mnestis

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Posts Tagged ‘Gladstone

Mooloolaba to Gladstone

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Photos Australia/Mooloolaba-to-Gladstone

We ended up staying at Mooloolaba longer than expected – for several days, in fact – after discovering that the main halyard (the rope with which one hauls up the mainsail) had been damaged en route from New Zealand. A new one had to be made up and threaded through the mast, for which we needed the services of a rigger. Like all good craftsmen, the best local one wasn’t immediately available.

The delay wasn’t exactly onerous. Early every morning I’d make a still-sleeping ‘El Capitan’ his cup of tea and then take a brisk morning walk along the fine, pale sand beach, or follow a boardwalk running behind the dunes between twisted pandanus trees and large banksias, for just over a mile to the esplanade. There were always a surprising number of people out: joggers wearing sleek tights and iPod earphones, other walkers, couples strolling hand-in-hand, and swimmers. These last were mostly elderly and looked in magnificent shape, ruddy with health and glowing from their exertions as they rubbed themselves dry. Everyone greeted everyone else with a smile or wave. The esplanade is lined with coffee-shops and decent restaurants. There are some shops selling tourist tat, but not many considering that it’s basically a resort town. I’d get an extra large cappuccino and then walk back barefoot along the edge of the gentle surf – what a heavenly way to begin the day!

The main fishing jetties which service the small fishing fleet and the complex where the day’s catch is processed for export are adjacent to the marina on the seaward side of the peninsula. Fishermen no longer arrive with open holds full of fish nowadays; the catch is sorted on the boats and put into large containers filled with ice/salt water slurry immediately. These are then loaded directly onto trucks when the boats arrive back in port – less romantic, but better for the final product. The local fish shops, naturally, make the famous fish counter at Harrods look just a bit pathetic. Photos are included purely to provoke envy.

One surprising sight at the shore end of our jetty was Jessica Watson’s ‘Ella’s Pink Lady’. It turns out the young woman is based in Mooloolaba. Small knots of people gathered almost every day to take photographs and stare at the pink cockleshell, snapping photos of each other with the boat in the background. Hand lettered signs on both jetty and outside the gate pleaded for consideration and privacy, so the hoopla when she first landed must have been considerable

Since we only have 3 months in which to cover many miles, the idea was to move north as quickly as was reasonably comfortable, sacrificing lesser attractions for the much lauded Whitsundays. So our next port of call was:

Gladstone

23° 49’.548 South

151° 14’.481 East

Gladstone is a very strange place.

On approaching the river mouth one sees freighters anchored out to sea, patiently waiting their turn to be guided into the harbour by the bright yellow pilot boats.  On cautiously motoring up the river along one side of the dredged channel our little boat passed acre upon acre of refineries –vast cat’s cradles of steel scaffolding, chimneys and storage tanks, exuding vaguely sinister wisps of steam and smoke. It was a gloomy, chilly, rainy afternoon and the air smelled vaguely acrid. There was a nasty yellow streak in the clouds indicating some kind of noxious pollution, and as we passed by the rusty hulks of freighters being loaded by inadequate-looking gantries, we rather wondered what horrors awaited us.

Anticipation was confounded. The marina was pleasantly landscaped, with well-cared-for clap-board buildings painted white and blue. The staff were friendly and helpful. The wash-room and laundry facilities were so sparkling clean – every surface gleaming – that I felt almost embarrassed using them. On either side of the marina manicured lawns and parkland stretched for about a mile along the river. During the time we were there, they were usually crowded with families enjoying picnics and barbecues, children celebrating birthdays, students lounging around in the sun and the occasional corporate ‘function’ complete with blues band.

Central Gladstone, on the other hand, was curiously desolate. Walking through town on Sunday, I literally didn’t meet another human being for 20 minutes. I’ve seen ghost towns in the U.S. with more life. It is situated on the hill occupied by the original settlement, which is now completely surrounded by factories and industrial parks.  Although money has obviously been spent on street furniture – random fountains, trees and brick pedestrian areas – there were few people to be seen even on weekdays and no real shops to speak of. These, it seemed, are located in shopping centres toward the suburbs.

A few undistinguished old buildings remain standing, and a museum housed in one of them was exhibiting some interesting aboriginal art and historical paraphernalia. Otherwise, the main street was lined with ugly modern buildings housing banks, employment agencies, solicitors, insurance companies, engineering and construction services, Chambers of Commerce and Industry and corporate offices:  Rio Tinto Alcan Tarwun, Anglo Coal Australia, Boyne Smelters Ltd., Queensland Alumina Limited (the world’s biggest alumina refinery), Cement Australia Gladstone, Orica Australia (they produce sodium cyanide, caustic soda, ammonium nitrate, chlorine, nitric acid, hydrochloric acid and sodium hypochlorite!).

There was also a sign advertising the premises of a corporate entity called ‘Matrikon Solutions for Industrial Agility’. I haven’t looked this up. I don’t want to. The name – so carefully crafted to mean nothing at all – is too fertile a ground for speculative imagination: dancing CEOs and juggling Directors…

We stayed at Gladstone for 3 nights, waiting out a period of bad weather. We ate mud crab for the first time – a Queensland delicacy and considered by many to be the best tasting crab in the world. It was certainly the most delicious I’ve ever tasted and the meat from the monster we bought was almost more than we could eat. Their small cousins look to be identical to the ones we saw in Polynesia, and make the same come-hitherish wave with one big claw at the mouth of their burrows when the tide is out.

However the high point of our stay in Gladstone was – for me at least – the flying foxes. The Captain has seen them before in various parts of the world and is consequently blasé. But I’ve been curious about them since watching them fly by at dusk in Tonga, and so was delighted to find a smallish flock roosting in a mangrove patch along the path to town. At first, walking by, I’d thought they were parrots because of the racket they made but on getting closer could smell their distinctive, curiously musty odour.  After clambering around mangrove roots while being stared at by dozens of pairs of beady little eyes I managed to take some photos before the flock decided I was bad news and flapped off to trees a few yards further away, where they remained chittering and rustling and glaring until I left. Later, just for the heck of it, I turned some of the photos upside down and was confronted with a fantastic rogues’ gallery of individual faces.

The bat family can be divided approximately into two groups: the megabats (flying foxes are megabats) and microbats (the little ones that feature in European fairy tales). Fruit bats don’t use echolocation to find their food, which consists primarily of fruit, flowers, nectar and pollen. They have excellent eyesight in daylight as well as at night, and an acute sense of smell. They’re not endangered – yet – but at risk for the usual reasons…

The next leg of our journey – Gladstone to Mackay – is in a separate post.

Love,

Eva

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Written by mnestis

July 21, 2010 at 9:45 AM