Friday, August 31, 2012

The Weekend 10: The Best of Oz

As many of you know, I just returned from an extended junket to Australia--the government of New South Wales was kind enough to fly me down to Sydney the week before the National Recreational Fishing Conference and take me up the coast (and into the Great Dividing Range) to view a number conservation projects. I then had the honor of speaking to the country's recreational fishing leaders at the conference, which was conducted on the Gold Coast, just across the New South Wales border with Queensland.

Following the conference, I flew north to Cairns, rented a car and toured around tropical north Queensland for four days before flying home. I realize my visit to "Oz" was limited--geographically speaking--to the east coast, but I thought I'd share the best of what I was able to experience, with the idea that I'm definitely going back, if for no other reason than to see more of it. It's so big... so vast... and so diverse. Someday, I'd love to shoulder a fly rod and start walking across the continent.

Until then, here are 10 awesome Aussie assets I was lucky enough to see in August:

10) The Rocks. Now, I'm not what many would consider to be a trendy guy--I don't spend a lot of time looking through glass windows at Tiffany jewelry or Gucci handbags. That said, this savvy little neighborhood across Sydney Harbor from the famous Sydney Opera House was a blast to explore. From walking through hidden grottos to manicured residential districts, the area offered something new at every turn. In The Rocks, I stumbled upon the memorial to Capt. William Bligh (the captain of the HMS Bounty who was left to die by a mutinous crew) and a host of little hidden pubs and cafes, The Rocks was a great introduction to Australia.

Nothing quite like an $8 "schooner" of beer...
9) The Hero of Waterloo. Add this to my ever-growing list of exceptional bars (fishing, or otherwise). This corner pub in The Rocks was constructed in 1843 and has been serving beer and spirits since. It's the history of the pub that's remarkable. Beneath it runs a tunnel from the bar to Sydney Harbor--it was constructed to smuggle rum from the ships to the pub. Rumor has it, especially drunken patrons would be strategically placed over a trap door at the corner of the bar (it's there ... I saw it), and when they passed out, they were unceremoniously deposited into the tunnel, taken to the harbor and "enlisted" into the Royal Navy. Imagine falling asleep at a bar and waking up on board a ship en route to the Orient.

8) "Footy." I know... sounds a little bit like a picnic basket, huh? But Down Under, "footy" is rugby, and these folks take it very seriously. It's on television seemingly every night, and whether it's "Rugby League" or "Rugby Union," there are fans that are as devoted as any NFL fan might be, and maybe more. I'm still a bit unclear, but it seems to me that Rugby League is a faster-paced game with a bit less contact (not to say there's isn't any--and remember, these boys don't have helmets and pads on) and maybe more scoring. It's also more local. Rugby Union seems more plodding ... more deliberate, with the traditional scrums and more constant contact than "league." And it's international--while I was there, the Aussies lost to the "All Blacks" of New Zealand... which brings me to No. 7...

7) The Haka. Now, this is actually a New Zealand thing, but since I saw it in Oz, I'm including it. The All Blacks of New Zealand begin every rugby contest with the Haka--a traditional war dance the native Maori people of New Zealand have practiced for eons. The national Rugby Union team has adopted it and it's, well ... a bit intimidating. They do it when they play at home and on the road, and the opposing team--out of respect--watches the dance, generally without expression. It's one of the cooler traditions in all of sport, and I'm glad I finally got to see it.

6) Nymboida. Situated in the tablelands of central New South Wales, this wide spot in the highway is home to the Coaching Station pub and lodge, which overlooks the Nymboida River. The river is a beautiful clear-water stream that his home to native Australia bass and eastern cod, a freshwater behemoth related to the fabled Murray cod. Eastern cod are endangered and your'e not allowed to target them--Australia bass run downstream to the sea to spawn and then come back to the river in spring. As luck would have it, we visited when the bass were migrating. Nymboida is also home to The Museum of Interesting Things, which is... interesting. I saw my first platypus in the Nymboida, and I've since been told how rare that experience was--many native Aussies go a lifetime without seeing a platypus.

5) Dorrigo National Park. On the way up the Great Dividing Range from the coast to the tablelands, we visited Dorrigo, a rainforest park in northern New South Wales. While, geographically, we were far from the tropics, the forest did seem to be quite tropical, with huge hardwoods and snaking vines running up the trunks of every tree. Tree ferns grew everywhere, and parrots hustled from branch to branch beneath the canopy. Amazing stuff.

4) South West Rocks. This small resort community on the New South Wales coast was named by Capt. Cook as he sailed up the eastern seaboard of Australia. The little harbor was described as being "south and west of the rocks." And there are rocks. And from those rocks, hardy souls cast heavy lures for fish like taylor (we would call them blue fish in the States), flathead and mackerel. Fishing from rocks like these is chancy, in my opinion--the Pacific is anything but when it crashes into the heads and beaches along this stretch of Australia. It was from these rocks that I spied a humpback wale cruising south on its migration, where it'll spend summer in the waters off of Victoria and Tasmania.

3) Mulgrave River. Truthfully, many of the rivers in far northern Queensland look a lot like the Mulgrave, but it was in this river that I fished for--and caught--jungle perch. Imagine a crystal clear river that would be at home tumbling off any Rocky Mountain range, and then imagine warm water and the possibility of meeting up with a "freshy," or a freshwater crocodile while you wade. I didn't see any crocs, but I caught my jungle perch in torrential rainforest downpour. It's an experience I'll never forget.

2) Cairns. Pronounced "Cans," this far-northern tropical town in Queensland is actually a sizeable city, but it's downtown or "old town" area is a kitschy mix of old West and new hip. I enjoyed wandering along the esplanade by the harbor, which is home to great little bars and restaurants, as well as shops and boutiques that I didn't spend too much time investigating. It's a neat town and it's a quick 50-minute boat ride to Green Island, the start of No. 1...

1) The Great Barrier Reef. One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the reef is truly remarkable, and worthy of more exploring, both with a fly rod and with a mask and a pair of flippers. I had the rotten luck--but when don't I?--of seeing some pretty blustery weather while I was up north, and when my last day in Oz dawned clear and sunny, I immediately hopped on the boat to Green Island so I could snorkel with the critters out on the reef. I saw sea turtles, oodles of fish and visited Australia and Melanesia Wildlife Park, where I got to see a dozen or so saltwater crocs. But the highlight of the day was the reef and the Coral Sea--I've never seen anything quite like it, and I'm already conspiring for another trip to spend even more time with my face in the water.


  1. I was with my team brainstorming how to get an edge on a vendor in a particularly touchy negotiation. I suggested we start with a Haka just to set the tone. :)

  2. Good on ya mate!

    I would have been disappointed if this list had omitted a pub...and footy. man, you must have had a good time!