The Life of Riley: Bundaberg

Monday 13th January
As had happened the morning before the two girls were up first as they were leaving for Frasier Island. The 4th bunk still appeared to be free but appeared to have been made during the night and a copy of women’s weekly lay on it. Not one of us had heard anyone enter though Pam had joked about the building being haunted.

I packed and made my way downstairs to meet Konstantin for breakfast though he said he was running a bit late. He already had some water melon and I’d forgotten it was Monday so the cooked breakfast wasn’t available. The girl serving was the one who did our introduction meeting on the Saturday and we briefly chatted whilst I waited for the other two.

Since Tasmania Konstantin had done a fair bit of exploring along the East Coast and was now on the final leg back to Brisbane. We both checked out and then I had to go as I needed to catch a local bus to a place called Cooroy where I would then be catching a train to Bundaberg. Bundaberg had been a destination I’d been intrigued to visit, firstly it was home to the rum which had been the source of many happy evenings 3 years before, Caroline my housemate is from there and I’d heard it was a great place to see turtles.

The bus to Cooroy arrived on time though I then had to wait over 1 hour and 30 minutes until the train. The station was unmanned and completely empty except for one other passenger who I got talking to. They were from Gympie, an old mining town that I remembered passing through 3 years ago. It was somewhere I may have been interested to visit if I’d had more time or was passing through again but I hadn’t been able to fit it in to this section of the trip which was already fairly intense in terms of activities. We discussed various things though it was mainly the weather in the US, the terrible flood damage to Bundaberg in January 2013 and the recent storms in the UK.

Her train arrived first which meant for 30 minutes I sat alone until other passengers for my train arrived though I didn’t talk to any of them. Instead I read my Bill Bryson book to seehow his travel experiences around the country compared to my own. The train arrived nearly 20 minutes late, and whilst my ticket led me to believe a guard would help check in my luggage that wasn’t the case so I had to guess where to leave it.

The journey itself was fairly uneventful, the guy behind who had recently retired sounded good company as he chatted to the person next to him but I was sat next to someone watching a movie on their laptop and whose handbag had originally been sat on my seat. We uttered not one word in the 2 hours and 30 minutes. During that time a GPS satellite image showed our route and how was we were travelling and I was surprised we didn’t really go above 90mph. I looked out of the window, mainly we seemed to pass through forest before as we approached Bundaberg the trees cleared and were replaced by bushes. Possibly some of the sugar plantations. I have no idea.

Arriving at Bundaberg station home to 60,000 people I naively assumed that a bus to the hostel would be easy but no one seemed to be around to ask and I had no map. Unfortunately even my trusty lonely planet guide didn’t say how to get from the station so I had to get a taxi. The driver dropped me off at the wrong hostel and it was only with a bit of luck I found mine behind the coach station.

I had booked the hostel because my Lonely Planet guide said they ran tours to see the turtles at Mon Repos (so long as you already had an entrance ticket to the national park). Unfortunately it seems they are no longer able to offer this service due the local government and whilst they could still take me there for free I’d have to find my own way home. They suggested I try tourist information to get on their bus so no sooner had I dumped my bags I was off out again.

Predictably tourist information were unable to assist as the sole coach with room for 30 people was full despite I believe 360 national park entrance tickets had been sold for the night. The reason the local government had I was told ‘clamped down’ on tours was to ensure there was less traffic (even though the 360 entrance tickets remained the same). All I can say is a bus for less than 10% of people attending would mean a lot of cars. Worse because the hostel mini bus had driven off I would have to walk back to the hostel.

I’d asked at tourist information how far it was to the hostel expecting to be told an estimated number of kilometres however instead I’d received the response “depends how fast you walk”. I left tourist information and had been told to head down a particular street what I wasn’t told was that the street ran in both directions. Left? Or Right? Somewhat exasperated at my introduction to Bundaberg I stood at the traffic lights and asked the lady next to me if she could direct me. Not only could she do that but she was walking to the same street as me so we chatted as we walked along together. It probably took about 20 minutes.

I entered the hostel and explained that the national park bus was full so they drove me down saying you’ll probably be able to get a lift back or share a taxi. I knew I’d figure something out, I just wanted to make sure I got to Mon Repos. I arrived very early but others had had the same idea and it wasn’t long before I go it chatting to a couple of locals called Dom and Ed and we got chatting to some other locals. Apparently plans have been approved to build a new facility which is fine but they’ll need the infrastructure and promotion to go with it. After about an hour I happened to mention my transport issues and the first pair I met offered me a lift back.

The ranger then caused a slight issue with this plan. Tourist information had said get there early as that’s how they sort the groups – therefore as the 5 of us were standing together we assumed we’d be together. The ranger had other ideas. The groups were to be determined by when the tickets were purchased. I’d got mine Christmas day, the two that had offered me a lift had only brought theirs last week. Somewhat miraculously the other two we’d been chatting to had two spares and got theirs on the 20th so as luck would have it we were all able to be in the same group. Good karma.

The first group had “an event” straight away and the rest of us started to watch a presentation. Just as it said “not everyone is guaranteed to see something” my group was called. Phew. It hadn’t occurred to me that the group system worked in the way it did and I was glad I’d booked it early. When we returned a couple of hours later a lot of people were still waiting in the visitor centre to get taken down to the beach. Some possibly had to wait until 2am before being told it was to late.

