Snake Phobia – what you don’t want in your garden in Australia

So my sister emails this from Brisbane saying “Thought you guys would love to see the new Aussie pet in our complex – this was taken on Wednesday in Sue’s garden.”

What I want to know is “if that was Wednesday, where is it NOW?”. Oh, and I am never visiting you in Brisbane again. I know this country is full of snakes, I just don’t want any proof, ever, not even the non-poisonous ones! Snakephobia rules.

snake, Brisbane, Australia
snake, Brisbane, Australia

Tangalooma – a tropical trip back in time

Shall I tell you a secret – a really well kept secret? There is an island, a tropical playground only 75 minutes by ferry from Brisbane. I’m talking about Tangalooma Island resort, on Moreton Bay island just off the coast from Brisbane. In my ten years in Australia I’d say that pretty much every local and about 50% of imports and visitors I have talked to have heard of Moreton Bay Island, and yet I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve come across who’ve heard of Tangalooma. I suspect if I lived in Brisbane that number might be higher, but for the rest of us, its been a secret for far too long.

Tangalooma Island Resort, a trip back to the seventies.

Moreton Bay Island is a large sand island surrounded by beautiful shallow turquoise water teeming with sea life. Its 95% National Park, so if you are on Moreton Bay island its likely that you are at the Tangalooma Island Resort. In spite of their excellent efforts to modernise the accommodations, what I love about Tangalooma is how it feels like a step back into a good seventies motel. Here’s a holiday spot where I can embrace my inner bogan. Bring out your beer brand t-shirts, your hawaiian shirts, your tracky-dacs or your checked bush shirt and you will feel right at home here. I order a XXXX Gold – no,  I don’t have a choice, its the only beer on tap – at least it is lovely and cold. I mull over my choice of fish and chips, pizza or meat pie for dinner, order from behind the bar, sit outside in the beer garden, watch the sky turn deep orange and realise I really don’t need any other mod cons.


It may be the 1970s but there is a raft of brilliant things for us to do. First off we are staying on a beautiful sheltered white sand beach with calm shallow clear blue waters. As well as swimming, we can snorkel, kayak, or go for a ride on a water trike (giant three wheeled floating tractor for those who haven’t yet had this thrill). Around the resort there is tennis and archery. Heading inland there is sand tobogganing and quad biking. But we are looking at the sea, so we head off for an afternoon of whale watching. The boat heads around to the seaward side of the ocean, where from June to October each year the humpbacks migrate right past the island. We see a lot of humpbacks, including a few that come right up and swim under and around us, slapping their tails, blowing through their blow holes, but sadly no spectacular breaches today.

Hand feeding wild dolphins.

Night-time brings the most unusual entertainment – hand feeding the wild dolphins. Now this doesn’t immediately sound very ecologically sound to us, but we are reassured that it is in fact a highly controlled program, only about 11 of the population of around 600 local wild bottlenose dolphins participate (at their choice), and they are all feed only a small proportion of their daily requirements so that it doesn’t stop their normal hunting and feeding patterns. Re-assured that we are not doing anything bad, we line up for the process of dolphin feeding, which goes like this:

  1. Strip down to swimwear.
  2. Stand under a cold shower and make sure we’ve washed off any trace of mossie repellant, sunscreen, moisturiser or any other lotions and potions, as these can irritate the dolphins.
  3. Stand in a queue waiting our turn, getting colder and colder  – warm sunny day has turned into cold windy night
  4. Wash hands again in a special antibacterial solution to ensure we don’t pass any bugs on to the dolphin
  5. Pick up nasty slimy smelly fish from bucket and try and hold in the approved fashion, which is “just like an icecream “, the head is poking out toward the sky and the tail resting in my palm, as apparently dolphins prefer to munch their fish head first.
  6. Then its my turn and I shuffle forward hip deep in the cold water with one of the biologists, hold my fish a foot under the surface, and wait while one of the dolphins swims up and and swallows it straight out of my hand. I notice what big teeth it has as it opens its mouth wide.
  7. There is a strict no touching rule (we can’t touch the dolphin) but the dolphins have their own rules, and my dolphin starts nudging my shin – the biologist says it OK so I stand there with it nudging me until it gets bored at my refusal to play, and off it swims – the whole time I am desperately trying to stop myself from reaching in and giving it a huge hug – dolphins do have that effect on us humans!
  8. We wade back onto the beach and start dancing around in excitement – again its that joyful effect dolphins seem to have on us.


Dugong spotting.

