I think you can tell a lot about a country by driving its roads.
Based on the 1600 kilometers we’ve covered, driving from Cairns to Coolum, and without an Australian drivers license, I would say that Australians are polite, courteous and law-abiding – that last adjective is based on the fact that the fastest we’ve seen anybody go is 120 in a 110 kph zone. This may, or may not, be due to the fact that we’ve seen more speed traps in 3 days than I think I’ve seen in 35 years of driving in Ontario.
Stop! Revive! Survive!
I would also say that there is a deep paternalistic streak to the Australian culture – even deeper than in Canada, at least as regards driving. In addition to the speed traps, every few kilometres there is a sign threatening us with death: “Stop! Revive! Survive!”; “Tired Drivers Die!”; “Every K[ilometre] Over Is A Killer!”; and Greg’s favourite: “Rest or R.I.P.!” And whether intended or not, the message is reinforced, at least in Northern Queensland, by part of the landscape: every 40 or 50 kilometres, we pass a wrecked automobile that has been allowed to stay where it landed to rust out. Some of these accidents were obviously quite gruesome.
The drive today is easier than the prior 2 were: despite heavy clouds, we do not hit a single rainstorm. The road is very flat – there are 2 sets of mountains that run parallel to the road – 1 east, 1 west (we suspect that on the west is the Great Dividing Range, which forms the boundary between the Wet Tropics and the Outback, but our maps do not confirm this) – but on the road, we have a few ups and few downs. We decide to go to a campground that is right on the beach, in the town of Coolum Beach, on the Sunshine Coast (north of Brisbane, in contrast to the Gold Coast, which is south of Brisbane), and, if it is OK, to stay there for 2 nights.
When we stop for lunch at a nice picnic spot on a brook, we are surprised when we open the doors by the intensity of the heat. But this is what we’re craving after 9 days of monsoon, and so our decision to keep driving until we escape the rain has been confirmed. As we drive into town, we pass an IGA, pick up some groceries and beer, and then head to the Maroochybeach Caravan Park, which is run by the local shire. As promised, it is on the seaward side of the coast road, but looking pretty barren otherwise – the grass is burnt, and there are few trees for shade. Despite this, we park, then immediately walk over the dune on the boardwalk, and think we’ve died and gone to heaven! A wide, white soft sand beach (Ruth: You were absolutely right about the noise the sand makes as you walk on it!) that goes on forever AND HAS ALMOST NO PEOPLE ON IT! We are hooked. We walk on the shore and promise ourselves a moonlit walk later in the evening. Quite the reward after a long day of driving.
Life in Coolum Beach
Birdlife in Australia is quite amazing, and it is different in Coolum Beach only because the birds appear to have no fear of humans. There are about 7 different kinds that will come right up to us if they think we have something they want – including (we think) crows, who talk (caw! caw!) continuously, and magpies.
Seeing the Southern Cross and the False Southern Cross.
After supper (another classic summer special: steak and salad, with a full-bodied, fruity merlot), we fulfill our promise, except the moon, has not risen. The stars are beautiful, and we put the lessons Ruth gave us to work, identifying the Southern Cross and the False Southern Cross. We are standing on the shore, our feet in the surf, and there is nobody about. We rip off our clothes and run joyously into the water.