A week in paradise - Brisbane, Ocean Shores and Byron Bay
June 4th. Up early today (5:30am!) to catch the bus to Brisbane. Phew, definitely tired out after the last few days, but really excited to be meeting up with my good friends, Chris and Dutch, and their lovely boys, Isaac, Xavier and Eli.Arrived around lunchtime and Chris picked me up (looking quite fabulous i have to say - think life back in Oz is definitely agreeing with you, Chris!), then it was home to meet the gang!
Can't believe how much the boys have grown since i last saw them (aren't they just gorgeous!)- but ok, I suppose it has been at least 2 years since the Bells left Boston (or was it longer, my memory is useless!)- how time flies!!!
After lunch, Chris and Isaac took me out for a little bit of sightseeing. Brisbane, Australia's third largest city, is made up of just over 1.5 million people, and has the nick name "Bris-vegas" due to its penchant for high rises and a bit of glitz...although it is now becoming a major destination for many Australians to move to, due to its relaxed atmosphere and slightly less expensive housing market than Sydney or Melbourne.
We went down to South Bank, a really lovely area on the western side of the Brisbane river. Very cool, home to many cultural attractions, lots of street markets, tons of restaurants, even a small rainforest... AND there is South Bank Beach, an artificial swimming hole that wraps around trees, bridges and rockeries before opening up to a gorgeous tropical lagoon...there was a ton of activity going on, with people just hanging out enjoying the weather, rollerblading, biking, jogging, even rock climbing where we parked the car; these Aussies really are an outdoorsy lot I have to say!
We headed home a little later, and when I saw this shot of the boys wellies outside I just had to take a pic - how cute eh! We had a wonderful dinner together, catching up on Chris and Dutch's new life here. It was really lovely to see them all and they certainly seem to have a wonderful life here in Brisbane, a beautiful house and family, lovely swimming pool and garden, less stressed lifestyle, and great weather of course - as they said, a little different from their life back in Boston!
June 5th. Ahh - my 38th birthday! I am officially ancient! Unfortunately Isaac had to go to school today so couldn't join us on our trip to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. My big plan was to cuddle a koala today on my b-day; so that's exactly what i did (this guy was very mellow, I have to say, although pretty heavy!). Lone Pine is the largest koala sanctuary in the world, with over 130 of these cute marsupials hanging out here, as well as tons of other Aussie favourites like wombats, larakeets (like baby parrots), kangaroos (the red and grey varieties), echidnas (kind of like porcupines..) and of course Tassie devils (the only Tassie Devil they had at the sanctuary, had popped his clogs a few weeks ago, so we didn't get to see one... but to be honest i've seen pictures before and they are quite ugly creatures, so i wasn't too bothered!).
Interesting fact - did you know gum leaves, a major food source for koala bears, are actually completely toxic to their bodies! This means they have to use at least 20% of their body's energy just to neutralize the stuff so they can digest the leaves and not get sick! Obviously this leaves them with a slightly "reduced" energy level for the rest of their daily lives, but thanks to the fact they hang out in trees all day and don't have too many enemies, these cuddly marsupials manage to exist quite well, even with this wierd food phenomenon...
So after spending some time with these cute creatures, it was off to hang out with the kangaroos for a while - there were tons of them, babies (aka Joeys!), mums and some real old codgers, who looked like they had had a hard life! The boys had absolutely no fear here, walking around, giving the animals some food to nibble on!
I was quite excited myself, as I hadn't seen any kangaroos myself on this trip so far..we really had a great time here. Then it was home for lunch and all of a sudden, my short but sweet visit was over, as I was catching the bus down to Ocean Shores to stay with my friends Beth and Nige...so thanks very much for a wonderful time, Bell family! Hope you have a fab trip to the States!
My bus took about three hours then I was in Brunswick Heads (a wee town next to Beth and Nige's wee town of Ocean Shores!) and there was Nige to pick me up! It was really great to see him - and he looked fantastic! We headed back home to meet the fabulous Ella and Hamish (so cute and very chatty!) and my wonderful friend Beth (looking quite the hip and trendy mum I have to say, Beth!). We had a fab dinner together (quite the gourmet meal; who knew you two were such amazing cooks!) and I got some beautiful birthday presents from the family - seriously, how lucky am I - thanks so much!!
