk. We were all amazed that Polly was able to stay awake and be active until 9 p.m. at night after a 30+ hour trip from Boston.

The following day we were ashore for more than 9 hours. We bought day tickets to use Brisbane's public transportation - buses, trains, and ferries - to explore more of the area. After taking a bus to Mt. Coot-tha for a 360 degree view of the city and its surrounding mountains, we walked through a eucalyptus forest to the planetarium and another botanical garden. Nina was keen to find the largest flying fox colony in Queensland so we walked through a huge mall, had "smoothies" (thick fruity milkshakes) from a "New Zealand Naturally" ice cream stand and wandered until we found the bus to the bat colony area. Finally on the bus, we saw no signs to the bat colony, decided that we were too tired to explore the huge gardens and stayed on the bus for a ride back to the city. As we approached the city we saw a "City Cat" stop on the Brisbane River and switched to the 'cat' for a nice tour of the river all the way to its southern-most stop - much faster than a tour in our 'cat' would be.

We relaxed for the next couple of days - going to our favorite email cafe, writing postcards, doing a little "tourist" shopping, checking for mail at the post office, reserving a rental car for a week, and reserving a campsite at Lamington National Park on the Queensland/New South Wales border. We bought tents, had our sailmaker/canvas-maker cruising friends on board to measure partially finished pieces, and had Peter and Kathryn from the schooner "Arctracer" over for pizza. We read lots of tourist information to make informed decisions about how to spend our vacation time with Polly and packed two dinghy loads of "stuff" to take camping.

On the 14th of January we traded a bottle of wine for a couple of trips in a motorized dinghy with all our gear so that we wouldn't have to leave our dinghy at the dinghy dock for a week (where it might get smashed against the pier by all the wakes from the ferries and other boats continually traversing the river). Jerry, experienced in driving on the left sides of Australia's roads, picked up the car at Hertz while Polly and Nina guarded all the equipment that had been taken ashore. By 9:15 we were on our way out of the city and by 11 we had a cart full of groceries in Nerang. We noticed that many people with horses were advertising "horse poo" for sale for $2 per bag. Later we saw some bags beside a sign, so now know how much we could have bought for that price. In Canungra we had "Queensland's best" meat pies before driving up the mountain to our campground on the west side of Lamington National Park. Our tents were pitched by 2 p.m. and we were ready to explore a couple of short walks in the area. We walked 4.6 km on the Morans Falls trail where we saw the pied butcherbird, the white-browed woodswallow, some logrunners (birds) and pademelons (smallish marsupials related to the wallaby and kangaroo). We also heard the Eastern Whipbird and the Green Catbird with their very distinguishable calls. With energy to spare we then walked the 3.4 km Python Rock trail. We were delighted to watch an Albert's Lyrebird on our return. Australia has two kinds of lyrebirds with wonderful tails and now we've seen them both - one in NSW in 2001. There were numerous tall, huge buttress trees and strangler fig trees on these walks and we never tire of seeing them. At dinner time we had a purple-gaped honey-eater very interested in our food and saw colorful red and blue crimson rosellas (parrots).

The following day we surprised ourselves by completing a 28.3 km (17 mile!?) walk through the beautiful rainforest at Lamington. Nina didn't know that she could accomplish that in 8.5 hours. Some of the things we encountered were birds: king parrots, crimson rosellas, brush turkeys, Eastern yellow robins, wampoo pigeons, rufus fantails, and a noisy pitta. We also saw a neat hanging nest, piccabeen palms, a tree looking like a poinsettia but later identified as a brush mahogany tree, a land mullet - brown and slimy looking (we think it is a kind of skink), Lamington spiny crays with beautiful blue and white shells, many beautifully colored butterflies, and 5 named waterfalls. Polly will always remember this particular walk for the 30+ leeches that she suddenly discovered on her legs during the afternoon rain. Unfortunately we were all walking at different rates and she was alone when she saw them. Jerry was the only one who had insect repellent with DEET to keep them at bay. Luckily he wasn't far behind her and came to the rescue. We arrived back at the tent site, cold and with raincoats on only to discover that we'd been on the rainy side of the mountain and that there had been sun at the campground all day. After hot showers and a hot meal we all felt much better. Upon laying down in the tent, Jerry discovered that it was not long enough for him - the trials and tribulations of a cheap tent?? Also, we both realized how much we appreciate the thick mattress on our bed as the thin sleeping mats proved to be quite uncomfortable.

