North Stradbroke Island, Queensland Australia (Minjerribah)
We commenced our adventure on Friday, September 22nd on North Stradbroke Island, aka “Straddie” by the locals and a favorite of many “Brisbanites.” as well as tourists from hither and yon. It is designated the world’s second largest sand island, next to Fraser Island – also off the coast pf Queensland. It is a 24 mile long subtropical sand dune, resting on volcanic bedrock. With an abundance of fungi in the sandy soil, flora and fauna are abundant. It is only accessible by water taxi or ferry so we opted for the vehicle ferry so as to have transportation easily accessible, though there is island public bus service. The first challenge was getting all of the Gear to fit into their Yaris plus 4 people. With car camping it is easy to just throw in one more thing and we did not disappoint in this department. This then necessitated Miriam driving and Luke (a normal sized 10 year old) having to sit on Nick’s lap in the backseat on the way to the ferry. He was not too thrilled about that but we got there without too many moans and groans out of Luke or Nick . The ferry ride is only about 45 minutes and the campground a 20 minute drive from Dunwich towards Point Lookout. On the ferry, but also throughout our travels in the outback, I was always fascinated but the myriad of vehicles with their car top carriers loaded up with gear, gear, and more gear. A group of Nick’s and Miriam’s acquaintances through Luke’s school gathered there for campout last year during the fall school holiday period. Miriam and Nick opted to join them for a second year as Luke has an awesome time running with the passel of kids last year. The magnificent white sandy beaches are the main attraction and certainly did not disappoint. But, If I only had one word to describe the adventure it would be WINDY!!!
We camped with MANY other families on one of the camping lawns in the Adder Rock camping and caravan park. In that my experience of camping is mostly in US National Parks and National Forests, it is a bit strange for me to see a multitude of people coming out of the city to set their camp in a small rectangle next to another families’ small rectangle which is usually covered front to back and side to side with 2-4 bedroom tents with multiple entrances, dining shelters, kitchens areas, awnings, fly’s covering tents that already have fly’s, dressing areas, solar panels, chairs, folding tables and benches, florescent lights, blow up couches, several esky’s, antennas, barbecue grills, boats, jet skis. surf boards, bikes, outdoor carpeting etc. Since I always look for vegetation “privacy screens” separating campsites or seek the wilderness experience by backpacking, camping Aussie style is a new adventure. It seems quite social and those I spoke with were surprised by my description of US campgrounds Once I make the mental shift however and went with the flow, I have a more positive spin on it. And it is a blessing that I am a good sound sleeper. As we got to the campsite and were about to set up it became clear that there was a pecking order within this group we were a part of and I knew to just wait until some of the tents were firmly set in a claimed space to carve out a small spot for my backpackers tent. Turned out to be a good spot as it was in the afternoon shade by 11:30 am and just enough sun in the am to take the wee chill out of the air.
As the day wore on the tent city became more populated but there still was enough open space for the kids to race around and have themselves a variety of fun games. Once set up, the item on my agenda (as well as others) was time on the beach. Imagining Gulf of Mexico temperatures at comparable time of year (spring), I was quite shocked to discover the very chilly temperature of the water, at 68-70 degrees. With the weather in the mid-to low seventies and a brisk wind off the shore, I found my self easily chilled and not able to spend too much time sitting on the beach despite layers of clothing. I must acknowledge also that blowing sand, sandpapering the hair off my legs, plays a part in the decision to vacate. No need for a razor here. But not to be deterred I of course went in and also tried a few runs bodyboarding with Nick’s broken boogie board. Luke was having a great time in the surf and becoming quite accomplished on his board. I couldn’t claim to be very successful but figured I had a few more days to master it. At some point Nick and Luke commenced the tradition of building a sand castle, whether it was this day or the next.