June 6th. Nige had taken the day off work today so we headed down to the beach.... despite Beth's protestations that they would never go to the beach during winter. OK I had to remind her - and Nige - about the many "real winters" they had spent in Boston - and that 75 degrees was NOT cold....teehee! I thought the weather was absolutely perfect; but to be fair, I suppose it is all relative, and you do get used to the heat...so it was definitely a bit chillier for them! Nige gave me an impromptu surf lesson - I was absolutely rubbish! We decided to take a real surf lesson later in the week in Byron Bay so definitely looking forward to that!
After lunch, Nige took me out for a spin on his new motorbike - fantastic! We drove around the area, from Mullumbimby (great name!) to Brunswick Heads and all through Ocean Shores.. gorgeous scenery and really great fun! We popped into town and Nige showed me his physiotherapy practice...I was so impressed and delighted for him that he is doing so well! Had to tease him tho' about being this new, entrepreneurial mature millenium man and how this was just a wee bitty removed from the crazy guy of "olde" that we knew back in Boston, a few years ago!! We stopped off at the bottle shop then home for dinner...yet another gourmet affair. AND Ella and Beth had made me a birthday cake - seriously, how nice is that! We had a great night, chatting away, nibbling on chocolate and watching CSI! I was in heaven... just one thing bothering me - did we have the chocolate cake and icecream BEFORE or AFTER the Maltezers... hmmmn, suppose it doesn't matter! Another wonderful day...
June 7th. Beth was taking a well earned "sickie" from her busy life, as she and I were going to visit Byron Bay this morning! We headed over and had a wonderful walk through the rainforest, spotting bush turkeys as we went! Then we went past the lighthouse and down to the Cook lookout. This area, the most easterly point on the Australian mainland (as you can see from the pic) is called Cape Byron, and surprise, surprise, the lookout was named after Capt. Cook, that busy guy who just kept popping up all over the Australasian continent a few years ago! As we walked down to the beach, we saw a huge pod of dolphins, swimming and jumping in and out of the water. It was incredible, so gorgeous to see, and this whole area of beach and ocean is just stunning!
Byron Bay with a resident population of just over 5,000 people,has the nickname "North Bondi" as so many people from Sydney come here to visit. Even tho' it gets busy, it is such a great town, with lots of funky shops and restaurants, definitely a bit of a hippie vibe, and tons to do! We had a great time pottering around then had lunch at the "Why Not" cafe (great name and a good philosophy for life dont you think, well, at least for traveling.. why not??)....We then popped home to pick up Mr Hamish then a little later Ella from pre-school. With Nige busy in the kitchen making yet another fab feast for us, we hung out in the trampoline outside - folks, I have a great work out tip for you. Jump up and down with a 2 1/2 yr old boy and nearly 5 yr old girl, both of whom have boundless energy, on a trampoline, for even 5 mins! You def burn some calories, and we were out there for ages! Great fun!
