Walking in a Hinter Wonderland

On Saturday, I set foot outside Brisbane for the first time since I first set foot in Brisbane.

The occasion was an exchange-students’ trip to the Gold Coast Hinterland. Actually, it feels a bit weird writing about it now, even though it was only half a week ago. There’s been so much aftermath of it already that it feels like I’m going “hey guys, guess what? The steam engine has been invented!” I’ve already described or mentioned the events in several emails and postcards, and Facebook is alive with hundreds of photos of the day, not to mention a rather superb video-blog. But this may be as it may be. It was a fantastic day, and well worth the bloggery.

The trip was being run by UQ’s friendly exchange students’ society (they of the wonky acronym). I’m thankful for the existence of this lot, they provide a nice easy way to do fun things with a bunch of fun people, reasonably cheaply. I’m pretty lucky with my timing, too — this is only the second semester that QUEST has actually been in existence, inspired, rather bizarrely, by a founding members’ experience of an equivalent society at the University of Glasgow. (Actually, little home-flavoured oddities like that are cropping up surprisingly often. There’s an “Edinburgh Castle Road” in the middle of Brisbane, and one pub I walked past had a poster of a hurling player in the colours of Kilkenny, the county in Ireland where I used to live.)
The day, it has to be said, didn’t start spectacularly smoothly. We had been given a 7.45am start time by email, but our tickets said 8.45, leading to an hour’s waiting around for the more cautious amongst us. Still, half’s the pleasure’s in the anticipation (as the actress said to the bishop). Plus, it allowed me plenty of time to get good and excited about the fact that we were travelling on Greyhound buses, which the North Americans amongst our number seemed to find gently amusing.

Greyhound BusCrew

Yep. This is going to be one of those picturey blogs. That second picture, while a nice example of my complete failure to master lighting in photography, can also serve as an introduction to the crew I consorted with for the day: left to right are Emily (Californian), Morgan (Seattlian? Washingtonian?), Scarlett (Winnipegian) and Emil (Copenhagian. Incidentally, pronouncing “Copenhagen” in Danish is really hard) — marvellous people all. Also present on the trip were Claire and Jack, a brace of my fellow Edinburgers.
It was good vibes all around. It’s always pleasant to hang with some folk in a similar sort of situation as yourself. You can compare how many ways to be killed horribly by Australian wildlife you’ve heard about recently, for example. The best so far has to be the snail that shoots poison darts at you. YEAH THAT’S RIGHT A GODDAMN SNAIL THAT SHOOTS POISON GODDAMN DARTS. Friendly place, this.

The “Hinterlands” is a wonderful term used to describe the area of sub-tropical rainforest southwest of Brisbane. Our snapshot tour consisted of four stops within this area.
Up first, as a taster, was the Best of All Lookout. Given that the city of — wait for it — Surfers’ Paradise is visible from Best of All Lookout, you’re forced to conclude that this is not the home of a modest race. It is, however, the home of some jaw-dropping scenery. From Best of All, you could see a sweeping vista from distant mountains in the south to the thick blue line of the pacific ocean out to the east and southeast. Closer to, hills thickly coated in the gorgeous smoky blue-green of rainforest rolled away for mile after mile, finally giving way to first farmland, then beaches.
This gave us an introduction to our surroundings, but we were quickly whisked away. There was much, much else to be seen.
Stop two continued the theme of self-effacing, modest nomenclature. It was called …The Forest of Dreams. It’s a bit like they told some cartographer to create the perfect country, and he figured that if he started with the names, the rest would follow. I won’t be entirely surprised if I wake up tomorrow to find Brisbane has been surreptitiously renamed Superawesome-Megahappy-No-Really-It’s-Great-Ville. Or just Win (the city).
I have to say, the Forest of Dreams didn’t entirely live up to its name. I mean, the last dream I can remember in any detail consisted of me losing my debit card in a shop full of bamboo, none of which happened in the Hinterlands. This isn’t to say it wasn’t freakin’ sweet. It laid on two different zoological experiences; glow-worms and parrots.
Glow-worms came first. After an explanatory video, our friendly guide led us into a room kept in 24-hour darkness, where the bioluminescent little bugs shine on all day long. It was magical. Staring at a wall of glow-worms is like seeing a galaxy in microcosm. Their blue glows are the size of pinpricks, but extraordinarily vivid, and extremely diverse; here a small cluster of miniature suns, here a comparative supernova, shining in its own patch of darkness. We apes had to evolve for millions of years before we figured out how to make light. These guys just glow.