The following day we were a little stiff, but within half an hour of walking the stiffness left us and we were ready for the 21 km Albert River Circuit. We walked up past O'Reilly's Resort where Crimson Rosellas and King Parrots sat on our heads, shoulders and hands hoping to be fed, went on the "treetop walk" of raised boardwalks and ladders that went up into a huge rainforest tree with two different lookouts at different heights, and walked through the botanical gardens. We saw many large trees including coachwood trees, black booyong trees with pronounced buttressing, brush mahogany trees, and Antarctic beeches. We saw some different birds including the white-browed scrub hen and the gray fantail. The river circuit was not used as frequently as the trail we took the previous day. There were many more trees across the path and we had some detours. We passed three named waterfalls and crossed the river over slippery moss-covered rocks in several places. At a lookout in the afternoon we saw two ships out at sea beyond the distant skyscrapers of the touristy Queensland Gold Coast. We arrived back at O'Reilly's gift shop just before it closed at 5 p.m. Polly treated us to a bottle of wine to aid our tired bodies. Again, we were very appreciative of the campground's free hot showers. We had now walked on all the open trails in the area so were ready to move to the other side of the park to explore more of the wonderful rainforest.

About 8:30 am on January 17 our tents were packed in the car. We checked for messages on our Iridium phone. It can be charged with a car's cigarette lighter plug, and kept us in touch with John at the South Pole. We visited the kiosk of the National Parks Center and learned more about the park and its flora and fauna before heading back to Coulandra and the Binna Burra side of Lamington. We saw some different birds again - the Eastern Bristlebird, a brown cuckoo dove, a satin browerbird who collects anything of blue color to decorate its nest on the ground, and the willy wagtail. Polly recorded the call of the bell minor on her tiny Ipod. We saw a red-necked pademelon and a kangaroo. In Coulandra we bought stove fuel, petrol for the rental car and more groceries. We were ecstatic when Jerry saw hundreds of flying foxes hanging in trees near the road and stopped to observe them and take photos. Nina no longer needed to find the largest flying fox colony in Queensland. After setting up our tents at the Binna Burra campsite we experienced some quite strong winds and the trees were really bending. This was one of the first times that we heard Polly remark that we'd undoubtedly be living on the boat for a long time to come. We guess she was amazed that we are afraid of trees and not the seas that we sometimes encounter with the same winds. This campground had picnic tables under roofs, while the first campground had no picnic tables or rain shelters. We chose a good time to change campgrounds as the rain came and we all got rather cold. Polly, bravely, took a walk to keep warm (under the swaying trees with their branches occasionally falling to the ground) while Jerry and Nina read under the shelter of the roof and continued to get colder and colder. It was Polly to the rescue when she offered to take us out to dinner for fish and chips at the Lamington Tea House. The food and warmth revived us and we slept well.

On the 18th we took a 15 km walk which we found easy after our previous walks. In our Queensland National Parks bushwalk book we read that koalas were sometimes seen on this "Cave Walk." After looking skyward for an hour or so we finally saw a koala resting in an elbow of a tree. During the day we saw many of the birds we'd seen before plus a sulphur-crested cockatoo and more pademelons. On the trail to Gwongoorool Pool we were lucky to see a large lace monitor lizard, but unlucky to find a few leeches on us. We quickly sprayed on more DEET. We saw a blue-eyed eel in the pool at the end of our descent. We walked to the Bellbird Lookout, but learned there are no longer bellbirds in the area. From there we took a trail which was not marked on our maps and found several tourists at the "flying fox zip." Polly decided to "zip" along the wire, high off the ground, with the aid of the people running the operation. In an open field there we saw several pademelons and the bower of the satin bowerbird surrounded with lots of blue bottle caps, blue straws, blue thread, etc. which he had gathered to attract a mate. Seven and a half hours after starting our walk we were back at the campground for hot showers and a hot meal cooked under the shelter. We talked with a young German who had been travelling in Australia for 5 months and was about ready to head for Sydney and then Thailand.

