Vern: We arrived in Hervey Bay (said Harvey Bay, go figure) to find that the hostel we'd booked had been closed for breaching several health codes. Luckily, its travel desk remained open and they arranged for us to move to a nicer place (nicer in that its license to operate hadn't been revoked) for the same price.
Hervey Bay was for a long time a caravan park by the sea, but several beach facing apartment blocks have since sprung up and it has forged its way onto the tourist trail by being the jumping off point for tourist-heavy Fraser Island--the world's biggest sand island that's allure is to camp with wild dingoes, apparently. A twelve mile long leafy Esplanade runs along the beach connecting a couple of fisherman-friendly piers which stretch really far out into the sea.
We went for a pleasant walk along the Esplanade shaded by the large trees, all full of birdlife, and came across an alarming sign hung up on a lamp post:
WARNING: Swooping Magpies! (Doesn't sound particularly scary right? Well one day a long time my grandpa Jimmy pulled into his driveway and got out of his car near to where, unbeknownst to him, a baby crow had fallen from its nest. He was perplexed by the deafening screeches of the adult crows and before he'd even closed the door, they started dive bombing. First a warning 'shot' - a fly-by just missing his face, and then a full on Hitchcockesque attack. As he raced for his front door the crows swooped down gouging bits of flesh from his skull! He saw to his wounds and was fine in the end, but there's a lesson in there somewhere.)
The Hervey Bay council wasn't taking any chances. Beneath the sign's bold red warning was a picture of a sharp beaked, black and white magpie. And beneath the picture in small black text was a 6-point list of wordy precautions to be adopted in this area. Number 1, for example: "Wear a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses or carry an umbrella to protect your head and eyes." The last of these precautions reads, "Do not stop here, or avoid this area all together!" WHAT?! Why wasn't that the first point?! I've already been stopped here in the bullseye of the danger zone for at least three minutes!
I panicked, looked up at the trees (despite precaution two advising against this) which were full of black and white flesh-peckers and made to run, when Andrea informed me that she was popping into the public toilet on the side of the pathway. "But, but.. the magp.." She was gone and I was left to fend for myself for a while longer.
Further up the path, in a bird-free spot, we started playing on the outdoor gym equipment. Of course, while we were contorting on the resistance machines, pulling faces that would really only be warranted by a much more comprehensive workout, up rode our friends Bob and Karina. "Hey guys..." we both straightened up and played down any exertion pains. They'd just visited a hilarious mad fisherman's shark museum. A giant fibreglass Great White shark towering over the curb had caught their attention and they'd wondered over to where an eccentric old salt convinced them to pay a few dollars to see the exhibit on the bottom storey of his house. Once inside they were treated to (amongst other things) a crocodile corpse retrieved from a shark's stomach in 1982 and kept there ever since in a perspex box. Next up, three Great Whites on a shelf in a freezer! Next to his milk and cheese, we joked.
The following day, we boarded a yacht headed out into the bay to take us whale spotting. With all the time I'm logging on these Aussie yachting excursions, I'm probably due a Shipping Captain license soon. Apparently, because Fraser Island blocks a river inlet into the mainland, a large calm oceanic mangrove has developed where rare shellfish hide in seagrasses, turtles and dugongs seek refuge from predators, and through which Humpback whales shepherd their calves from their birth place back down to Antarctica.
The first sign of sealife were dugongs, very similar to manatees, barely breaking the water's surface as they flopped about. Next up, two seagulls were perched on the back of a turtle paddling amongst the swirls. And then came the whales! First we found a shy mother suckling her baby. We watched and waited hoping that she'd bring the little whale over for us to have a look at, but it was feeding time and unwilling to show off, she dove down. Her massive Boeing size body visible through the clear water as she glided under our boat and off into the deep. Blow hole mist spurting up in the distance led us to another pod a few hundred metres away and there we found three males on the move who we followed for a while. Every time they dive their huge forms force a large body of water to the top disrupting the current and leaving a snail trail of calm water on the otherwise choppy ocean surface. Apparently humpbacks follow the gravitational pull of the earth, have fantastic vision and hearing and the little mounds on their faces pick up vibrations like whiskers. They supposedly never beach themselves like other breeds of whale which rely on radar-esque senses.
Spotting larger splashes a little further on the captain sailed onward where we found a very large pod of 9 whales surging through the ocean. They were a blast to watch and photograph. There were just so many and so much to look at. Some would be surfacing and we'd get a look at their bumpy chins. Some would be diving and occassionally lifting their tail out of the water which made everyone on board scramble over each other with cameras at the ready to get THAT shot. And the others would be cruising along showing off their unique dorsal fins or trumpeting their blowholes. We spotted and / or followed another five pods over the next few hours out in the bay before sailing upon our final pair, a big mother and a relatively small (minivan-size) 2-3 week old baby. The little guy was playfully lifting his whole face above the water and snapping his mini-monster jaws at us. It was magnificent! The only thing better would be to be in the water with them (which we've since heard you can do in Tonga, so we better get there before the tourism board slaps some rules on how much danger operators can expose tourists to). It was a marvellous day out there spent with some of the big blue's biggest residents.