The rest of the days was spent around our camping area, lunching, and then a good late afternoon beach walk. I was introduced to what triggered a thought of a term to describe walking there on the beach: operatic sand. This very fine grained almost white sand “screeches” with every footfall so I was glad it was low tide and a wide berth of hard packed wet sand to traverse. The sand also seems to have a “glue” in it which makes it quite difficult to brush of the body. I deemed it.wearable sand. The thing that required the most adjustment to was the cars and trucks driving the beach. An incredible array of 4WD vehicles were making their way up and down the beach, churning the sand, and at times it seemed like they were dangerously close to me as I walked the tide line. One of the most interesting natural phenomenon was the large number of dead moon jellyfish, a very translucent organism with a rim of mauve colored tentacles, washed up on the shore. I was a bit hesitant about swimming but learned they may sting but are not dangerous. Otherwise there were very few shells or other marine life washing in.
Unlike many of the families with their gas grills and large barbecues, we opt for the simpler the better cooking. So here we are with our tiny MSR Pocket Rocket backpacking stove and minimalist tents perched in the midst of the 2-4 room monster tents, eating canned beans and cheese slices in burritos wraps, pasta with tomato sauce, or tuna. Nick did do eggs one morning as well as pancakes another with varying results. The scrambled eggs were great but the pancakes came out to be scrambled as well. I definitely am in favor of the simpler the better approach and it is quite a “sideshow” observing the amount of time and work it takes to set up their outdoor homes and cook their meals that perhaps rival the space and cooking style in their city residences. During those first hours i was able to encounter a goanna, kookaburra, and koala in the wild, if you consider an established campsite “the wild.”
Storms were brewing in the distance so we prepared our camp for rain. Though the thunder and lightening sounded ominous, the storm clouds made for a beautiful sunset and the rain turned out to be a very brief spattering. Since dawn comes early and sunset is also of course early (5:30 ish), the end of day darkness also comes early. I found my self ready to crawl into bed but when checking out my watch found it was only 8:00pm. That sounds like a very unreasonable early hour to bed down but then if the song birds are going to be chirping at the dawn perhaps it would be wise to retire. Since I was tent ready and Miriam has already retired, s it was into the tent to read and drift off…hopefully as the still energetic voices of the young ones were present and they were still having a marvelous time running about. All of the families were friendly and a delight, but I am used to a lot more solitude and setting my own agendas. Being part of a group experience required a lot of letting go and adjusting to the flow. It is a lot more facile to fit into the rhythms of my adult children’s families, but integrating into a group of families that have a history together would be and was more challenging.
Saturday, I awoke to the chirping voices of a couple Aussie sheila’s enthusiastically chatting away (as well as many of the beautifully feathered inhabitants of our 4 day home). Checking my watch it was 5:18 am and they were sitting in chairs right next to my tent. I was determined not to be disgruntled, so I dragged on my clothes and crawled out to a clear blue sky, steady winds and a slight chill in the air. First and foremost the task was to get the water boiling for coffee (my Starbuck’s Via) and head off with the precious key to the restroom. It is only precious because we have only two to be used by 4 people and keeping track of them can get to be a real logistics issue, despite identified spots to keep them. All was right with the world — to be with family, drinking coffee, on a beautiful morning on a wonderful island in Australia. After an oatmeal breakfast I had time for a 2 mile walk on the beach before we were to set out for the days outing. The trek was not quite as easy as the previous evening, as it was close to high tide and there was much more soft sand to negotiate. Afterwards the itinerary was to go to Point Lookout and hike the North Gorge boardwalk. I had not anticipated such magnificent views but the expanse of near white sand beaches, the bright cerulean, turquoise and azure waters, the white froth of he surf, and the many shaded rock outcroppings made for a breathtaking walk. And to add more enchantment to the walk, we witnessed a pod of dolphins and several wales migrating the waters. And what could be a more satisfying at the end of the boardwalk but a stop at the gelato shop right across the street for treats all around.
Mid-afternoon Miriam dropped Nick and myself off at Frenchman’s Beach at Point Lookout to walk the beach back to Adder Rock. We walked the 2.6 mile stretch enjoying the sea breeze (perhaps gale might better describe it), negotiating the rock formations between Deadman’s Beach and Cylinder Beach, and observing the fan patterns made by the sand crabs that burrow in the sand and spit out little balls while sifting their food. These balls make fascinating and intricate patters around the burrow hole. As the day wore on the winds did not dissipate and were blowing at 30-35 miles per hour, near gale force. The waves were several feet high and the salt spray was quite noticeable.
