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OK, you better put a pot of coffee on or crack open a bottle of wine – it’s been a busy week!

Three very important things happened this week.

First, it was one year ago on December 7 that I received the job offer from Central Queensland University that has changed my and Hugh’s lives! A headhunting firm had reached out to me in late November about the job (no idea how they came across me, but am I ever glad they did), I interviewed for it the evening of Dec 6, and woke up the next morning to a job offer. And it’s been a whirlwind of a year since! Hugh and I are living the dream here so we are incredibly grateful to the headhunting firm as well as Barbra, Tony, and Clancy at CQU for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime.

Second, we took our first vacation this week! More on that in a minute as we really packed a lot of stuff into a few days. But what made this vacation especially memorable is that it was the first one for most of my working life where I didn’t have to bring my laptop or check my work email. What an amazing mental break!

Third, it was my birthday this week. Now, the date of my birthday has become quite a topic of conversation. I was born in England at 9pm on Dec 8. In Canada time, that’s still Dec 8. But in Aussie time, that equates to the morning of Dec 9. So is my birthday Dec 8 or 9? Or even Dec 7 because my friends and family overseas were sending me birthday messages on their Dec 7 so that I would receive them the morning of my Dec 8. I don’t know the answer to this puzzling question, so I am just declaring that henceforth, my birthday is Dec 7-9!

Something neither Hugh nor I had thought about until this week (Hugh also being born in the dead of winter), is that our birthdays are now in the summer! All my life I’ve been envious of people with summer birthdays and all of a sudden, I have joined their ranks! Here I am standing on a beach in Elliot Heads in 30 C weather on my birthday:

OK, let’s talk about our vacation. Aussies are of course amazing travelers – you meet Aussies everywhere you go in the world and when they’re back home, they don’t think twice about driving for hours and hours across sparsely populated lands. Hugh and I decided we needed to gradually ease ourselves into this mega-driving culture, so we chose to go to Bargara and Bundaberg for our first trip, just over 4 hours south of here. Definitely an area worth visiting! Nancy and Glenn – if your plans for next fall involve driving up from the south or down from the north, make sure you plan a stop in Bargara!

We left Yeppoon on Wed morning and decided to stop in a town called 1770 on our way down (about 3.25 hours from Yeppoon):

The name comes from the year Captain Cook arrived in Australia. In a case of funny timing, my friend back home Lyn had recommended that we get the audiobook “In a Sunburned Country” by Bill Bryson. As an aside, this was not an easy feat – I searched on various audiobook sites, all saying they had the book, but after signing up for a free trial, the book was nowhere to be found. I finally gave up and found another book by the same author called Down Under, so we decided to see if it was as good as the one Lyn had recommended. Well, when we clicked play in the car, the first thing the narrator mentioned was that when choosing a name for the book, the publishers in most locations in the world liked “In a Sunburned Country” – but not the Australian location of the publisher, they demanded “Down Under.” So we had actually downloaded the right book! You’d think somewhere in the description of books they would mention this dual-name issue. Anyway, back to the main story line, because we were going to be on the road for several hours, we decided to listen to the book on this trip. First, it is VERY entertaining and I highly recommend reading or listening to it – you will love it and, in spite of being more than 20 years old, the book describes a lot of exactly what we’ve experienced since arriving in Australia. Second, the book is very educational and en route to the town called 1770, the chapters happened to be explaining the history of Captain Cook’s arrival here.

We first stopped at the marina in 1770 to have lunch – lovely freshly caught crumbed whiting with chips and such a large portion that we were glad we had decided to just split one order:

We then went to the 1770 headland to take in fabulous vistas like this:

And more of the Dr Seuss-style trees (from what I can tell, Dr Seuss grew up in America, but boy, the trees and plants he drew look like they were copied from real ones in Australia!):

And Hugh breaking the rules:

So this was Wednesday mid-day that we were on Sir Raphael Cilento Drive in 1770. That street name came up again on Saturday morning while we were having breakfast, when we learned that there had been a shark attack at the beach just up from this lookout! Yikes. We noticed when we were walking back to our hotel from breakfast that the coast guard was checking the shark drumlines along the beaches of Bargara. I don’t have a photo of these, but we have them in Yeppoon too. They look like yellow floating buoys and we initially thought it was just a signal for swimmers to not venture any further than this for ease of lifeguards trying to rescue. But they are actually to prevent sharks from heading into popular swimming areas. Where the attack occurred was not a popular swimming area as it was near a waterway and most people know to steer clear of these areas as sharks (and crocodiles) come in to get food that washes down, especially in early morning and late afternoon. Sounds like the swimmer almost lost his ankle but will recover.

