After a hot week, this weekend was rainy and almost cool – around 30 deg C, tops (somewhere in the 80s F). We spent it outside.
On Saturday, under gray spitting skies, one of Matt’s colleagues took us (appropriately enough) to a rainforest. We headed south of Brisbane to Springbook National Park. All the national parks here in Australia are apparently free (do you sense my surprise?), so we parked in a tiny lot next to an outlook and trucked off into the forest.
Dry at first, with pine needles and spare eucalypts, as soon as we crossed the first stream and waterfall, we entered the rainforest. Again, mostly eucalyptus trees, but in shapes and sizes that reminded me of walking in the coastal California mountains between Palo Alto and Santa Cruz. Eucalyptus are there (an invasive import, as are quite a few Australian native plants), but so are pines and oaks and laurels. Here, the eucalypts seem to play nearly every role, interspersed with vines, grass trees that look like prehistoric plants, and ferns.
Instead of seeing banana slugs and salamanders, as I kept expecting from those California hikes, we came across a blue freshwater crayfish called a yabby, sporting freckles and a green-yellow carapace. We spent a good 20 minutes watching this alien-looking creature feel its way across the rocks with its antennae, as soft rain started coming down. We speculated on whether it would ride the waterfall’s rushing current or simply tumble off the rockface to the pool below, where another yabby, pale luminescent blue in the water, was swimming – mate or challenger? Yabby are listed as “vulnerable” here in Australia in their native habitat by the IUCN (http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/summary/4622/0), but these crayfish are invasive anywhere else.
We left our rock-climbing yabby to its fate, to continue our ridge walk loop down to the valley floor and the confluence of two rivers, then back up through the rainforest to the ridge top again after lunch on the rocks. It was hot and humid, but just cool enough in the trees and with spots of rain.
We passed the waterfalls again down below. At one point, Matt spied a snake on the path, and I was glad not to see it. We also passed strangling figs, finding an example of each stage: groping young vines climbing a giant adult tree; twisting carapace with the parasite’s stranglehold just starting; and empty vine lattice, after the fig killed off the host tree. Beautiful and spooky.
After we completed the hike, we climbed back in the car and drove due east to Mermaid Beach – south of Gold Coast City’s outrageous high-rise skyline, and north of Palm Beach (ah, shades of California and Florida). We watched the tail end of a surfing competition and then got into the water ourselves. The pull of the downshore current carried me tens of meters down the beach in seconds. It was fun, but exhausting, and a tiny bit scary to feel the push and pull of the waves. Australia’s east coast seems to get a vigorous beating.
We washed off the sand and walked back to the car, spying on bright green and rainbow-colored lorakeets gathering in the trees for an evening clatter. A sleepy-looking kookaburra perched on a low branch, seemingly annoyed by his small neighbors.
Supper at a surf club on a beach to the south rounded out the evening: it turns out that surf rescuers join clubs, kind of like a Legion of Honor, and this one is called the Vikings. The building perches on Elephant Rock, with a stunning view of the ocean to the east and the city to the north.
We didn’t stick around to observe any shenanigans. We drove home through intermittent rain and got home by 9 or so, exhausted.
On Sunday, we took it easy – putting up ant and cockroach traps around the house (triggered by the trail of ants that led straight to our cereal in the pantry and the two-inch cockroach lying dead on its back on the kitchen floor on Saturday night), doing some laundry, grocery shopping. Then we decided to head into the CBD to search for a fix for Matt’s glasses and perhaps new bike helmets. No luck.
So we played tourists for a bit: a cup of coffee on Brisbane Square, watching the Sunday afternoon flea market wrap up, then a walk across the bridge, where I persuaded Matt to board the Wheel. This Ferris wheel has elegant gondolas like a ski lift, and lazily turns on the south bank of the Brisbane River. But the whole idea made Matt queasy. We went anyway, and he was happiest at a standstill at the top – the exact spot where I felt queasy. I love roller coasters, and Matt hates them, whereas he likes climbing mountains and I steer clear of the edge. Funny.
After our 12-minute spin, we ran to catch the river ferry on a whim – and ended up having a lovely ride in the cool evening down the wide river. Absolutely gorgeous. We walked home as the fruit bats took wing into the dusk.