By the time I had reached the age of 59 I felt as if I had worn myself out with teaching and so I decided to leave the school at which I had taught for 17 years. I had always been incredibly busy, as I was Head of Science, and become increasingly envious of the stories that the students had about their gap year experiences. So I decided to fill my first year of retirement from teaching with working part time in Sainsburys and planning my 12 week adventure. With the help of Gap Year For Grown Ups I organized a 4 week placement with Conservation Volunteers Australia in the Brisbane area and a 4 day Tall Ships Sailing Trip. Separately, I organized 2 weeks of travelling around the East Coast of Australia and 4 weeks of travelling around and visiting friends over in New Zealand.
Conservation Volunteers Australia
View from Mount Coot-tha
Having arrived in Brisbane I spent 2 days in a hostel acclimbatising before making contact with the CVA Brisbane office. They took me to the Volunteer House where I spent my first weekend getting to know the other volunteers. Two teams of volunteers were staying in the house and my group were to go to a place called Dayboro for our first weeks work. This was to remove the invasive weed Cats Claw Creeper from along a river bank. However, after the first day's work there was monsoon type rain for 48 hours which caused extensive flooding and resulted in the rest of the weeks work being cancelled. We spent the rest of the week in the Volunteer House but our team leader provided us with a list of places to visit and ideas of what to do. Travel is cheap and efficient in the Brisbane area and so we visited museums, botanical gardens, the Planetarium and went up Mount Coot-tha from which you get spectacular views looking down on the Brisbane area.
Walking on sand dunes
Our work this week was to be on the picturesque Fraser Island with our team leader Joe and volunteers from Britain, Korea and Australia. The journey involved a 3 hour drive to Rainbow Beach where we met Jason who was responsible for environmental matters on Fraser Island. We then had to get onto a ferry for the short trip across to Fraser Island. Our final destination was the north of the island and so we had a further 3 hour drive along the sands as there are no roads on the island.
We drove past the aptly named Happy Valley and the wreck of the Maheno, a passenger liner that was blown ashore by a cyclone in 1935 while being towed to a Japanese scrapyard. We drove past Indian Head which is a good vantage point and we finally arrived at Orchid Beach where we put up our tents as we were to spend 4 nights camping. Our work over the next 3 days was to remove the invasive weed Siratro and invasive shrub Lantana which were gaining a hold in parts of the island. This work was put into context by Joe and Jason and although the work could be hard and tiring it was more than compensated for by the fantastic scenery and wildlife. There were the miles of sandy beaches, the large sand dunes, the rock pools, the lakes and tropical forest. At the end of the day we were free to go for a walk before helping with the evening meal which was often a BBQ. On our final morning we had to leave camp by 6am so as to catch the low tide as not all parts of the sandy beach are accessable when the tide is high. We sped along the sands, caught the ferry and arrived back at the Volunteer House by mid afternoon.
Hard at work
View from Indian Head
The team at the end of a day's work
This week was spent working in a suburb of Brisbane called Kallangur and the accommodation was at a scout camp. The team this week was led by Anthony and consisted of people from Britain, Korea, Germany and Taiwan. Our mission was to construct A Koala Corridor joining two pieces of land at the edge of a housing estate. The ground had been prepared and we needed to plant a variety of trees and shrubs and put protection around them. In the evenings we either went for a drive to look at the surrounding area or played a variety of games and chatted after we had cooked the evening meal.
We had almost a days drive to our destination this week which was at Tin Can Bay and the accommodation was in caravans. The composition of the team was almost identical to week 3 but our team leader was Karl and he was assisted Maree who was a local Coastcare Projects Coordinator. The work was in two parts. One day was spent clearing an area at the rear of a school of invasive weeds and shrubs-in particular Lantana and Groundsel. Two days were spent primarily planting trees and shrubs along a bay walk and also constructing a fence for a viewing area. One of the highlights was feeding the dolphins in the morning at Tin Can Bay.
Sitting on our fence at the viewing area
Dolphin coming in for food
Weekends were spent at the Volunteer House when groups of volunteers organised themselves into visiting different places of interest. On one occasion a group of us visited Australia Zoo and this was an outstanding experience.
One weekend a month CVA organised a visit to an area of interest. We went to Mount Tamborine where we saw waterfalls and walked in tropical rainforests before visiting the Gold Coast.
Me and a friendly croc
Spot the koala
Me and a waterfall
Tall Ship Sailing around the Whitsundays
This was a four day, three night trip on the Solway Lass which is a 107 year old tall ship. There was a crew of 5 and 20 guests on my trip although the ship does hold upto 32 guests.
Splash!-swinging on the
The adventure began late afternoon at Airlie Beach and once on the ship we were briefed about safety aspects before setting off. The night was spent anchored at Hook Passage and celebrating my 60th birthday. The following day we set off for Whitsunday Island and walked along the pure white sands of Whitehaven Beach. Once back on the ship we were able to swing on the tarzan rope and splash into the sea. This built up an appetite for the lunchtime meal. In the afternoon we set sail for Hayman Island and had great fun hoisting the sails. Once there we anchored at Blue Pearl Bay and swum amongst the coral and the fish. This was an amazing experience having colourful inquisitive fish peering at you through your mask. The following day we set off for Luncheon Bay on Hook Island to do more swimming amongst the coral and fish. The afternoon was spent sailing to Bauer Bay on South Molle Island where we anchored for the night.
The following day we went ashore and walked to the high point on the island before returning to the ship to sail back into port. There was plenty of time to swim from the ship and to swing on the tarzan rope and for those who wanted to sunbathe there was sufficient room on deck. The evenings were spent drinking and socialising with new friends. The food was first class and plentiful and the crew extremely helpful and knowledgable. The whole trip was an unforgetable experience.
The Nullarbor Desert Experience is a once in a lifetime trip; it expertly combines the outback, the desert, whale-watching, ranges, wildlife, art, wineries, national parks, and the saltbush together with experiencing the true Aussie way of life.