In the morning we go for a walk up to the northern end of the beach, where there is a large man-made ship graveyard just offshore. This has been created deliberately in recent decades, and has turned into a spectacular dive and snorkel spot, with rusting skeletons of boats in shallow clear warm waters housing a colourful parade of fishes and sea life.
Then we jump on another boat to go Dugong spotting. Dugongs are a protected species, are notoriously shy, and can swim a long time under water without having to come up for a breath, so they can be hard to find. Thats why we head to the sand banks, in some very shallow water between Moreton island and the mainland, as it is easier to spot them when they are close to the surface. The dugong are large, up to 3 metres long, and have a rather ugly bulbous head which rather belies their legend of being the animal that made sailors think they had seen a mermaid. But when spooked they can instantly accelerate and speed off like a missile, no speed boat has a hope of keeping up with them. So both we and our boat try and stay as quiet as we can, and we are rewarded with a mass of sightings, pod after pod of dozens of dugongs, and we are under their spell for the next couple of hours, watching as much of their antics as they will let us.
As the afternoon shadows lengthen, we head back to the jetty and are soon on the ferry and heading home to Brisbane, very happy with our sea mammal encounters for the weekend.

There’s more to Gold Coast than the glitter


Gold Coast, living on the canals
Gold Coast, living on the canals

Meter maids in gold bikini’s, schoolies on drinking binges, leather skinned woman of a certain age in tight white jeans,  plastic surgery outcomes on display everywhere – the tacky glitz and glam is something you either love or hate. But is there more to the Gold Coast than it’s popular image?

I didn’t think so but this weekend has convinced me that there is another Gold Coast and it’s one I like. My sister and I spend the weekend visiting our very charming cousins, Jill and Ernie. They have a house on the canals just ten minutes inland from Broadbeach on the Gold Coast. It is huge and modern and spacious with a gorgeous swimming pool in a tranquil river corner setting. Apart from wandering through the tropical botanical gardens just five minutes away, it would be easy to just stay here in on the loungers in the sun, especially as Ernie is such a great cook! But we drag ourselves out for some sightseeing.

Gold Coast, The Spit
Gold Coast, The Spit

Gold Coast – the northern end.

At the northern end of the Gold Coast is The Spit – a 5km stretch of almost undeveloped beach, very popular with surfers, picnickers and dogs. At the very northern end is the Seaway entrance, where a seawall provides a protected entrance from and to the rivers and canals to the open sea. A walk out along the seawall gives a fantastic view all the way down the gold coast. Near the seawall is a jetty extending almost half a kilometre out into the ocean, part of the sand bypass process that recycles sand back to the beaches as the sea washes it away. Walk out along the top of the wooden jetty until you are 450metres out to sea and feel the wind on your face and the giant swells making the jetty supports tremble (or maybe that is just my knees). From here I can see the beach stretch out straight for thirty six kms and then curve around to Coolangatta at the southern end of the Gold Coast. In the middle I can see the mass of glitzy highrises of Main beach and Broadbeach.

Gold Coast – the southern end.

Towards the southern end of the beach, the long white strip of sand finally starts breaking up into smaller bays and headlands. The first is at Burleigh Heads, an iconic surf spot. And just a little bit further south is Coolangatta, and finally Rainbow Bay and the famous surf of Snapper Rocks. Here is the perfect sunset spot. The glorious old Rainbow Bay surf lifesaving club is a two storey building with a large balcony running all the way around, a genuine spot that hasn’t been ruined by a flashy makeover. The perfect spot to pull up a chair, grab a cold beer and look back up all those thirty six kms of Gold Coast curling across in front of me on the horizon. Below me the surfers are out in force as dusk falls, and I am starting to wonder where I can find some fish and chips for dinner.

Gold Coast, Burleigh Heads
Gold Coast, Burleigh Heads

Gold Coast – the markets.

The Carrera Markets are another slice of Gold Coast without a flashy makeover. These hugely popular markets are open 7am to 4pm every Saturday and Sunday, spread over vast fields and have an incredibly diverse range of tack and treasure. Looking for bargains on novelty electronic items and kids toys? Tick. Looking for bargains on summer beachwear and footwear? Tick. How about garden furniture and plants, new pets and pet accessories? Tick. Can I find Emu Oil, hair accessories, crystals, handbags, jewellery? Tick again. And plenty of food stores and fresh fruit and vege stands to boot. We buy the largest, melt-in-the-mouth strawberries, the sweetest I have tasted in years. It may not be the trendiest or the artiest, but it is a giant flea market with something for everyone.

Yes, there is a softer, gentler, more relaxing, low key  Gold Coast after all. Who’d have believed it?