June 8th. Perfect weather again. As I say each morning to Beth "we have another beautiful day" and she finishes ..."in paradise". It definitely feels like it and I can totally see why people from home decide to move here to live! Today we were going to visit Bangalow, a hip wee town not too far away. So quaint but tons of funky stores too; we spent a lovely morning pottering around the bookstore and shops, then it was time for coffee, or in Hamish's case, his mothers hot chocolate that he was quite enamoured with. After this, we headed off to the Crystal Castle, a very interesting place set in beautiful surroundings; described in its brochure as "a place of amazing power, set high in the hills of Mullumbimby, with panoramic views and home to a spectacular crystal collection". The philosophy of this place is to generate a peaceful, reflective and calming experience for all those who visit, hard to do in this crazy world of ours! But I have to say (shush.. you cynics out there!) I definitely felt much calmer after visiting here...not quite sure why, but there is something about this place that does make you feel that way! After a lovely "organic" lunch, and walking through the beautiful gardens full of Buddha, Lakshni and Ganesh sculptures, we perused the many "new age" offerings available - from tarot readings, healings and massage, astrology reports and aura photos. Come on - we had to try something! And yes, you can see why Beth and I came and left Nige out of this particular visit, as he thinks this is all a load of namby-pamby new age rubbish! But we loved it! So we decided to have our auras read....yes, I wasnt quite sure what this meant either! Essentially, this special machine takes a photo of you and the aura surrounding you ....I know sounds weird but was actually quite spot on! The photo, when developed, shows a kaleidascope of colours, which represent different elements currently in your life! Beth's had tons of yellow in it, representing fun loving, open heartedness, sensitivity and warmth. She also had a "blob" (for want of a better word!) of green in the corner, which symbolized new growth and learning she had introduced into her life. Very true as she has just started a new job, and is working really hard, reading up and studying as part of this! My "aura" colours couldn't look more different - I had really strong bands of deep violet, indigo and dark blue. Did this mean darkest depression, I wondered? Nope - actually mine said that i felt a need to do more with my life; something more significant than what i was currently doing, to help others, and that as i hadn't accomplished that yet, i was frustrated and trying to shake things up to find out what that "new something" might be (not too far from the truth!). I was also a strong nurturer and communicator, and the blue represented the most emotional colour on the aura spectrum (that's no surprise to those who know me well!). A lot of stuff about "teaching" in my colours, which is something I'm definitely thinking about, so who knows where my "aura" will take me in the near future! I know, I know, its a load of rubbish but we had a great time analysing and of course, keeping Nige in stitches.
June 9th. Nige and I dropped Ella off at pre-school then headed down to Byron for our surf lesson! So excited although a tad nervous as those who know me, know im not exactly renowned for my athletic ability or balance! Started off well, by us going into the WRONG surf shop to register - hey, Mad Dog and Black Dog are very similar names you have to agree! Once we found the right place, it was off to the beach with Jason, our loony instructor, Dom (from Switzerland who looked like a skinny Renaldo so i had a crush on him for 5 mins!)and Tam (the uber-peppy ffice manager who wanted to hear me talk and talk and talk cos she loved my accent -too funny, this girl!). So wet suits on then we had 45 mins of practice on the sand first. Hmmnnn - got the feeling i wasnt doing too well, when Jason said "Stef - you are a shocker!". I tried to deflect this critisism by using my full-blown flu as an excuse (I did feel rotten) but as Jason said "oh right, does that affect you knowing your right from your left". Very funny -and I was rubbish! So then into the water, and it all got so much easier - NOT! Nige was brilliant, as were some of the others in the group, especially those who snowboard - apparantly it helps! I spent most of my time UNDER the surf board (thanks for those shots, Dom!) but managed to stand up a few times - and when i did, i thought i was the bees knees i have to say! Really great fun, and I think I'd actually try this again! Mind you, you do feel quite exhausted afterwards, and we weren't even going that far out into the ocean today. Can't imagine how fit those real surfer folks are that do this for hours on end! We had a great group and Jason certainly added to the day, so definitely enjoyed this! Back home to fill in Beth and the kids on our amazing adventures! Then it was off for a walk around Brunswick Head and dinner at the pub; sitting out in the garden watching the children playing, as we sipped a wee cider and cranberry juice...just lovely! Back home and Ella helped me start the old packing again as I head off tomorrow to Sydney for the last part of my Ozzie adventure. I've had such a wonderful time here in paradise. Like Chris and Dutch, it does seem that Beth and Nige have a fabulous life; a beautiful home, two gorgeous children, hard work but work that fits in with the more important things in life - family and friends, and not the other way around! Five minutes from the beach, perfect weather (even in winter Beth)....yup, this is a far cry from life in Boston.....not to knock my fair city, but life here seems so much less stressful and the quality of life is great! I'm so happy for my friends and so happy that I managed to visit them for so long while I was here!
June 10th. Up earlyish as Nige was driving me to Narang? (think that is the right name) where I'd pick the train up to Brisbane airport and then fly down to Sydney! Beth packed me some snacks (how good is she) and I said my fond farewells to her, Ella and Hamish...lots of hugs and kisses all round! As we drove to the station, Nige and i had a great chat, he really is a doll, and both him and Beth have been so kind! Of course he wouldn't just drop me off; so he came in, we chatted some more, then he did the "running after the train" affair, as i waved goodbye - daft boy!!! Thank you so much Beth, Nige, Ella and Hamish for a fantastic week in paradise....