We were sad to leave New Zealand after falling so in love with the country during our time there. The people are so exceptionally friendly, the spaces are uncrowded and the scenery is fabulous. We are lucky we got to spend as much time there as we did, but easily could have stayed longer.
Onward to Brisbane for our next stop. We didn't realize we had to get an Australian visa, and then the surfboards caused a bit of a panic with their weight, but everything got sorted out. Brisbane is a huge city and reminded me very much of a hot and tropical Boston. Skyscrapers towered over old stone churches and the suburbs stretched on for quite a ways. We stayed at a pretty nice hotel downtown where we could walk to see the older buildings and get some dinner. The people at the hotel were nice enough to let us store two enormous bags of winter clothes and 4/3 wet-suits and booties there so we would be able to make the weight limit on the flight back to Brisbane. Our plan is to drive up to Cairns and then fly back down from there.
I really hadn't considered how incredibly tropical this area of Australia is. It is really really hot and humid and the water is just like Hawaii, warm and crystal turquoise colored. I guess we were still in winter mode with all our New Zealand items, but quickly realized we would need no more than shorts and t-shirts at any time of the day.
We picked up our new camper van from Kea which we would drive north. After being so totally spoiled in the Wilderness Camper we had just had, this one is certainly a bit of a disappointment. It's much, much smaller, about the size of a VW Bus, but the good thing is that it's much easier to drive and an automatic. However, there is barely any storage space at all, and you have to pop the top to comfortably camp, which is pretty conspicuous if you want to freedom camp. There is no inverter, so therefore no electricity like the last van unless you are plugged in at a fancy holiday park. No toilet, bathroom or indoor shower either. There is a little shower out the back which works well for post-surfing. In hindsight, getting the camper van here may not have been the best idea. It is so much more urban and extremely developed with high-rises and endless neighborhoods, that it is not very easy to find a quiet secluded spot like in New Zealand.
Nonetheless, we got onto the M1 which felt like a super-highway with it's 6 lanes across compared to what we had gotten used to, and headed north. Taking Marybeth's advice (thanks MB!), we decided to go an check out the Australia Zoo, popularized and developed by the late Steve Irwin. The place was amazing and so much more interactive than the zoos we are used to in the US. We fed an elephant several pieces of fruit, which she snatched with her trunk from our hands. Her trunk was like hairy sandpaper, not the leathery feel I thought it would have at all. Next we were able to pet the snoozing koala bear, which was so soft. There were lots in the trees, all sleeping. Apparently that's what they o for 20 hours a day because of their low-energy eucalyptus diet.
After getting a snack and checking out many of the crocs, we saw the wombats and red pandas, and then into the venomous snake house. This was an a very cool display with lots of information, but did not encourage us to go hiking around the bush here with so many lethal snakes all over. But the best part of the zoo was the way the kangaroos are set-up. It's just like a huge open park and you get to go in and feed them, or pet them as Erich did. He was like a kangaroo whisperer in there, they would come up to him and one put it's paw in his hand and just left it there, sort of holding his hand. Others just loved to be pet while laying on their sides. I was pretty jumpy around them, they are just such foreign and weird animals like nothing I have ever seen. Completely fascinating to look at, but I wasn't sure how much they could be trusted until I watched Erich with them. They fed from our hands although with all the food these guys get during the day, they were less than thrilled by the time we got there at 4:45pm.
The zoo closed at 5pm, so we barely got to see the Dingos, Emus and Kimodo Dragon before having to leave. It was such a great place, but a little sad too as Steve's pictures are up all over and there is a memorial for him there too.
We drove up the coast, delusional in thinking that it would be simple to find a park or beach to spend the night. Unfortunately, we couldn't find anything as the entire coast line is so incredibly developed. Imagine driving from downtown San Diego north and thinking you are going to find a quiet little covert spot to sleep for the night near the beach. Doesn't happen (at least not legally). Finally we ended up in a tiny park area, just out back of a little asian market and luckily no one said anything to us.
The time zone here is pretty bizarre. It's like they really messed up when figuring out what time it should be here. It is literally, I am not exaggerating, daybreak at 4:45am. Now when the sun rises is also when the crazy tropical birds start to go nuts, so we got a good loud wake-up call around then. The the even weirder part is that people just get up then and go about their day like that's normal! And then it is totally dark by 7pm, with the sunset about 6:30pm.