On January 19th we took our last hike at Binna Burra - a 17.5 km walk on the Coomera Circuit. It was neat to see a baby pademelon with its mother and some huge, twisted vines. Again a few leeches found their way to our legs, but they were discouraged with tea tree oil and insect repellent. The Coomera Gorge (160 meters deep) had many amazing waterfalls, the tallest falling 64 meters. There were so many named waterfalls that we lost count of them! We went through several types of forests and grasslands, saw a large skink, tea trees, and pine trees of a different variety than ours (unusual after seeing all the eucalyptus and rainforest trees). After crossing the river 13 times on slippery rocks we finally saw an Eastern whipbird whose distinctive "whip-like" call we had heard often. We also saw a masked woodswallow for the first time. We were 'stung' by "lawyer vines" a few times and learned to beware of those near the track. They really catch the skin and stay attached until you dislodge them. The Joalah lookout over the Wonggunba Valley was quite spectacular. (Many Aboriginal names have been kept for places here in Australia.) This night we ate at a different table with a view towards the Gold Coast. Polly got flash photos of a resident brush-tailed possum after dark.

The next morning we packed up all our gear, left the park, and then saw our first kookaburras since Polly's arrival. We'd heard them several times, but they were elusive. We collected some messages on our Iridium phone on our way. We stopped at the Gold Coast to experience Surfer's Paradise with its wonderful white-sand beaches that extend for miles, its many surfers and beachgoers, and its numerous skyscrapers. Polly found a didjeridoo that she couldn't leave in a shop specializing in Aboriginal paraphernalia. It is a genuine one of the eucalyptus iron bark which was made hollow by termites, then cleaned so that it could be exported overseas. After leaving the Gold Coast, we visited Pelican Slipway to see about hauling the boat out of the water after our return to Australia from the States. It is in dire need of new bottom paint! Jerry liked the place so we now plan to be taken out of the water on their railway on March 21st. On our way back to the boat we explored the Koala Bushland Conservation Area at Daisy Hill Forest Park. We spent a short time before dark walking on trails with our heads looking up into the eucalyptus, but had no luck sighting koalas. Back at the Brisbane Botanical Gardens, Peter on the schooner "Arctracer" took Jerry back to our "Arctracer" to get our dinghy. Peter also took a huge load of our camping gear, saving Jerry a couple of trips against strong current and wind.

We spent the next few days in Brisbane taking care of business, collecting mail and dealing with it, collecting email, doing laundry, naming the many digital photos taken by Polly and Jerry, making phone calls, celebrating our 121st month of marriage on the 21st of January with fresh flowers, shrimp scampi and stuffed mushrooms, and going to a 5-day used book sale at the huge Brisbane Convention Center on three of the days it was there. We bought over 200 used books for as little as 20 cents and as much as $8 each. We had so many books to carry the first day that we took a taxi back to our dinghy. We all did a fair amount of reading and relaxing. Our cruising friends finished some of the sewing they were doing for us and installed the finished products - side protection in the cockpit and new plastic cockpit forward windows. Polly and Nina walked around some of the Sunday markets and read more about possible activities for the remainder of her time here in Australia. While camping Nina lost a filling. She had a terrible experience with an incompetent dentist recommended by the information center here in the center of Brisbane, and still doesn't have a new filling. We collected rain water on rainy days, bought groceries each day and had dinner on board.

