Our trip along the South and East coasts of Australia from Adelaide to Brisbane have had two unforgettable canine bookends: Harley, the wonderful Australian sheepdog in SA and Sprocket the gorgeous Weimaraner in Brisbane, Queensland…..
When we were first arranging our Brisbane house/pet sit, in the coastal neighbourhood of Nudgee Beach, the house owners Chris and Paul told us that Sprocket loves to swim in the creek at the end of their garden and will swim/run along the bank with you if you take a kayak out. In addition, when Sprocket wants to go outside she would trot to the back door and ring a bell using her nose. It sounded too good to be true – but it wasn’t…and it was even better than we could possibly have hoped for. Everything Chris and Paul told us about how lovable Sprocket is, was true! Fun, obedient, playful and a joy to walk, with endless energy and inquisitiveness. We knew within five minutes of arriving that this was going to be a memorable few weeks in Brissie.
As we’ve said in previous blogs, house-sitting does take you off the tourist trail and we would never have discovered the delights of Nudgee Beach but for the house sit. A low lying area where the sea retreats for what seems like miles at low tide revealing acres of mudflats and sand, that is fully submerged when the tide rolls in, up the river into the mangrove-like Boondall Wetlands and the creek that backed onto our new home.
On viewing the creek I did have to check with Paul about the Croc situation…Paul assured me that they aren’t this far south in Queensland, although there is a healthy population of pythons nearby and Bull Sharks in the sea! As if to prove the point that the creek harboured no ill will, he threw a ball into the creek that was quickly followed by Sprocket launching herself into the water to retrieve it. If Sprocket could swim in the creek we could follow her lead and kayak and Paddle Board in it.
As promised she was a great companion as we made trips up and downstream. With her life-jacket on she doggy-paddled serenely from one side of the creek to the other where she would climb up the bank and belt along it until there was no gap, then she jumped back in the water to swim to the opposite bank. When she was swimming we caught up with her, as we paddled along, but as soon as she made land she shot off. However, she had a really endearing quality that stopped us from worrying about losing her. If she ever got to a point where she was out of sight, such as a bend in the river she would stop and wait until she could see us before charging off again.
This lovely habit along with her bright red jacket made keeping an eye on her much easier. Quite where Sprocket got the energy to run, swim, climb banks and hunt around in the mangrove undergrowth god only knows, but we were always pleased to see her crash out for a good long snooze when we got home – huge fun and Sprocket properly pooped was a wonderful recipe.
We quickly adjusted to Queensland time, up at 6.00am to make the most of the daylight and set off to the Boondall Wetlands for a morning walk with Sprocket before the day got too warm. The wetlands has an excellent boardwalk that meanders through the trees and waterways that change mood constantly with the tide. A really atmospheric place that we loved visiting.
It also became the spot for our new commitment to fitness. Sam made the decision that we should try the ‘Couch to 5K’ running course, after being inspired to give running a go after chatting about it with Chris and Julianne in Sydney (both regular Park Run runners). Earlier in our trip we had been doing a High Intensity Training programme but that came to an abrupt end when I thrust one of my bare big toes into a kerb in Sumatra, shunting it a centimetre or two backwards into my foot (…..it was every bit as painful as that sounds!) With my toe feeling better and a new pair of running shoes bought, we made that Boardwalk our running track, although with Sprocket on the lead there were times when I felt as though I was being dragged around (…fast forward eight weeks and as I type I’m recovering from finishing my first Park Run).
Following on from our good luck in seeing shows in Melbourne and Sydney we discovered that Brisbane has a great arts scene and we managed to get tickets to see dance legends Orbital at an intimate venue – The Triffid. The Hartnoll bros were on top form crashing through a great mix of old classics and new numbers. They still wear their trademark torch-specs that make them look slightly alien, and we still don’t understand exactly what it is they are doing/playing on stage, but there was a lot of the usual twiddling of knobs that delivered a fantastic sound and set.
In stark contrast we caught the Arctic Monkeys a few days later. Our initial surprise at getting tickets for such a top act was explained when we walked into the cavernous Brisbane Exhibition Centre – it was enormous. The downside of being able to get tickets was the sterile atmosphere, a venue which made even the much maligned Brighton Centre seem quaint and homely. The stage set was bizarre, reminding me of Sheffield City Polytechnic’s library in the early 1980’s, a place where I spent many an unproductive hour. Now as a Steel City band that may have been exactly the effect they were after….but I seriously doubt it. Things got stranger and distinctly Spinal Tap as the large illuminated hexagon sitting high above them started to move and make its descent downwards toward the band, to what purpose who knows? That said amid the atmospheric vacuum and stage weirdness there are of course those amazing songs and Alex’s undeniable charisma, both which saved the day.
With Orbital, the crowd were about our age and there was a fair smattering of grey hair amongst the leather jackets. Not so with Arctic Monkeys – they definitely have a more youthful following!
A week later we had the chance to see the unique and irrepressible Eddie Izzard, a man who is sickeningly talented – seriously, who does stand-up in English, French and German, (apparently an Arabic show is scheduled) runs daily marathons and takes up long distance sea-swimming! In what may be his last tour before seriously embarking on a political career (another string to his bow) Eddie was his usual surreal self, taking the audience and himself to places you could never predict. Eddie campaigns for our local MP at home and having met him on the campaign trail back in the UK we have an extra special fondness for him.
