This weekend was memorable — for several reasons, but mostly because on Saturday morning we went out early for a boat trip to Moreton Island.
We had stayed up a bit too late the evening before for an excellent supper with one of Matt’s colleagues. (Prelude to pan-fried fish, potatoes, red peppers roasted with anchovies and olives, was a dish I need to try to recreate: avocado mixed with sambal paste and set in a circular terrine, topped with thinly sliced scallops cured in lime like ceviche, encircled by mayonnaise and tiny centimeter-long sweet tomatoes.) Somewhere at around 6:30 am, we rolled out of bed to catch a train downtown, where a small van picked us up with several other adventurers (four cute Japanese students, a German, a Dane, and a Swiss guy) to take us to the docks.
The weather was not promising. It was drizzling and cloudy on our way out — but it started to clear a bit, despite low clouds. The ride over on a large catamaran was a bit brutal. Matt and I slept as much as we could, while a young family behind us proceeded to get quite ill.
And then we arrived! The island is mostly sand dunes, topped with eucalyptus trees. It was also once home to whaling stations; one of our guides said thousands of whales were killed and processed here. Our ship stopped momentarily, and we suited up in wetsuits. Then Matt partook in some kind of weird thing called “boom netting,” where people sit on a net at the back of the boat while it speeds up. It looked totally bizarre.
And then we went snorkeling, a first for me! Old sunken dredging boats form an artificial reef right offshore, and beautiful silver-blue and yellow-tipped fish swarm there (particularly when the guide throws bread into the water — they swarm! — and beautiful enough to make up for my gag reflex; I really have to practice this).
Then lunch on the ship, and afterward, we swam from the boat to the island to sit and bake for a bit on the fine yellow sand. Kids were walking up the steep dunes and running or trying to slide down. We figured the angle of repose was super steep, and I want to say it was more than 30 degrees, but the geologist in me protests.
We decided against trying it — instead, we sat in the heat and the sun reflected from the cloud cover above our heads, and felt relieved that it was not a truly sunny day. This trip had been cancelled not long ago after the flooding at the end of January: the water would be too murky, they said, too choppy, even though the assigned date had perfectly clear blue skies and was days after the storm (you might recall that we had to move because our apartment had massive leaks). Had we sat there in full sunlight, we would have burnt to a crisp.
Even so, we got hot enough to feel cold on the swim back to the boat. Matt saw a turtle on the way and made me jealous.
The trip was supposed to be an “ecotour” — so on the way out, the captain headed down the shoreline, toward shallow water with sea grass, where dugongs are known to graze. Matt and I looked them up later: these herbivores have tails like dolphins, and are more active than the manatees I am accustomed to thinking about when I think of sea cows. The bones in their flippers look like our hands, and their closest relative on land is supposedly the elephant.
Some populations are close to extinction, and the animals are endangered; Moreton Island is part of a large swath of habitat for these animals. And finally, after searching the water and seeing not much but swarms of blue jellyfish, we saw a dugong surface, take a breath, look over its shoulder at us (yes, really!), and then dive back down, flipping its flukes at us. Amazing! The guide said it was an animal they call Elly, recognizable from the scars on her back from mating (thankfully not from encounters with boats, but wow, mating dugongs must play rough).
After a quick view of the gun turrets left behind here from World War II, the captain turned the boat to head home. And at that moment, rain started to pour down. Perfect timing. I had an excellent nap on the way back, which was calmer than our journey out.