The 26th of January is Australia Day, celebrated for the arrival of the First Fleet at Botany Bay near Sydney in 1788 with many convicts for England's new penal colony. Polly experienced her first Aussie BBQ - grilled sausage on a slice of white bread, watched a flag-raising ceremony with many dignitaries present and a flyover by a military plane. We walked through an extensive flower garden at Roma Street Parkland after the ceremony then headed to the South Bank of the Brisbane River to see part of the Australian movie "Man from Snowy River," see bagpipes played in a local bar, get some free "Australia Day Parade" T- shirts after the parade was cancelled due to inclement weather, and watch the fireworks over the river. After the fireworks Polly took us out to dinner where she had Morton Bay Bugs (a crustacean with no claws) for the first time. Since we were planning to cruise on Morton Bay it seemed appropriate that she try them. She likes lobster better, but didn't mind trying "bugs" once. We were tired out after being ashore from 9:30 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. It was rainy and overcast on the 27th so we toured the National Gallery of Art and did a little shopping.

On the morning on the 28th the weather finally cleared. Polly and Jerry went ashore to check email and buy groceries while Nina cleaned the cockpit and got the boat ready to go sailing. At 12:30 p.m., about slack tide, we dropped our lines from the pilings and headed down river - motoring for over 2 hours. In Morton Bay we raised the sails and sailed over to Morton Island. A little after 6 p.m. we had our anchor down near the Tangalooma Wrecks after traveling more than 31 nautical miles. We saw a green flash that evening, but not a brilliant one. The Tangalooma Wrecks are several large boats sunk off the beach for protection from westerly winds. It was a good idea, but they don't provide the protection that was anticipated. However, we did discover several kinds of reef fish swimming around them when we snorkelled along them a couple of days later.

On Saturday, the 29th we walked 14 km - across the big sand island to its eastern beach and back. We saw a forest kingfisher and a whistling kite. There were several scribbly gum trees - so called as the caterpillar of a certain moth makes "scribble" scars as it burrows under the outer bark. We also saw several banksia trees - named by Sir Joseph Banks (the botanist who sailed with Captain Cook). They are also called bottle-brush trees as the flowers look like bottle brushes. We contended with sand roads used by 4-wheel drive vehicles. There was no separate walking path, but we didn't encounter too many vehicles, so didn't have to get off the "road" too often. Fortunately there are two one-way roads across the island so we only had to deal with traffic going one way. We found that we drank much more water than we did while walking in the rainforest and didn't really take enough with us. It was a welcome relief to swim in the ocean upon our return to the western beach! It was HOT!! It was amazing to see the huge number of boats anchored around us on our return to "Arctracer!" This particular anchorage at Morton Island is apparently very popular with mainland locals on weekends. In the evening we had a cruising couple on board for a glass of wine. We'd met them briefly in the Marshall Islands last year, but hadn't really ever talked much with them.

Late Sunday morning, after snorkelling, we got the anchor up to go to a quieter and different anchorage off Morton Island. After two hours we had the anchor down a long way from shore due to large sand flats. We all swam, and Polly and Nina cleaned the boat just above the waterline while Jerry cleaned the propellers. It was really disgusting to see all the growth on the old bottom paint! We took some of the barnacles off, but the scraping took most of the bottom paint off too. Later, with the tide out quite a bit, we rowed the dinghy in towards shore as far as possible to do a little exploring. We saw many pied oyster catchers, white herons, ibis, and Eastern curlews with their long curved beaks. We also saw "armies" of small crabs - more than we'd ever seen in one place before, two small rays, some much larger sting rays and some jelly-like substance that we couldn't identify. After dinner the television was on to watch the Aussie tennis player, Hewitt, be beaten by a Russian player in the final of the Australian Open.

