I leave Mount Buller with a feeling of deliverance. I have made my decision, I return to France. I have barely a month left in Australia, I have to enjoy it. The continent is gigantic, there are so many places that I would have liked to see. But I have to choose. I only have time for one place. From the travel stories of my parents in Australia (I was born in Australia 30 years ago while my parents lived there for two years as part of a Ph.D.), the one that struck me most was about The Great Barrier Reef. This great expanse of coral off the state of Queensland in northeastern Australia. At the time, my parents spent a week bivouacking on one of the small uninhabited islands of the barrier. Swim and snorkel among corals, multicolored fish and sharks. Walks around the island. Nesting turtles. Attacks of wild birds. So many amazing stories that my parents told me many times during slide show nights.
Today doing bivouac is much harder to do and way more expensive. I will have to do otherwise. I decide to go to Airlie Beach, a small port city in the state of Queensland known to be the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsunday Islands. Some 3000km north-east of me. So I embark on a road trip of about ten days to join Airlie Beach. I drive through the Australian countryside, the monotonous landscape spreading before my eyes. A few hours of driving a day, a short walk in the afternoon and bivouac in one of the free camps accessible everywhere (rest area or free camping area). Here is my routine.
I leave Melbourne behind me, a twinge in my heart thinking that I will not go back to Tasmania. Albury, Wagga Wagga (not far from where I spent two months in the blueberry fields, six months ago), Canberra then Sydney. I stop at the Blue Mountains for a quick visit where a torrential rain falls on me. I run along the coast to get away from the flood. My little Toyota Hilux, faithful companion from whom I will have to separate in less than two weeks, seems to slowly become an extension of myself. I finally arrive at Gold Coast and Brisbane sign of entry into the territory of Queensland. I sell my bike and life inside my car suddenly becomes much more comfortable. Finally some space. In a few days I will be at Airlie Beach.
I drive north, swallowing the miles. I do not like driving so much, but I feel like I am getting used to it. The landscape changes slowly. Warmer, more tropical. The large meadows give way to sugar cane fields. Bundaberg, Gladstone, Rockhampton, Marlborough, Clairview, Mackay and finally Airlie Beach. By a late afternoon, under a sky hesitating between big sun and heavy rain I finally arrive at my destination.
Since a few days, the color of the water has changed. The sea became more and more turquoise and I saw the first islands of the Barrier Reef. But Airlie Beach is definitely the gateway to this wonder. The city is very touristy, filled with young backpackers and families on vacation. But it has a particular charm that I like instantly. I settle in a campsite, take a shower and reserve my excursions for the next few days : a day cruise on the Whitsundays Islands and the famous Whitehaven Beach. A boat cruise among the Great Barrier Reef with a snorkel trip. A fly in a small plane from the Whitsundays Islands and the Barrier. And finally an expedition on Hamilton Island. All of this is very touristy but for my last days with limited by time in Australia, I have no choice.
My little week at Airlie Beach turns out to be great. The weather is superb, warm but still bearable for me and my booked excursions turn out to be awesome despite the tourists. I start with a visit to the Barrier Reef. The boat takes a good two hours to get there and suddenly the expanse of coral appears from nowhere. What a shock. All around the boat navigating with caution, Corals are spread out as far as the eye can see. We dive into the cold water to admire the corals and fish. The signs of global warming and bleaching of the barrier are present. Several white, dead areas regularly appear as painful sores on the ocean ground. I go back on the boat wondering what impact our mass tourism adds to the already disastrous consequences of climate change. According to the guides, only one limited area of the barrier is accessible to tourists via excursions, in order to limit the destruction. I remain a long time, fascinated, looking at the ocean and its changes of colors witnesses of the existence of the coral reefs.
The next day we depart early for an overflight of the Whitsundays Islands and the Barrier on a small plane. The view is extraordinary. Probably one of the best flights I have done. The islands unveil their beauty as we fly over Whiteheaven Beach mesmerized by the long expanse of white sand. But the jewel remains the flight over Hill Inlet, the mouth at the end of the beach with its strips of white sand and turquoise water. Magnificent. Then we head for the Barrier Reef and I am surprised to see it appear half-immersed! It is low tide unlike yesterday and the top of the corals is uncovered. From the sky, I take the measure of the extent of the barrier and its extraordinary presence. It looks like an abstract painting.
In the afternoon I leave for a cruise along the islands with stops on Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet. From the ground, the view is different. The beach is filled with tourists and I have a little trouble to find again the feeling of wonder that I had in the morning during the flyover. I walk on the beach and observe two goanas (monitor lizards) trying to steal food. They are beautiful and impressive.
I spent my last day walking on Hamilton Island, satisfied with my visit to Airlie Beach. I only saw the touristy part but the little time I have left does not allow me to do more. The week ending I go back in the opposite direction to return to Brisbane.
The return is peaceful since I follow the same road that I took before. I make a detour to the small town of Agnès Water- Seventeen Seventy for a last stroll and enjoy a beautiful sunset. I have only a few days left in Australia and I have to sell my car and my things. In Brisbane I meet an interested gentleman but it turns out that the interested person is not actually him but a young French woman of the same age as me! Elodie recently arrived in Australia, is doing Airbnb at the gentleman’s house and is looking for a car to go on a road trip and to work. My Toyota Hilux hit her in the eye. I feel a little reassured to sell my car that I love so much to someone who looks like me. My Toyota is an old granny with a lot of troubles but she is sturdy and I liked her at first glance. To separate me from her hurts my heart.
I spend my last days in the company of Elodie and the gentleman who very kindly agreed to let me sleep at his home. I must solve the problem of the technical test of the car that end up costing me an arm, make the transfer papers, tidy up and sort my things and prepare my suitcases. I quickly visit Brisbane and go for a last stroll with Elodie in the GlassHouse Mountains, a small national park near Brisbane where eleven strange-shaped mountains rise from old volcanoes eruptions.
And then Sunday, September 23, I leave behind my car, the vast majority of my stuff, Elodie, Brisbane and Australia. I leave the Australian land, a mixture of strange feelings squeezing my throat. The joy of returning to France. The excitement of starting a new journey. The anguish of the flight. The sadness of leaving Australia. The impression of leaving a part of me behind. The disappointment of not having been able to continue my journey here and then in Asia. A bitter taste of failure lurks somewhere in my skull.
But it is too late, I’m already gone. Goodbye Australia. I have the strange feeling of leaving for good this time, New Zealand and Japan. I have been traveling in this part of the world for three years. And when I leave Australia, I feel like I am leaving this part of the world for good this time. Goodbye Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Thank you for all that you have brought me. I do not know if I will ever return to this gigantic continent that is Australia but I hope so. I hope I can come back and continue explore it. And above all I hope to be able to fully appreciate it next time.