The parrots were even more amazing, albeit in a more down-to-earth way. Basically, we were led onto a large stone patio-balcony overlooking a forested valley, and given access to sunflower seeds. Wild parrots, wise to the feeding spot, quickly flocked to surround us, and within minutes had grown bold enough to perch right on the edge of our hands. I love encounters with wildlife, and such prolonged close contact with such beautiful animals felt like a profound privilege …even if they did bite my fingers. Fat grey pigeons walked the forest floor scooping up anything the parrots spilled, but our attention was transfixed by the prettier animals perching on our fingers. Slaves to their aesthetic, like flies to glow-worms.

Count the parrot.

Best of All Lookout

Best of All Lookout

Destination three was the biggie: a waterfall spilling down into a deep rainforested valley, with ample time allowed for us to wander freely. The rainforests, like the ones I saw in Jamaica over Easter, held me transfixed with their presence. To a northern European, accustomed to nothing more exotic that the wild crisp packet, walking along paths where vines spill down from the trees, where palm-trees and fronds mingle with gum and fig trees, where the undergrowth rustles with the bustling vivacity of innumerable wildlife, is something incredible. Yes, there were broad asphalt paths — I’m not trying to claim that this exploration was intrepid in the slightest. But, if we’d stepped just feet to either side, it could have been. Morgan, to the delight of all, described the scenery as “totally dinosaurs”. She was later proved right by a notice board informing us that subtropical rainforest was one of the world’s oldest habitats, but we knew what she meant anyway. Primal and exotic and verdant, luscious and wild… and this is only subtropical rainforest. It was amazing.
It was a blast, too. Don’t let my piously overawed rhetoric lead you to believe I just stood around gawping. We joked and laughed and jumped around on rocks and took excessive amounts of photographs. We admired Scarlett for her inhuman ability to jump around on rocks in heels. We scripted ourselves a horror movie based on all the things which could possibly go wrong (this intermittently seemed worryingly plausible, especially when we took a wrong turning and found ourselves in an unknown country wasteland with ten minutes to get back to the bus).

Jumping around on rocks!


To finish up, we visited the oddly soberly-named Natural Bridge. This was a stunning beauty spot, a sort of fusion of everything we’d seen so far; more rainforest, more waterfalls, and even more glow-worms, but wild ones this time. And then it was time for the long bus journey home. Going home to Brisbane? Now there’s a confusing concept. It was great to get out and do some stuff, though. To finally get off my ass and see a little bit of what exists out there beyond the city limits. To spread my wings a little. To feed some parrots.
I haven’t really fit everything in here — there was the bit where our bus almost ran a car off a cliff, for one thing — but I hope I’ve given the flavour. I can’t wait until the next similar opportunity raises its head, but until then I’ve got more than enough essays, assignments and restaurant reviews to keep me occupied. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a picture of the magical Natural Bridge, and a sincere recommendation that if you ever get the chance to go pat parrots, you should probably go for it.
Natural Bridge===============

Exciting new websitey stuff: check out the new “reviews” link, over there on the right, to see what happens when I review stuff! This will be updated with my restaurant reviews for bestrestaurants.com.au as and when they appear online, as well as all sorts of other juicy goodness. Also, “Goodnight Sweet Quince” added to the Creative Writing archive, the title of “The Fleming Defence” changed to “The Disconnected” because that’s how I always think of it, and, um, a new picture in “about” where I jump off a rock.