The final leg of my Australian adventure was spent working my way down the East Coast from Cairns to Sydney, from where I’d leave for Asia. Having just spent the best part of a week in the arid, dry centre of Australia, trekking around massive rocks in the desert, eating dust, and camping in the outback where the only water around was in bottles going into me or in sweat coming out, it was nice to be by the sea for a bit.
Though I’m not really a sea person. I grew up near toxic seasides on England’s own East Coast, where the water, even to a child’s eyes, seemed unnervingly grey and lumpy. Whilst I enjoy lazing around in parks of a summer’s day, I don’t care for doing the same on sandy beaches. At least grass knows its place and doesn’t try and get all up in my mouth, and in my pants, and in my eyes, and in my food, and in my list of things to rid the world of if ever I become king of it.
That said, I was keen to just kick back and make the most of the coast for a bit. We were making our way Southwards by Greyhound bus, since it was a relatively inexpensive way to travel long distance, but I guess there are reasons it’s so cheap. It appears that to qualify as a Greyhound driver you need to be at least 80-years-old and fuck up at least once on every scheduled journey. Our first trip was over an hour late to the departure point, and our second had broken air-conditioning, which was perfect for a 12 hour journey in heat pushing 40C. We did get to watch movies on the bus TV though - one of the buses had more than a few young kids travelling with their families, so the driver thoughtfully decided to show Saving Private Ryan in all its violence and visceral glory to keep them calm. It kept sticking and returning to the beginning after that opening battle scene though, so those little ones got to see the horrific death-ridden storming of the beach over and over and over. One of the drivers selflessly gave us all an eyeful of his wrinkly old ballsack too as he bent to retrieve the luggage, so adults and children alike were equally scarred.
But this post is supposed to be on water, so I’ll get back on track. We had a week to kill in between Cairns and a sailing trip around the Whitsunday Islands, departing from Airlie Beach, so in between we stopped for a couple of nights at Mission Beach and Townsville respectively. The first of these had little much to offer us personally other than our own little cabin in the rainforest and a long stretch of golden beach. Tough life. I’m proud to say that I threw away a lifetime of open water related fears and worries and in Mission Beach went swimming in the sea for only the second time in my adult life - it was either that or spend the whole time picking sand out of my arse. Turns out I could still swim, albeit with the proficiency and buoyancy of a bag of that lousy sand, and despite eventually becoming frustrated with my own lack of what most take for granted as a basic skill, I loved it.
Townsville was our next East Coast stop. Again, the place itself had little to offer - we couldn’t even find an open restaurant - but from here we took a ferry to the nearby Magnetic Island to have a gander at its flora and fauna, and to do some more lazing around on beaches and splashing around in the sea. Spontaneously we decided to hike from our ferry port, through the rainforest, to one of the island’s beaches. It was a hike of about 5km - not too great a distance, but the sun shone hard and its relentless and oppressive heat made it pretty sweaty work. That’s a massive understatement. It was mostly uphill, and I was wearing flip-flops, which is a fucking ridiculous footwear choice for rainforest hikes. At least this area was home to only a handful of deadly snakes and spiders. In pretty much no time I was sweating more than I’d ever sweated. I sweated where I didn’t even know I could sweat. Even my shins were dripping. It took us a couple of hours and when I reached the beach I literally had to wring out my t-shirt and hang it up to dry before I could leap into the sea to make myself less wet and salty.
Actually I couldn’t just leap straight in. The East Coast waters are home to plenty of deadly things like sharks and rip currents but more abundantly, tiny transparent lethal jellyfish. That’s a misleadingly cute sounding name. They should be called Murderbubbles or Painsacks. Often the seas are completely unswimmable and when it’s permitted it’s usually restricted to a netted area with lifeguard patrol. Here at Alma Bay there were no nets and no obvious patrol area, and yet lots of carefree swimmers. We asked a local fellow - a fit looking old chap in trunks. He confidently assured us that there were no lethal Stingerblobs in these waters and that while we might feel a few nips, there’d be nothing to worry about. Still pouring with sweat I figured I’d take my chances if it meant a brief cooling down period, so in I went, wading up to my neck. Sure enough I felt the nips almost immediately. And constantly. And painfully. How the fuck did these people enjoy, or even endure this?! No-one would willingly go running naked through a patch of man-high nettles and still grin, but that’s pretty much what it felt like. I stuck it out for a couple of minutes and then left, sobbing and looking like I’d been repeatedly slashed with a whip made of fire.