We continued from 1770 down to Bargara on Wed afternoon (1.75 hour drive). On the way, we noticed amazing vines full of yellow flowers trailing from tree branches near rivers and streams. We wanted to get to Bargara so I planned to take a photo on the way back on Saturday – we saw so many places with huge trees covered in these vines, it would be easy to pick one to stop at on the way home. Well, lesson learnt (Aussie for “learned”), don’t delay what you can do today. The flowers were ALL GONE on Saturday morning! From spectacular blooms on Wed afternoon to no sign of them on Sat morning. I’ve googled and they might be yellow allamanda, but I’m not sure. Oh well. We arrived at our hotel, Bargara Blue, and it was incredible – thank you to our friend Rob Z for the recommendation! Great ocean views, HUGE apartment, and walking distance to restaurants and beaches. We didn’t swim at this beach, but it was right next to our hotel – lots of families with little kids there as the town had used the natural volcanic rock to create a lagoon that would keep sharks out:

We started our Thursday with breakfast at the Windmill cafe. We’re really glad our friend Barb told us about this place because the food was delicious and we would never have noticed it walking by. The building is actually a windmill:

But it’s tucked in quite a ways back from the street and it’s surrounded by tall trees (this is a significant characteristic of Bargara compared to Yeppoon – piles of tall trees and a major farming area). There’s a small sign on the street out front but honestly, you wouldn’t notice it walking by and definitely not driving by.

We then went out to Mon Repos (Mon pronounced like “con” and Repos pronounced like you would in French) as Bargara is a major turtle nesting zone.

Oct-Dec is when the turtles come in to lay their eggs and Jan-Mar is when they hatch. We hoped to see some turtle tracks on the beach from the night before, but no luck:

While it’s mostly loggerhead turtles that nest here, they also get the big green turtles – check out the size of this shell and it’s not as big as they get!

Just as interesting as the turtles were the birds! We could hear all sorts of different ones, but they were hard to pick out in the trees. We did manage to catch 3 on film:

In the first photo, your eyes will be drawn to the turquoise-green colour in the centre – that’s the wing of the Emerald Dove! You would never see the dove without that shock of colour. The camera really doesn’t do it justice, the wings almost sparkled. You’ll recognize the little Willie Wagtail in the next photo – I previously posted a video of one of them hopping around a sidewalk in Yeppoon. Every time they stop, they shake their booty. Managed to get this photo with the tail in full fan mode! I’m not sure if you’ll be able to pick out the fellow hiding in the 3rd photo – it’s an Australian Brush-Turkey. In the shadows, you can’t see that his head is red but also notable is that his tail feathers are vertical instead of horizontal.

We spent a couple hours on Thu afternoon at the famous Bundaberg Rum Distillery!

The tour was interesting but even more interesting was the museum. The displays were outstanding with terrific Aussie humour infused throughout all the history telling. Click here to read some snippets of the history (it opens to Chapter 1, then you have to click on the near invisible links to subsequent chapters near the top to see the rest). One of the funny stories is how on earth a polar bear came to be the mascot/logo for a company located in Queensland:

When Sam McMahon took over marketing for the company in the 1960’s, he used his last name (apparently meaning son of a bear) and his favourite bear (polar) for the logo.

The reason the company got started is because sugar cane was (still is) a major crop in the area and in the 1880’s the sugar producers had a major problem – how to get rid of the molasses, which is a by-product of the sugar refining process. Well, rum was the solution! The distillery now has 10 MILLION LITRES of molasses stored on site at any given moment – it is piped in direct from the sugar factory next door. I’m not a big rum drinker but I do love molasses, wish they sold that! Anyway, Bundaberg Rum Distillery is a must visit if in the area.

Everywhere you drive around Bundaberg, you’ll see sugar cane fields, bright green against the red volcanic soil:

When we got back to Bargara, we went for a swim, first in the ocean and then in the hotel pool. The ocean in Bargara has much bigger waves. In Yeppoon, we are sheltered by the Keppel Islands off the coast; there is no such shelter for the beaches in Bargara. The waves were 4-5 feet and rolling in at a good clip, so you had to pay attention. The lifeguard had set up a zone where people were allowed to swim, just so she could keep an eye on people more easily. It was fun jumping in the waves but after one hit my head so hard I worried about a concussion, we decided to call it a day and head back to the pool at the hotel :).

On Thursday night, we had dinner at the Thai restaurant in Bargara. Now, Bargara is a tiny town – smaller than Yeppoon. Yet the food at Red Chilli was definitely the best Thai either of us has ever had anywhere in the world (acknowledging that we haven’t yet eaten in Thailand :)). And reasonable prices – including for the wine! Thank you to Barbra for recommending this place too!