Before leaving this anchorage between "large sand hill" and "small sand hill" the next day, we rowed ashore again to see many Pen shells, cone shells, starfish, sea cucumbers, crabs, birds and rays. About 11:30 we had the anchor up again to go to a lagoon. However, when Nina saw the sign that said 0.5 meters of water at mean low tide, she was worried about being in there a while as the tides were becoming less prominent with the moon between new and full - even if we did make it in to begin with. We changed objectives and motored farther south to anchor near North Stradbroke Island mangroves hoping to see turtles and dugongs. We did see many turtles, but had no luck with positively identifying a dugong. Year round residents in the area are the green turtles, the loggerhead turtles and hawksbill turtles. We looked at slide shows of the digital photos that Polly and Jerry had taken during Polly's visit and had wine and snacks in the cockpit while watching the ocean closely for life. Polly did see schools of fish leaping out of the water while being chased by larger fish. Apparently she had only seen minnows do that previously.

With the forecast for winds 15 - 20 knots from a northerly sector for the next couple of days, we all decided to head back up the river as there are no really good anchorages with protection from the north. On our way back to the Brisbane River we traversed the Rous Passage, winding through extensive sand flats. Even in the passage we found as little water as 10', but that is plenty of water for our 3+ foot draft. We had read that one might see dugong in this passage and were rewarded with seeing several. The first one stayed under water, but was quite close to the boat. Then we saw several of their humps and even one tail when a dugong dove near the boat. We lost count of how many we saw, but it must have been a dozen or so. Approaching the channel through the Brisbane River bar we slowed down to let a large car-carrier go in front of us. Those ships are huge! Further up river we saw a couple of dolphins swimming. At about 4:30 we were back between pilings at the botanical gardens.

Polly wanted to save the 3rd of February for packing and getting ready to take a taxi to the airport about 5:30 a.m. on the 4th. We still hadn't seen a platypus in Queensland or many grey kangaroos, so we rented a car for the 2nd and headed north. Our first stop was at Scarborough Marina where our friends Sandy and Andy on the monohull "Jakaranda" had our new spinnaker sock finished. We put it in the trunk of our rental car after having a cup of tea and some sweet biscuits (cookies) with them. On our way out of Scarborough Polly saw some galahs (a type of pink and gray parrot) for the first time. As we got into the area of the Glass House Mountains (named by Captain Cook as they reminded him of the glass furnaces in Yorkshire, England) we drove towards a lookout at Beerburnum Mountain. At the end of the road we saw a sign that said 700 meters to the lookout - a strenuous and steep climb. Since we'd been doing some rather long hikes, 700 meters didn't sound like much, so we grabbed bottles of water and headed up the hill. The incline was indeed VERY steep - especially at midday in the HOT sun! We all decided we didn't need to do that again for a while! You wouldn't find an islander being out in the midday sun as they are too wise for that. Anyway, we did have a great view at the top so the trip was worth the effort since we didn't get heat exhaustion, etc. We saw signs to another scenic lookout, so followed them hoping that the car would get us directly there. It did and we had another good look at the Glass House Mountains from the lookout. It was a good place for a picnic too.

From the lookout we headed to a river walk where one might see a platypus. It was a rainforest walk with many wonderful huge trees. Although we separated and watched the river for over half an hour, we weren't fortunate enough to see a platypus. The mosquitoes were horrendous, but we had our insect repellent with us. From the walk we headed to the town of Toorbul to see some grey kangaroos that some friends had told us about. They didn't mention that they were behind a fence!? Oh well, at least Polly got to see some gray kangaroos and get photos of them with a fence in the foreground.

Polly caught her plane early on the morning of the 4th, the day after John got back to Cornish from the South Pole. Now they are probably recovering from their exhausting plane rides, and comparing notes on their adventures. We had a great time "playing" and vacationing with Polly, but now it is time to get some boat work done before our flight to the States. We fly from Brisbane to New York on February 15 and leave from New York on March 16. We also need to move the boat down the river again and then south to a mooring on Morton Bay so that we don't have to worry about the Brisbane River flooding during this wet season. We'll be leaving it near Pelican Slipway where we'll later have the boat hauled out for new bottom paint. The owner of the slipway owns the moorings and will keep an eye on the boat for us during our absence. We look forward to seeing you all soon!

(view photos of Polly's Visit)