A chronicle in 5 parts about traveling through Australia.
The Whitsundays is a large group of islands not far from the coast still inside of the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. A dream for sailing we thought and spontaneously found ourselves on the Gretel, a 70-foot yacht that had won the America’s Cup for Australia some time ago, a most beautiful boat. We had a ball, spending a roaring sailing day on her in this spectacular area. High speed sailing with one railing ploughing deep into the foaming sea. Everybody had to help managing this race horse of a boat.
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Way out there is The Reef. It stretches for some 3000 km pretty parallel along the entire northeastern coast of Australia: A barrier, an under-water wall of corals. At low tide the upper plateau just gets exposed, at other times it’s only visible by the heavy surf breaking over it. Just a few meters below the surface there is a completely new world, however, you need a snorkel and a mask to see it.
But the reef is far out. We took one of those big white speed-talking catamaran racers. With more than 30 knots we almost flew more than piercing the waves. It was pretty violent and we still all got seasick. It’s a bit of a joke to fool around in this amazing paradise for just a few hours, half seasick, half scared to death so exposed to a wild environment.
The reef with its colors, shapes, and fantastic forms is not only a visual aesthetical experience, as so often, the real beauty is only revealed when you begin to understand the wonderful complex relationships of things within it. It’s a system of harmonious, symbiotic life, incredibly sensitive, interdependent, a network of cooperating, collaborating individual organisms, continuously changing, unfortunately in great danger now due to global warming. Of course, the unfamiliar medium (to me), the inherent strangeness under water only adds to all – you feel it on your skin, you cannot really live down there.
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The more north we go now the more tropical the vegetation gets, the warmer and stickier it gets. Townsville is a surprisingly nice little city, a secret for the strange new species of well-to-do fed-up affluence escapees. There you even find what’s often missing in many other possible Australian paradises: culture, atmosphere for the intellect. There tourism is No.2 and the local life style is still No.1.
The Queensland coast is long and calm. Because of the great reef the surf is mostly very quiet. The immaculate weather, the beautiful blend of idyllic rainforest, and perfect empty beaches makes us stay and stay.
In the mangroves behind the beach we catch enormous monster-crabs every day, 2 kg a piece. An exciting affair with my self-built sink net. You don’t even need a trap.
These are called bugs. Like shrimps, only better.
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In the little villages near by we can get all these marvelous exotic fruits. Most of them are quite new to us. It takes weeks to learn all the names and explore their peculiar qualities and taste their fantastic flavors.
The Carambola, for example, is pretty well-known in the other parts of the world too by now, but we had never seen it. A deeply grooved fruit with a star-shaped cross-section. The skin is like that of bell peppers, the pulp is crisp, sweet, sour, juicy, like most of these fruits kind of impossible to describe but extremely delicious. And there are so many other treasures, here are just a few:
There is the Rollinia, which has a big pear-like body, studded with black thick spikes and barbed hooks that are totally soft. The pulp inside is mild and sweet and the taste has components of nut and lemon.
This is a good collection of what you can eat in Queensland. The fruits alone would make this part of the world worth a visit.
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Exotic flowers too, all over the place!
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While we almost forget the time and wallow in all these delightful new things we vaguely remember that it is winter here and that it is summer at home up in the northern hemisphere of this wonderful planet.
In the night we see the beautiful Southern Cross, but we can also still see Big Dipper and Orion; they stand there in an unfamiliar position very low over the horizon still greeting us as happy earthlings.
The beaches around Cairns are fabulous.
Little crabs making little sand balls.
By forming these balls they squeeze nutrition out of the sand. The next tide cleans it all up again and levels it out.
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Coconuts. You can wait until they fall, but you can also climb up and get them.
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Low Island. A dream of an island. 400 feet long, 159 feet wide, a snow-white beach all around. Like the perfect line in a beautiful poem, just at the right harmonic position: a light tower, red-white. Half-hidden in the palm tree green: a little white house. Shallow calm sea around, scattered with colorful corals on the bottom. Far away on the horizon the blue shade of the coastline and soaring, shining cloud castles over it.
Half a day we dreamed away there and didn’t want to wake up again. We came over on another beautiful sailing yacht, just the two of us. There are such days when everything seems perfect beyond any rational conception, perfect and yet somehow slightly unreal. Over time I’ve learned to leave it at that and live it up before such apparent “contradiction” spoils it all.
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It was also one of those dream days when we grabbed the opportunity to see all this splendor from the air. A little Ultralight came buzzing in over one of those beaches and landed right in front of us.
It was a guy named Chris who just came back from a record-breaking flight all around Australia, all on his own, without support vehicle, just with this fragile flying machine.
It was a bit too windy at first, but a couple of days later he knocked on our window very early in the morning and off we went.
A little bit of fabric, some wire, some poles and bars, three wheel barrow tires, a lawn mower engine: the abstraction of an airplane, the triumph of just the essential. (A few years later I learned to fly these things myself).
In steep turns I looked down over my shoulder into the depth and spotted our mirror image below on the sea. Tiny ships seemed suspended in mid-air and showed their shadow deep down on the bottom of the sea. The elegant softly swinging coastline with its slowly creeping surf looked like a necklace of pearls. Then we flew over the jungle and I looked down on all this relentless growth.
If one could make an extreme slow-motion film of this vegetation from this perspective, maybe one picture every week, it would compress and speed up the process of continuous growing-up and passing-away of trees and plants. The result would look like a permanently turbulent motion, little explosions of nothing evaporating again to nothing all over the place, a bubbling, boiling surface. And imagine: this impression of continuous motion fits to all of life. The single image, the individual event, the personal life, the subjective fate loses its meaning, a totally different story arises.
followed by Australia IV
Klaus April 2012