We were very grateful for the stand of trees between our camping spot and the beach. The families we were with called for happy hour on the beach to watch sunset. The sky was clear and cloudless but the wind a bit on the strong side. Not to be deterred though, we spread a sheet on the sand and laid out the cheese and crackers and chips. Within seconds, the “tribe” of 7 kids, ages 5-12, descended and devoured the snacks in lightening speed with perhaps a light coating of sand for garnish. Sunset for me was a peaceful soulful way to wind down the day.
Dinner was sausages cooked on the communal barbecue grills. Here at Adder Rock, this was a covered eating area with a center counter and four separate grills with sinks between to wash dishes. Four electric outlets were extremely popular and served cooking but more often as the charging stations for the campers who did not have their own sources to re-charge the vast array of tech devices. Though there was wi-fi at the campground I opted to use it minimally, notably to conserve battery but to be more present where I was.
A new day, Sunday, dawned with a clear blue cloudless sky and the chit-chat outside my tent right around my head was the 5:15 am alarm clock. In retrospect today was he day of the shifting agenda. Due to the ongoing near gale force winds and the high seas, the families decided to head to the South Gorge, a beautiful protected cove and then possibly the Main Beach on the east side of the island where the waves were not quite as intense and a safer swim area for the kids. It was a truly lovely spot to enjoy a few hours on the sandy beach with clear chilly aqua water.
After a brief swim I set out for a walk assessing that folks would be there an a while. It was glorious, though windy and much to my surprise when I arrived back after a 1 hour walk, everyone was gone except Nick, who was waiting for me. He was a bit dismayed as well with the changing directions so quickly. My metaphor for this was that of the shifting sands of the tides. The other three families and Miriam and Luke were up the embankment at a restaurant called “Loaves” and Miriam had purchased a sausage roll for us. Soon the group (the other three families) were off to a small inland lake called Brown Lake where better wind and conditions were anticipated. Nick and Miriam where quite laid back and willing to follow course so that Luke could run with the pack. However it was quite windy with a bit of a chill to the breeze, but we settled on the beach for the kids to swim. However it seemed that within the half hour, the major planner in the family group was up and off as she deemed it too windy, though the kids were having a grand time in the lake throwing mud on each other. By now, I was ready to head back to our campsite as flitting from place to place by this point was not very enjoyable for me. Happy hour was at the campsite and a pasta dinner was prepared by our chief chef Nick per usual. I find It always a bit edgy to watch the 2 quart pot of boiling water balanced on the three slim ‘feet” of the tiny backpackers stove and not anticipate a potential disaster of spilled a la dente pasta and se it slithering across the table when one slight bump of the table would causes the pot to slide off its petite perch. Disaster however did not ensue.
The next morning was bright and beautiful with the ongoing 29-35 mph gale force winds. Needing some solo time, I opted for a solitary adventure rather than the planned birthday lunch out for one of the women to the “tribe.” I anticipated a 9-10 mile walk, heading into Point Lookout via the road and a return by the beach. Walking the road was relatively routine, but negotiating the winds of a two mile stretch of Main Beach, the North Gorge Boardwalk and the beaches along the north stretch to adder Rock required a fair amount of extra energy and felt quite bracing. I enjoyed quiet time at the campsite to re-energize after a splendid and invigorating walk. Luke shared with me that the lunch was great fun and the food, especially the cake were delicious, but nevertheless I was quite content with my choice of quiet time away from the group.
The afternoon and evening were laid back as Nick had to return to the city for work. Miriam and I opted not to cook after the usual happy hour snack time. Luke was feeling sad and tired and I was beginning to feel ready to be heading back the next day to the city. Our departure for the mainland was scheduled for the noon ferry so after a much less windy 4 mile am beach walk, Luke and Miriam’s swim in the waves that were much more boogie board friendly, we broke camp. I managed to organize all of the gear in the Yaris with room to spare given that we were down to 3 people and one less bag. We thus headed to Dunwich and were on the ferry back to Brisbane for a much more rolling and windy ride.