We were greeted in Brisbane by the amazing Australians from the YHA Bushwalkers.  They had been hosted in Seattle in 2012.  What an absolutely grand experience they provided all of us.  We explored some of Queensland’s most beautiful and unique National Parks. 

A welcome dinner was held the first evening in the home of one of the hosts where we met the rest of our group and Australian participants.  A barbie (BBQ), beer and homemade pizza from the host’s outdoor wood-fired pizza oven was on the menu.  Maria Bowdler was our YHA organizer.  A magnificent job was done by Maria and her crew making arrangements for food, lodging and transportation for our two-week visit.

After a night with our hosts, we all met the next day in Brisbane to explore the city.  There were eleven visitors from the USA, Japan, England the Italy which made this a truly an international exchange, thanks to the connections of Francesco Greco.  We all boarded the river ferry to view the city of Brisbane.  We then walked into the neighborhoods and through a park where we saw vegetation that we had never encountered before and a former power house which had a rebirth as an entertainment center and restaurant.  The weather held and we had lunch in another of Brisbane’s parks.

The next morning we boarded a van driven by Ray and headed south for the Gold Coast.  Despite unstable weather we did a short hike along the ocean and then visited the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.  We had several hours there to experience the animals of Australia such as kangaroos, too-cute Koala bears, crocodiles, wallabies and even a bad tempered Tasmanian Devil.  Here we also saw an aboriginal dance demonstration.

Back into our van and off to Lamingtion National Park via a long winding road in the dark up into the sub-tropical rainforest.  At O’Reilly’s Rainforest Resort we stayed at Lukes’s farm.  The group shared two farm buildings for the next three days.  We had several hikes from here with different degrees of difficulty.  Waterfalls, giant jungle trees and fabulous ferns were on the diet.  Our hosts fixed hearty dinners, provided breakfast and lunch fixings and kept us on the move.  We soon learned that nothing gets in the way of morning and afternoon tea….nothing….and we soon came to look forward to this daily tradition.  One evening we all walked out to a viewpoint below the farm and enjoyed a stunning sunset with drinks.  Another day we were entertained by a longtime guide who gave us information about the history of the area and provided us with a harmonica interlude accompanied by one of the O’Rielly son’s.

When our three days were up we were off to Giraween National Park with Ray again as our driver. Giraween was very different from Lamington.  It was all about granite and wattles (Queensland’s state flower).  It felt ancient as we walked among the wattle trees and listened to the haunting bird calls.  We stayed in cabins here and again our hosts provided exceptional dinners and the fixings for breakfast and lunch.  The weather held during the next two days for long hikes amongst the granite boulders and yellow wattle forest.  There was a steep ascent up granite to the base of Mt. Norman before we returned to our host in Brisbane.  On the return journey we stopped in Stanthorpe and Warrick to walk around these farm towns.  In Warrick we even got to see the brightly clad lawn bowlers participating in a tournament.  One more stop for a brief hike to Cunningham Gap to view the landscape, and then home.

On our “rest” day we met most of the others for a visit to the Brisbane Botanical Gardens.  Unique flowers, trees and many water features were part of this mature garden.  Then off to an urban mountain top for a view of all of Brisbane.

Fraser Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest sand island in the world was next.  This was to be a very exciting and unique experience.  On the way there was a brief stop in the Glass House Mountains and a hike to Ngun Ngun Mountain.  At the ferry dock we parted with Ray and were in the hands of guides from Fraser Island Experience.  On the island it is all sand and no roads.  The small ferry took our big 4×4 across the narrow channel. After a very bumpy ride up the beach with a stop for tea from the back of the truck, we arrived at our apartments in Eurong.  Dinner and breakfast was provided here by the resort.  Riding in the big four wheel drive rig was our daily bone-jarring experience.  Island tracks provided access to some interesting hiking in the interior and on the magnificent sand dunes. We even experienced a dip in a crystal clear (and cold) lake.  Several did a scenic flight right from the beach in a small plane which landed and took off close to the rusted hulk of a large ship.  We saw wild dingoes and breaching whales before heading back to Brisbane. A final farewell evening dinners at a riverside park was hosted by the YHA Bushwalkers .  The skyline of Brisbane was blazing with lights.  This outdoor barbie concluded a wonderful two weeks half way around the world.  Thanks to all who made it possible.

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