Steve picked me up from Glasshouse Mountains train station around 11am of my first day in Australia. He jumped out of his rusting truck and shook my hand fiercely whilst bearing a wide grin. I would get to know Steve and his friendly demeanour throughout the following weeks through volunteering at his local cafe Vianta in the town of Beerwah.
Beerwah is situated between the long beach of the aptly named Sunshine Coast, and the evergreen Glasshouse Mountains. My overnight journey to Beerwah from Indonesia included a short stopover in the city of Darwin, and a 3 hour nap on a bench at Brisbane airport. It was immediately apparent I was not in Asia anymore. The air was cooler and drier than Asia, and even dropped to a comfortable temperature at night. The towns were peaceful and the wide streets were rarely busy.
I was quickly introduced to the other occupants of my new accommodation. The house was a crumbling single story building sitting on a large swathe of sloped grass, but it had a charming and homely feel. We would all squeeze into the few sleeping rooms on creaking bunkbeds around the house. Joining myself in the first few days were two other backpackers bringing the total number of volunteers to 9 (including 2 Danish, 1 Argentinian, 1 Spanish, 1 American, 1 British, 1 French, 1 Japanese and 1 Israeli). Everyone would bring a slice of their culture and personality to the table to form a large dysfunctional family.
Some of the volunteers were experienced travellers, continuing their life working on the road. Others were straight out of school, hungry for a taste of different culture. We all got to know each other quickly through work and evening drinks, and fortunately all shared an equally poor sense of humour.
It was a pleasure find myself in Queensland, where the diversity of landscape is stunning. To the east lies the calm Ocean and bright yellow sands. To the west are endless forests and fields, with pinnacles of volcanic rock forming a sharp silhouette against the sky. Creeks and rivers tumble through the landscape towards the coast. An abundant supply of wildlife is readily available in your own garden, from boldly coloured birds to more elusive snakes and spiders.
The cafe we worked at was called Vianta. It had a professional and lounge-like feel, and served high quality coffee (which was especially important as Australians are avid coffee drinkers). Small town business meant that customers would return regularly, and after a couple of weeks customers became familiar and friendly faces. I slowly learnt the art of making a good cup of coffee, mainly due to the help of a french Barista called Gianni. Work was short and sweet. Half the day spent at the cafe, and then the other half spent exploring and enjoying the natural beauty of Queensland. It also wasn’t long before I found myself indulging in some familiar food comforts that were just outside of reach whilst in Asia. My eyes lit up when I found Brie in the fridge, along with freshly baked bread and good coffee.
Contrasting to the continuous movement of backpacking through Asia, staying still and becoming familiar with a single location was a welcome change. However, every weekend was free for me to venture further away for a couple of days into the wilderness.
On my first weekend, I took up the opportunity for an impromptu camping weekend with three of the housemates. Heading further inland from the coast reveals an even wider spectrum of wildlife. Streams and rivers are populated with fish and eels. Potentially deadly spiders hang above your head when you find shelter for lunch, amd there was a constant symphony above as the calls of birds echo between the surrounding trees. The frequent national parks offered waterfalls and hilly views stretching to the coast. When the Sun set, we headed towards a nearby glow worm cave which suddenly became illuminated by the light of a thousand worms, replicating the view of a clear starry night.
My first adventure was only cut short due to a sudden explosive bout of sickness on the second night. Not a pleasant experience when you’re staying in a tent. Along with myself, one of the Danish on the trip called Martin also succumbed the following morning and we duly returned to the house that afternoon. We soon discovered it wasn’t just us. In fact, it was a virus that was spreading through the house. It became a (somewhat) hilarious murder mystery-like event to guess who was to fall victim next to the illness. We could only laugh as by the end of the week all but one inhabitant fell victim. You always share the good times and the bad in this kind of house!
After a complete recovery, the following weekend had a planned trip up the coast with an old friend from the UK. Gabby, who had helped inspire my travel route through SE Asia following a path she took the year before, had moved to Sydney, and was in Queensland for a long weekend. There’s only one way to travel up the coast in Australia. And that’s in a camper van. Gabby rented one in Brisbane, and before we knew it we were on the road.
The first stop was Noosa, situated at the northern tip of the Sunshine Coast, with national parks and pristine beaches in close proximity. We settled into a local scouts campsite and enjoyed a strange mix of tomatoes, instant noodles, tuna and various spices (food which had been grabbed from our respective households beforehand). We caught up over beers and exchanged our experiences of Asia.
Our first full day was spent in Noosa national park; a picturesque forest overlooking the blue Ocean below. In a short period walking along the coastline, you can wander through pebbled beaches, along high cliffs and onto the golden sands of Alexandria Bay. Within the forest, Koala bears sit in the trees and Goannas (large monitor lizards) tread carefully through the undergrowth. Fortunately for us, it was the Humpback whale migration season, which meant huge numbers of whales would calmly swim by the coast. Their sleek bodies would rise above the water occasionally, and would loudly exhale through their blowholes. The mothers were frequently accompanied by their smaller children, and all would follow the route southwards.
The following morning, we set our alarms early for 5.00am to catch the sunrise at a rocky outpost called Hell’s Gate. Gabby set the alarm, although not realising that her phone was set to New South Wales time from back in Sydney, the alarm rang at 4.00am when NSW pushed their clocks back by an hour that particular morning. It was in fact a huge stroke of luck that we unknowingly clambered out of bed an hour early. If we had risen an hour later, we would have missed the sunrise at Hell’s Gate. But, as fate would have it, we walked along the pathway, and reached Hell’s Gate to a fiery pre-sunrise sky. Shortly after, the orange globe breached the horizon and the day began. A few whales drifted by, and even reached a flipper out of the water to seemingly greet us a good morning.
We returned to our van for another strange mixture of foods for breakfast, before preparing for the journey further north. Our final destination of the weekend was Rainbow Beach, a sandy peninsular and the final stop before the largest sand island in the world, Fraser Island. We explored the Carlo Sandblow sand dunes and surrounding areas, before settling at a beach campsite at the northern tip of land just a few metres from the water. I swayed in my hammock, and mused over when I should open the first beer. Tough decisions are everywhere here.