Over the Christmas break, after enjoying the big city lights of Melbourne, a group of us headed to Northern Queensland for an experiment. Is everyone’s home someone else’s dream destination?
“Townsville. Super boring. Why would anyone want to visit. Trust me, I know, I grew up here.
Townsville really doesn’t have much to offer. A big army base has dominated the town’s demographic makeup ever since I can remember. Being a teenager was hard – you kept on being muscled out of bars by rowdy army guys and getting to know girls that didn’t go to your school was next to impossible. The scenery is ok, but being much drier than Mission or Airlie Beach, and with much less stuff to do, there’s a reason the tourists tend to drive straight through.
When we touched down I was super-excited to see my family and the few friends that had stayed, but to be honest, destination-wise, I would have spent my money on going somewhere else. Remember, I know this place inside out.
We went to the Billabong sanctuary to watch animals I can see in my mum’s back yard. Roos are constantly at the side of the road, ‘cause they’re stupid and get hit by cars. Cockatoos and galahs trash stuff. Koalas sleep all day. So at the sanctuary, you can hold one. It still sleeps. The crocs are a little bit more exciting, but also one of the main reasons I can’t swim in the sea. Bummer.
Maggie Island is one of my favourite places. It was fun to go, but it’s just my back yard. Why would anyone want to go there? Yeah the beaches are nice and stuff, but you could go to Bali? Or spend Christmas somewhere that actually LOOKS like Christmas. Like Munich, or Frankfurt! Also, Magnetic Island’s not THAT exciting unless you hung out there as a kid and now that I’m an adult I’m not that sure it should be recommended. Just like that moment your brother laughed so hard milk came out of his nose. It was really funny at the time, I swear. We had dinner with one of my mum’s friends, which was super-tasty. But again, if you could go to the Taj Mahal, who wants to hang out with my mum’s friends?
We actually left Townsville to drive to Mission Beach, which is just up the road, but a REAL tourist destination. They have skydivers there, and one of us went, which was pretty awesome. The drive was lovely, we stopped off at the giant gumboot in Tully, Frosty Mango and Crystal Creek on the way back, but I won’t go into great detail cause it’s really not that exciting. So there you go. 6 days in my hometown. Really nothing special.”
“I’m not going to lie. I was a bit dubious when it was suggested that we take the week I have after Christmas to go visit somewhere rather off the tourist trail. We could have gone to Cairns, or Airlie Beach, which I’d seen advertised many times in the Lonely Planet, Tourism Australia brochures and on the Internet. But this was going to be something different. We were flying to Townsville.
Coming from a cold and wet Frankfurt to spend Christmas in hot and sunny Australia was a real treat. All the seafood and pool parties and cycling trips to the beach – it didn’t feel Christmassy at all. We were exploring this world completely new to us, where wearing a Santa hat surfing really is a thing. Now that we’d flown to the North end of the country, it was going to get even more exotic. I spotted a huge flock of brightly coloured parakeets swing through the air above the airport arrivals lounge. It may sounds strange, but arriving somewhere that has a huge “careful about the crocs” poster in the foyer gave me this real sense of adventure.
And adventure it was – we headed to the Billabong Sanctuary that has actual, real, live wombats! I’d never seen one in my life! It was incredible! And all the birds, the cockatoos even said ‘hello!’. All these animals I’d seen photos of, but never actually seen up close, in real life, suddenly weren’t made up creatures on a piece of paper anymore. They were there – living and breathing and squawking and shuffling around, cage-free and there for the petting. And we’re not talking boring rabbits or badgers or deer… I never even knew that something called and Echidna existed! I even got to hold a small koala, it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. You simply can’t imagine how soft and springy and dense their fur is.
We were staying with family of friends and you can’t imagine my surprise when I saw wild wallabies jumping around in the back garden. We could even feed them! I was over the moon. But there was more to come. We took the ferry to Magnetic Island and spent the day exploring. Wild koalas, beautiful empty bays with aquamarine water, flocks of parakeets flashing between rainforest trees… we had to swim in a stinger net but clambering up huge rocks to watch the ocean was just magical. I loved the warmth of the water here, and how it was so easygoing – we ended up being the only people in the bay so we just left our stuff and went for a walk along the sand. We certainly built up an appetite as we were invited to dinner with a friend of the family. It was simply delicious, and so good to hang out with a real local who was interested in me and where I come from, and showed me the difference between 5 (!!) sorts of mangos. We chatted for hours and hours, it was wonderful.
Our final big outing was to drive to Mission Beach, 3 hours up the coast. I can’t remember the last time I drove for 3 hours without stopping off; it’s such a long way to drive in one go. Mission Beach was beautiful, especially from above, as it had been arranged for me to go skydiving. I could not believe my luck that I can do these kinds of things. I’m so incredibly grateful. Most of my friends just stay where they are, but here I was, hanging 5000ft in the air with a parachute and a wonderfully entertaining tandem master. Seeing the coastline stretch as far as the eye could see below me, and the rainforest on one side and Great Barrier Reef on the other was just amazing.
The drive home was even better than the drive up. We stopped off at the biggest wellington boot I’ve ever seen – you can even climb it, what a hoot! Then we bought some fresh local prawns – the lady in the shop was completely mental, but really well meaning. She was saying all these things I couldn’t understand because her accent was so thick, and she shouted a lot, but it was hilarious – you just can’t make this stuff up. Neither can you plan or pay for this kind of real local experience, and the setting in which we ate the prawns was amazing. Up in the rainforest, a stream rolls over these huge boulders creating little pools and slides and even really deep bits you can dive into. As it was the weekend, families came with their kids and friends (via delicious ice cream shop Frosty Mango!) and just brought lunch, hung out and swam in the stream. Some of the kids even caught wild crayfish. I would have never found this place if it wasn’t for our local’s knowledge, and I feel really privileged to have been somewhere that very few tourists know is there.
Looking back, I had such a great time in Townsville. It was every day life for some, but to me everything was so exotic and exciting. I mean, wild parrots in your back garden? How much more holiday-like does it get? Words can’t describe it, you’re just going to have to go to Queensland.”
If we’ve learned anything from our little experiment, it is to not underestimate how interesting your own surroundings can be for someone from a different background. We all had a fantastic time, but here lies the secret: just because you think it’s normal, doesn’t mean the rest of the world thinks the same. Just because it’s ‘ugly’ or ‘boring’ or ‘every day’ doesn’t mean others won’t be amazed by your ‘edgy’ or ‘incredibly relaxing’ or ‘so different from where I live’ surroundings. People have different ideas about what they find inspiring, they travel all over the world to beachside holiday resorts, or icy landscapes, or North Korea, or Kazakhstan or Kenya. Or even Frankfurt. It’s often the things you take for granted that outsiders pick up on and find fascinating. What? Everyone sticks to the queuing system? Huh? You eat cold meats and cheese for breakfast? OMG! You have actual, real SNOW in your garden?!?
So if you can’t get away, and are stuck at home, in your boring surroundings, remember that someone else is dreaming of seeing the cool English pub down the road, or your sash windows, or your heated toilet seat. Invite someone to check out what makes your place ‘normal’ and see how they point out things and laugh about stuff you never thought anyone would notice. See your own surroundings with new eyes. You never know, inspiration might just be around the corner.