Friday, July 26, 2013

An Alphabet of Australian Towns

26 July 2013

Airlie Beach.  Bowen.  Ayr.  Alva Beach.  In that order.  Doesn't it sound like we're going in some alphabetic order?  Just the way it turned out, though.

Bowen is a lovely little town on a cape just a bit north of Airlie Beach.  This area is still part of the Whitsunday Islands, since there are 74 islands in this grouping.  Bowen lays claim to being the oldest town in Queensland, and has celebrated that with a series of murals all over town, depicting the history and development of the area.  They also have a lovely series of mosaics at the info center, which I preferred to the painted murals.

And Bowen grows a LOT of mangoes - in fact, a horticulturist from Bowen bred the most popular mango grown in this region.  Hence the MONSTER MANGO at the info center, LOL!  I love these crazy super-sized objects, they are so pop art (without most people realizing it) - so Claes Oldenburg, so Andy Warhol. 

We wandered around this cute little town, drove out to Flagstaff Hill where there are amazing views of the Coral Sea, the islands, the town itself, the mountains in the distance (part of the Clarke Range).  And the neighboring beach, Kings Beach.  It was just lovely!  But the crazy wild wind has continued, and being on the highest point in town really wasn't the warmest spot, either.  So we hustled back to our cozy camper.

We stayed at a campground opposite the marina, along the waterfront - so the wind was apparent all night long, rocking the van in an uneven rhythm.  It actually was rather soothing.  In a weird, syncopated kind of way.

Not much else to say about Bowen - just a very cute little town with some beautiful old buildings, wide streets in the downtown section, the inevitable (and confusing) roundabouts at most intersections, and these gorgeous views of their part of the 74 Whitsundays.  Islands ranging from tiny cays to large mountainous islands with various buildings, all part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.  The colors in nearly every shade of blue, green, and all the blue-greens in between.  Lovely blue sky, little puffy clouds, and a perfectly placed lighthouse for scenic photographs.  I could get all poetic, but I think the photos speak for themselves.  (And if you don't like photos, just scroll down a bit.)

So, Friday we drove from Bowen through High Hill (really, that's the name of the town) to Ayr (another sweet little Aussie town, with an incredible European deli featuring all kinds of Mediterranean goodies) and off to Alva Beach.  We like our beaches.

Alva township is spread out, and we never quite got to the town part.  We found the campground, hooked up the van, and went off for a walk to the beach, maybe a kilometer or so off to the (um, probably east?).......

There were big bluffs and dunes, so we decided not to walk down to the beach, it was late afternoon and sunset was approaching.  But the beach seemed to have the series of sand bars creating various lagoons that we've seen elsewhere along the coast.  The sand seemed darker than other places, but that could just have been the lighting at that time of day.   There were all kinds of sea birds wheeling through the air and screeching and squawking as they ate their dinner and headed home for the night.

We headed back, and met up with a woman who was walking home, in the same direction.  We walked along a side road down to a dive shop - there's a famous wreck off this coast, and we wanted to check out the possibility of diving.  (They're booked solid on Saturday, we aren't prepared to stay til Sunday.) 

Anyway, as we walked back we saw what we first thought was the sunset - but then it spread out, instead of getting smaller.  Then flames began to leap up into the darkening sky!  We watched, fascinated, as this turned into a huge conflagration lighting up the entire area off to the west.  And, knowing that bush fires are frequent, we hurried back to our campground and reported the fire to our manager.

Turns out this is a cane fire.  After harvesting the sugar-filled stalks, the leaves are left to dry and then are burned, in a controlled burn.  As the manager said, "The firies [firemen] are there to help out."

This is a frequent, usual practice.  The only way to make the sugar cane grow back again.  To light a huge fire, and try to keep it to the sugar cane field, despite the fact that the wind was about 25-30 knots, and that this part of Queensland hasn't had rain in months.


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