We saw a number of turtles on the beach but were told none of them were ours. Ours seemed to be right at the far end of the beach near some rocks and by the time we were allowed up she had already dug her hole. It felt very intrusive staring in to the behind of a turtle but as it’s tube (I have no idea what the technical term is) began to wobble it was quite amazing to see eggs pop out. If you can use your imagination it was a bit like a cartoon machine that was spitting out oversized products

The rangers quickly got to work measuring the nest and checking the health of the turtle. She’d been tagged and before this year had last been seen on the beach in 2010 though this was her 5th nest of eggs this season. Apparently she’d have laid 280 eggs there was less than a 1% chance any of them would reach adult hood. The turtle then began using her flippers, again possibly not the correct term, to cover the eggs doing so until the sand was hard and there was no trace of them. Whilst I couldn’t smell them apparently a fox would be able to and a number of eggs are lost that way.

Soon the little turtle, actually it wasn’t little, it was big, much bigger than i had anticipated, it was a lump about 3 ft long and a 1ft tall, began to scuttle back off to the sea. Now I thought turtles were slow but this one was clearly in a hurry and the ranger said she was surprised at how quickly this particular turtle had gone through the process. Before I had hoped to see the hatchlings but actually in hindsight I’m glad I saw this aspect of the reproduction process, it was magical seeing nature at work.

We were back at the visitors centre much earlier than I had expected and brought Dom and Ed the certificate for our turtle as an advance thank you for giving me a lift back. I arrived back at the hostel expecting the room to myself as I’d been moved from my original room because it appeared the other occupant had taken over both beds (using one as storage) and I was therefore surprised when I saw someone else in there. At least the light was still on and I didn’t have to make my bed in the dark.

Tuesday 14th January
I didn’t need to pack next morning because I hadn’t been around long enough to unpack so after checking out I was taken too the distillery for my Bundaberg Rum tour which was I felt the perfect way to end this part of my journey. The lady on the desk was waiting for me because I’d tried to book online to get a discount but couldn’t. I emailed and discovered as my address was in the UK and (silly) Australian alcohol licencing laws prohibited alcohol being delivered outside the country. You may note I was trying to purchase a ticket, not alcohol. Kindly the staff had also emailed me to confirm they’d honour the discount but more importantly would book me on the tour. I felt like a mini celebrity, I was certainly the only non Australian on the sold out tour.

The tour itself was really informative and the two guides were great fun. We were given a history of how Bundaberg Rum came about, basically the local sugar cane was crushed and produced molasses and they realised they could turn it in to rum. We were led around the various buildings and then the moment of magic, free samples. I’d been told by the the girl who served me in Brisbane to try the liquor so made thgat my first choice. I don’t really like Bailey’s but I liked this especially when it had a layer of fresh cream put on top. It’s a travesty that only those in Australia can enjoy it at the current time and even they can only by it at the distillery.

What to try next, I’d had the original (which I have to admit I don’t like) and the Red label (the version I fell in love with but which isn’t sold in the UK). There was a version with ginger beer and a spiced version though in the end I went for the most expensive which was a aged version of the original. I had it neat on the rocks but I think the quality was lost on me slightly and I had to ask for a dash of coke. Though Bundy and coke is a winning combination.

I made my way back to the hostel. It was before mid day and I was in a very content mood. The reception was closed so I went to find some food and failing to find anywhere open in the vicinity had to settle for McDonald’s but judging by the crowd all the locals had had the same idea. I returned back to the hostel and was then given a lift to the airport.

I had arrived two hours early but I hadn’t appreciated as there was only one flight with Qantas the check in desk wouldn’t be open. I therefore waited before eventually someone came down to open up and then waited again until someone opened security. It was a very cute operation and the plane was tiny as well.

During the flight I was offered snacks and a free drink. As I was in Queensland I opted for a XXXX beer. I hadn’t done a domestic link before and wasn’t that trusting of the situation so in a slightly paranoid state confirmed with staff that my luggage would continue to Sydney without me having to check in again. The flight was delayed but once we’d taken off we got a free meal and another free drink, this time I chose a white wine just so I could complete the set. Best still I hadn’t paid for any of them (well technically I had by buying the tour ticket and the flights…but still).

I arrived back in Sydney after 21.00 and the airport looked a bit empty. Initially I went to the wrong luggage collection and as I saw the same items going round and nothing else began to think mine had gone back to Bundaberg. I asked someone and they told me where to go. My flight had been pretty empty and by the time I got there my bag was the only thing going round and round. There were no more dramas and as I knew my way to the hostel I was in bed by 22.30. the only other almost event was walking along a underground passageway when 2 police officers were in front of me, as guy was murdering Summer Nights. I really wanted to say to them in my merry/possibly drunk state “I wish to report a murder” and then point but wisely decided against it.

Wednesday 15th January
The next day was a typical free day. I had to stock up on toiletries as the huge supply I’d brought from the UK was finally running out. This meant as my bag was steadily becoming light, dipping below 19kgs including my sleeping nag at one stage it is now over 20kgs again. Each time I do laundry another chore I had to do, it seems impossible to fit it all back in.

I spent much of the day in the lounge chatting to people that were also catching up on life including a girl called Jen who has moved over here to be a mid wife. I also saw one of the guys I’d shared with the last time I was in the hostel, only a week ago but I was still surprised he remembered me. I felt a bit bad to be inside on such a lovely day but with no electrical sockets outside no one really had a choice.

I also finalised my accommodation for Adelaide and Perth as both those destinations are quickly creeping up. The end of January seemed so far away at one stage but now I’m over half way I know time will fly because that’s how it always seems to work on the tours. In fact it’s weird to think won’t be back in Sydney until 1st March by which time if all goes to plan I’ll have made my way all the way along the South Coast, part way up the West and right through the centre. But first off it’s back to Melbourne and the Australian Open.

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