Friday was my birthday (in northern hemisphere time anyway) so I decided I would go crazy and get up early to see the sunrise! Those of you who know me know that I am not a morning person, so clearly I was going to great lengths to celebrate my first Aussie birthday. I set my alarm for 4:30am (sunrise in Bargara is 4:55am right now – note to self, next time, wait for a day in the winter when the sun comes up later) and dragged Hugh out with me. Since we’ve been living here, it’s been practically non-stop sunshine (with the exception of a bunch of rain a couple weeks ago). But, at 4:45am when we arrived at the sea shore, barely awake and shivering in the cold 23 C weather, was it sunny? No, thick cloud blanketed the horizon. Seriously?? Ever the optimist, I killed some time by recording a herd of bin chickens strolling the park looking for garbage:


Patience and optimism did pay off and we got some decent, albeit not spectacular, sunrise photos, including this one:

Note the black volcanic rocks – Hugh sneakily stole one of them to put into our back garden 🙂 There are more rocky areas in Bargara than sandy beaches.

We wandered into town for a light breakfast (so we had room for leftover Thai for lunch!). Check out their Christmas decorations:

The part of the turtle that looks yellow-ish is actually silver, but depending on how the sun hit it, it sparkled in all sorts of different colours!

We then drove down to Elliot Heads (where the photo of me on the beach earlier was taken). Here they have another beautiful war memorial:

And more gorgeous views:

After an early lunch, we headed back to Bundaberg for more booze, this time at Kalki Moon gin distillery. Unlike the rum distillery that started in the 1880’s, Kalki Moon started in 2017 (by someone who used to work at Bundy Rum). We learned a lot about vodka and gin distilling from one of the owners who did the tour with us and another couple. After the tour, we sat and did our tastings with new friends Therese and Rolf. They are originally from Switzerland, then lived in Portugal, then wanted to move to Australia but Australia was being stingy with visas at the time (in spite of all of Therese’s family having lived here for years), so they moved to New Zealand, who welcomed immigrants at the time, became citizens, and finally got to Australia 4 years ago. They live about an hour from Bundaberg and have invited us to come visit with them next time we’re down that way. We absolutely will, we really enjoyed meeting them!

After the gin distillery, we headed over to Macadamias Australia:

Another must-visit place! I can’t figure out why it wasn’t in the Bundaberg tourist book; I only happened across it accidentally while searching for something else on Google Maps. Clearly there is money in macadamias – this facility was out of this world! You can read the history on their website – a very smart family, who predicts trends well and invests heavily in technology. Macadamia trees are to be seen everywhere that sugar cane isn’t:

You might notice the little railway tracks next to the field – those date from the old sugar cane harvesting days when they used little trains to move the cane from the fields.

I have always enjoyed macadamia nuts but WOW, these ones are on a whole different level of tastiness. We bought a few bags of them but I don’t think they’re going to last long. Yum!

We learned a lot about macadamias and took some photos for you. Here, Hugh is holding his nuts:

And here, Hugh is whacking his nuts:


After that level of excitement, we went out for a fancy dinner to celebrate my birthday (another great restaurant recommendation from Barb!):

Well, I better start wrapping things up or you’ll be onto your second pot of coffee or bottle of wine! Some other notable items from this week:

This is a beautiful Norfolk Island Pine (thank you to Hugh for ID’ing on his app), which we see everywhere here.

This is my favourite Foxtail Palm (only native to Australia, interestingly), but I’ve never seen one with bright orange fruit before!

We didn’t have time to visit this town, but it has a fun name and Malcolm – we took this photo for you and Gin :):

Back in Yeppoon earlier this week, a Kookaburra staring at me:

And a gorgeous sunset:

Also a terrific photo of Yeppoon from a drone by local photographer Glenn Adamus:

Our house is on the very right hand edge in the top third of the photo.

And last thing. We have been keeping an eye on Cyclone Jasper. “Cyclone” is Aussie for hurricane. I’m not sure if anywhere in North America ever hears about Pacific Ocean cyclones? This one is HUGE:

Keep in mind that Australia is almost the size of Canada. I’ve put a red X on the map where Yeppoon is. Cyclone Jasper got as high as category 4 on Friday. It’s been weakening over the weekend. It’s looking like it will hit at least north of Townsville (8 hour drive from here) and more likely around Cairns (4 hours further north), so we should be fine here. It’s windy today but actually not as bad as other windy days with no cyclone in the distance. What is unusual about this cyclone is that it’s early in the season and during an El Nino year when there aren’t supposed to be many cyclones at all. So it sort of surprised everyone. But fortunately, hurricanes move slowly so everyone has lots of time to prepare.

All right, I’m more than 1,000 words over the length I prefer for blogs, but it was a busy week with lots of new sights and sites on which to report! I’ll save my other new learnings to share with you next week. Happy Sunday!

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