Our passage to Bundaberg, Australia topped out as another easy one. There could have been more wind so we didn't have to motorsail so much but there were no complaints from us- the decks remained dry for the duration. The sun shined all day and the moon made the nights bright & easy. Three pilot whales motored past, a few birds circled the boat and then there were these tiny little man-of-war looking creatures all over the surface at times, tiny sails glistening in the sun as far as you could see.
Approaching Australian waters was unusual in that we couldn't see anything of a shoreline until about 14 miles or so- the land is so low in this area that there was nothing visible of this huge continent. After a few days out, you really do look forward to seeing that blue silhouette and Jon was saying it was like Christmas, it just wouldn't come! After slowing down so as not to arrive during Monday holiday business hours, we anchored right outside Bundaberg Port Marina, popped some champagne to celebrate this milestone and anxiously awaited check-in the next morning so we could get ashore. Even played a little Men at Work to get psyched.
After all the hype and misinformation about the hassle of gaining entry to Australia in your sailboat, our experience was downright pleasant. The officials were professional, respectful and friendly as are the staff at this marina. They are most concerned about the importation of termites and we were glad that after a careful inspection, we had none. The only food they took or even were interested in was fresh meat & produce of which we had virtually none. In total, it cost $380 to import the boat and $130 each for our multi-entry year long visas so it isn't cheap but neither are many other countries we've visited. We'll get it back many times over in all the free parks & trails we'll be visiting. After moving to a berth within the marina, we gave the boat a pat to reassure it that we would wash it off in a few hours and scurried ashore to move around and scope out this new place. We wanted to see some roos!
There's a nice path that runs right by this marina to Burnett Heads and continues for miles through interlinked parks, one of which is a famous turtle nesting sanctuary called Mon Repos. Starting next month, several kinds of sea turtles will haul themselves up on these beaches to lay their eggs. We stopped at a museum there and learned that after birth, males never return to land, only the females do. For loggerheads, and maybe others, this is 17 years later when they reach maturity. Referred to as "the lost years", they travel incredible distances to feeding grounds. Baby turtles develop a spike on their head to help them pierce the egg shell when they're ready to emerge. We'd like to come back to this park next month by car to catch a glimpse of the hatchlings since it's something we've never seen before. Moseying our way back, we came upon a mob (as they are called) of kangaroos. They were eating in the grazing pasture of horses. I actually cannot BELIEVE we are here seeing them. It just feels, well, really good. Kangaroos are really something to look at and are very curious, so you can. As we stood there, a couple from Tennessee pulled up on bikes and so we talked for a bit. Turns out they're house-sitting (which is really pet sitting) their way around the world. Ten weeks here before heading off to NZ. It's the thing to do these days aside from couch surfing. Food for thought!
There are birds everywhere here, all paired off since it's Spring. Large, white pelicans and every color of parrot. They even have a type of fantail like the ones in NZ that follow you as you walk snatching up bugs but they look different. It was another perfectly blue, full sun day and Jon kept saying it feels very "crisp" here. That kind of crisp where everything looks like it could use a good long drink. Around the marina, they water the grounds & it's like an oasis & neat as a pin. This immediate area reminds us of both Florida & Arizona but we already know heading inland is a whole lot different. On the path, we walked by the "shark operations station" and wondered what that was all about. We'll certainly be learning about poisonous creatures while we're here but hopefully not from personal experience.
At a marina happy hour that night, we met several couples on other cruising boats, 2 of which had just completed their circumnavigations and it was so fun to get to know a few Australians. We love the different terms for things. Their term for bird watchers is twitchers and when we mentioned we were going to take the bikes out the next day for a ride, we found out they call them push-bikes. I don't know why, since we ride them, not push them! Our friends Jan & Rich on Slip Away pulled into the anchorage that evening so we did our best to tell them over the radio not to worry about checking in, but you can't really know it till you're through with it.
We did take the bikes out and had such a great ride except for one thing- the magpies! They're nesting right now and for some unknown reason but well known phenomenon, they hate bikers. They attack your helmet but this is after you've gone by so you don't see them coming. You just feel the impact of something hitting your head. You're supposed to tie wire ties to your helmet facing directly upward to deter them. The lady of the Tennessee couple had a cut beside her eye from one that got her. The next day we saw her again and got a chuckle out of the wire ties.
Bundaberg is home to the Bundaberg Rum distillery which is appropriate since it sits in a huge sugar cane growing area. Biking on the roads that cut through the fields, we could see the long cane trains, the smoke from the burning they do right before harvesting (we especially love this part) and the big sheds they use for processing. Then along the coast on the bike path, we saw beautiful beaches with shady casuarina pine spots and then salt marsh areas. In this one wooded area, we saw 2 beautiful lorikeets hanging out up in this tree that had a good sized hole. They were both peering in, walking around the edges, making warbling noises and seemed to be waiting for something. They were also madly in LOVE and they kept doing bird like foreplay. We stood and watched as they kept sticking their heads into this hole and then circling it when finally this head slowly came up from inside the hole, looking bewildered. It was a possum sleeping in the hole and these birds were interested in making a nest in there. You could almost hear their discussion. He looked so tired and did decide to slump back down into the hole but not before we got some funny pictures of him and these parrots- we really lucked out seeing this whole thing- priceless! On the way back to the boat, we passed a school yard and all the kids were out for recess. Here in Australia, every kid is issued a hat as part of their uniform. We do notice the sun is STRONG! We got together with Jan & Rich that night to catch up and try some Aussie beer. We won't be drinking much of it because it was $16 for a 6 pack. Instead, we looked at Cooper's beer making kits today.... We also watched the eclipse to the tune of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon thanks to our slip neighbor. What a fun day.
We took the marina shuttle in to Bundaberg CBD today and found a spiffy little town with a thriving main street, a nice botanical garden and some decent stores including Target. That's where we saw the beer making kit. Rich has been using a Cooper's kit for years and makes delicious beer for about $1/big bottle. It was so nice to just stroll around town and be someplace really NICE for a change... We had a tasty lunch (groceries & restaurant food prices are lower here) and did some people watching taking note that there were no bare feet to be seen as in NZ- everyone was wearing shoes. Jon found an NZ proof set from 1982 in an old style coin shop and got it for himself as a birthday present. We took a public bus back to the marina which in the afternoon, becomes a school bus. Between the driver and us, we were the only people over 17 on the bus. Two really nice kids sitting behind us were intrigued when we took a picture at the sign that said this was a "swear free bus"- no swearing allowed. It just sounds funny. They then struck up a conversation. They wanted to know what we thought of Australia, what the common myths were and if Australia was much the same as the US. They asked about our gun laws and if we personally had guns since Australian citizens can no longer own guns unless they have a defined need for one. We in turn found out that not wearing your hat when you were outside at school was automatic detention!
So these are our first impressions of Australia. We're having a great time and the only sad thing is we can see that it isn't going to be anywhere near enough! Next stop: Fraser Island, a world heritage site. It is the largest sand island in the world complete with rainforest, freshwater lakes & dingoes. We feel extremely fortunate to be here.