February 7-9, 2013

(Posted by Xavier and Kristin)

Feeling like we had accomplished one great adventure, we left Hervey Bay and headed back south to Brisbane along the sunshine coast. We were told not to be tempted by all the beaches until we hit Mooloolaba. Stopping in Maryborough for a bite to eat we ran into the town’s weekly farmer’s market. What we didn’t know was just a week or two earlier the town had been devastated by flooding from typhoon Oswald, and was in the process of major repairs — but the town was in great spirits.

In passing we saw a statue of Mary Poppins and found out that Maryborough is the birthplace of author of the Mary Poppins books, P.L.Travers.

We passed endless beautiful beaches along the coast that tempted us to stay: Noosa, Sunshine, Sunrise, Castaways, Marcus, Peregian, Coolum, Marcoola, Maroochydore and finally Mooloolaba Beach.

All the way down we noticed very rough waves, with warning signs mentioning not to go swimming in such conditions — until we arrived in Mooloolaba, a protected bay with gentle waves and people enjoying themselves in the water. The town had a real surfer dude vibe.

We enjoyed a lazy 24 hours there, taking in the local scene along the beach, shopping and eating (Australian version of Chipotle!) at a riverside mall, ducking out of a surprise rain shower, and watching what looked like some kind of iron-man training team swimming in the bay. Some kind of intensive dredging of the bay was going on, another side effect from typhoon Oswald. Oh, and we also had our first encounter with a brush (also called scrub) turkey, which is about the size of a large hen or small turkey.

They have their way around town, and we did a double take when we first saw one, because we almost hit it driving into town. They’re protected, so you can’t do anything to them, and they just walk around town jumping into traffic lanes, stores, sidewalks, everywhere. Kind of strange, but it’s Australia.

Finally back in Brisbane we were met by Michael and Annette O’Leary, our new found Brissie friends. We knew nothing about Brisbane and were anxious to explore this city with Michael and Annette.

No sooner had we jumped into the car with them when they drove just one block to show us a magnificent view of the city. How the heck did we miss this driving in?

Michael and Annette were a treasure chest of information about the city, and first class guides.

We found ourselves impressed by the city’s riverfront design and planning, most of it a beneficial outcome of a World Expo a few years back. There was a Ferris wheel…

And a Nepalese pagoda!

It was interesting to hear how city planners had made adjustments when the original plans weren’t quite working out — such as the winding waterfront canal (à la Venice) which is now a winding walkway with a beautiful bougainvilla canopy.

We were particularly impressed by the riverfront swimming area, which had both a sandy beach (ick) and a sand-free lagoon (yay!)

Most importantly, it seemed as though they had made a conscious effort to set aside the waterfront for public use, not allowing private development to block access and views — and the public was sure using it!

Its historical buildings, night life, and the energy we felt from every neighborhood we walked or passed made the city that much more inviting. The Chinese New Year celebrations were underway, and the added excitement in the air seemed to infect the residents of Brisbane who were out and about that evening. Thank goodness for our trusted guides the O’Leary’s for doing all the driving. Brisbane can be very confusing to drive in because of the twisting river that divides the city. The many bridges, hills, and street changes from one side of the river to the other, starting and ending more than a few times, can be a bit much to handle on your first visit. Despite the hills it was a pretty bike-friendly place.

The evening was topped off with a memorable view of Brisbane from Mt. Coot-Tha, the highest peak in the area (287 metres above sea level).

Enjoying a evening ending coffee and dessert at the top of Mt. Coot-Tha, Kristin and I felt very lucky to have met the O’Leary’s. We are sooo indebted to them. Our evening ended on a comical note as Michael enjoyed driving by his son working security at a downtown club and honking at him several times. Good old dad being dad.