It was great seeing these shows, but we always felt a pang for Sprocket back home and enjoy ourselves as much as we did, it was heart warming to get home and be welcomed by such an overwhelming, joyful and enthusiastic greeting.
We took a few trips into the centre of Brisbane itself, seeing it from the river that runs through the city, which provided great views and a good insight into its history.
Although there are some interesting buildings and colonial history it’s doesn’t have the same feeling of grandeur that Adelaide has, the architecture of Melbourne, or the iconic buildings of Sydney.
However, it does have a buzz about it, especially on its Southbank where beautifully greened walkways….
…sit alongside probably the best public swimming pool we’ve ever seen – with the artificial beach than runs along the river bank and overlooks the city centre. It really does look like something out of a five-star resort….
We decided that we would get to know the city better by taking a self-guided tour that took in the key architectural and historical places of interest. The was the plan. The Queensland climate had other ideas. Although officially being autumn when we got to Brissie the temperatures were consistently in the high 30’s. As a result we only achieved about half of the walk before we wilted and retreated into a tea room for some air-conditioning, cold water and pastries to recover – mad-dogs and Englishmen/women.
We did see some interesting sites before our surrender including City Hall (excellent air-conditioning)…
The Old Windmill (no air-conditioning and at the top of a bloody hill – well it would be wouldn’t it). The oldest surviving building in Queensland dating back to 1828 it was built by convict labour. Unfortunately for the convicts the prevailing winds rarely generated enough energy to regularly turn the sails, so it became a convict powered treadmill, used as a means of punishment. A curious reminder of the City’s history.
After the Windmill we strolled back into the city centre to admire the magnificent Anzac Memorial.
Chris and Paul had left us with loads of tips on places to see including those where we could take Sprocket. The first of these is a Brissie tradition, up to Mount Coot-Tha to look down on the city and its surrounds.
It’s a fantastic view of the city, with great walks into the woods where Sprocket enjoyed sniffing about.
Better still was a trip a short way along the coast from Nudgee Beach to neighbouring Shorncliffe, where we found a great flat coastal walk punctuated by cafes where we made regular pit-stops on account of the heat. Along this strip there are some lovely traditional Queenslander houses.
….all of which makes it a very pleasant and wholesome place to visit. As the tide went out we were able to walk back along the sand, and check out Shorncliffe Pier that shoots out into the sea.
This was such a perfect day out, getting loads of fresh air and exercise, while messing about in the sea with Sprocket.
We had noticed some really striking sunset colours in the evening sky and after checking out recommendations for sunset locations in Brissie, headed off to Cleveland Point which boasts a cute wooden lighthouse..
In the left-hand edge of the picture above you can see Sam and Sprocket at the table where we enjoyed alfresco fish and chips, including a rather nice grilled cod for Sprocket – that went down very well and very quickly. We spent the next hour watching a fabulous light show from vivd yellows and oranges as the sun dipped…
..to stunning reds and pinks after it had set. A wonderful spectacle that was very special to watch at our leisure.
There are quite strict rules on where you can takes dogs with National Parks generally being out of bounds, so we reluctantly left Sprocket at home when we went off to the Glass House Mountains in the Brisbane hinterland area. These rugged volcanic mountains were named by Captain Cook in 1770 as he sailed north up the east coast due to their likeness to the glass making foundries of Yorkshire familiar to Cook. I think he used some creative licence…
We had left it far too late in the morning to climb up one of the more accessible mountains. Like anything involving a modicum of effort in temparatures in the mid to high 30’s, if you don’t start it soon after sunrise, forget it! Instead we found a great viewing point for the mountains and a Rainforest Park to wander through that provided very welcome shade and our first encounter with Pademelons, the smallest of the kangaroo family. They hopped about happily, quite untroubled by our presence. Thankfully there is just about enough ‘roo/wallaby about the Pademelon to distinguish it from looking too much like an over-sized hopping rat.
An interesting example of the efforts of Brisbane to use some of its otherwise abandoned wharf areas, is the Eat Street Markets. Located well outside the city centre on an otherwise slightly desolate area sits a street market that springs to life at the weekends.
Vibrant, full of colour and punters it takes you a little while to realise that this fantastic market is in fact a collection of shipping containers skilfully designed, organised and decorated in a way to create the impression of a bustling downtown market area. Very simple, very effective and very good. Eat Street offers every conceivable food option to cater for multi-cultural tastes. Craft stalls, live music, shows, children’s entertainers and great views of the river all help to create a buzzing atmosphere; and judging by the numbers when we went along it’s hugely popular. It seemed to be another example of Brisbane making the most of its resources to create a fun environment and experience.
Maintaining our strict minimalist policy on the shopping front we failed to buy anything for ourselves, but on coming across a container filled with treats for pets we couldn’t resist getting a bag full of doggie sausages for Sprocket!
At just shy of three weeks our sit with Sprocket had been the longest during our travels at that point, but the time had flown by. Staying at Nudgee Beach had been a very special experience, one that we are going to remember as one of the highlights of our trip. It was so lovely living like a local in this fascinating neighbourhood with its creek, wetlands and ever-changing beach. However, the star of the show was Sprocket, such a wonderfully lovable dog who it was very hard to say goodbye to.
Next Up: Fantastic Tassie