LEARNING FROM THE BEST
I may have been slightly judgmental when I turned up for a standup paddleboarding lesson and discovered my instructor was a teenager.
As a novice I was praying to the water gods that I wasn't about to make a fool of myself during a lesson with Ocean Addicts. Those sporty types out there paddling away effortlessly make it look easy but I know better than to assume anything, especially when there's the potential to crash unflatteringly off a board and into the sea.
So, when I'm introduced to 18-year-old Trevor Tunnington, I hope he's got what it takes to transform me from a novice into a pro. He tells me it's his first day on the job - and I'm his very first lesson.
It turns out he was more than qualified. In fact, he's the best in the world according to another staff member. He's not joking, although Trevor quietly corrects him saying his title is actually the fastest, not the best. Somehow this has gone from reassuring to slightly concerning. He's too good. Now I definitely can't fall off.
Fortunately Trevor is encouraging and I admit to being stoked at being able to get up off my knees on my first attempt. This isn't too hard after all.
Until, that is, I realise I'm battling a current and despite paddling furiously I appear to be going nowhere fast. For some reason the current and the paddle just don't seem to be getting on.
I'm hot and my arms are killing me but I smile and tell Trevor it's all good. He suggests we have a break on a sandbar, which I quietly thank him for under my breath. As we set off again that current seems determined to make me look stupid. Trevor politely mentions that my paddle "has somehow flipped around", kind of like it was something the paddle had done and not me. It was good of him - he could have come straight out and said the reason I'd been busting my gut against the current was because I was doing it completely wrong, despite my lesson on the beach.
He remains patient on our paddle back home. When he's not looking I try a few tricks but start to wobble to and fro. Ashore I admit there was a close call and I'm relieved I managed to remain dry. Turns out he was just as relieved that his first lesson ended without the need for towels.
ANIMALS, ANIMALS, ANIMALS
It's fair to say I'm far from an animal lover. I don't hate them but I'm not one to "ooh and ahh" over little critters. So, I have to admit it was a surprise when I realised I'd became obsessed with animals and reptiles while travelling around the Sunshine Coast.
It started at the Novotel Twin Waters Resort where I met a man holding a shredded snake skin.
It turns out it feels the same as bubble wrap.
But it wasn't long before the snake was forgotten. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed something that looked like it had escaped from the reptile section of the zoo but Kristy, our resort host, tells me the lizards are incredibly common around the grounds. They are fascinating to watch - statue-still the minute you try to get close. Attempting to wait them out doesn't work, nor do stealth-like tactics - they are off the minute they sense danger.
I took a liking to the ibis, a white bird with a large curved beak and black legs that wanders around the Sunshine Coast like it owns the place. Then there was a strange white moth. The pelicans definitely warranted several photographs, as did the crazy magpie-like bird that landed on a ledge while I was having breakfast and flew straight at my pancakes.
What really got me though was the night of an electrical storm when I was driving back to my hotel after dinner. Through the pelting rain, and illuminated in my headlights, dozens of tiny frogs were jumping all over the road. I didn't want to squish the little things and found myself swerving and driving at about 10km/hr in the hope they'd move out the way.
We are neighbours but the status given to wildlife in Australia and New Zealand varies hugely. That became evident one night while enjoying a gourmet barbecue at Spicers Tamarind Retreat in the Hinterland. As we sat down to enjoy our meal we heard a thud on the deck and two possums appeared, clearly enticed by the smell of steak, prawns and sausages.
Unlike the timid Kiwi possum there was no fear and they settled in for the evening, peering in our window, hoping for a feed. Stunned at their confidence I described the encounter to a lady in the morning only to be told they are a protected species in Australia. Our pest is their friend. I think it was then the softie retreated and that the hunter within me finally returned. Those furry little critters with their pink noses were lucky I wasn't at home or they wouldn't have made it through the night.
KAYAKING INTO THE SUNSET
Dean Haspell has kayaked the Pumicestone Passage more times than he can remember - but never once has he got bored.
Sixteen years ago the 58-year-old boat-builder decided it was time for a change.
"Doing something on the water was pretty important so I thought about kayaking."
So began Blue Water Kayaks Tours - and a job he still enjoys each and every day.
"I enjoy meeting the people and just showing them around. It's such an amazing area," he tells me as we head down the river, part of the Moreton Bay Marine Park. Part of the attraction is the wildlife - the birds, the fish, stingrays and even the odd kangaroo that's ventured out for a swim.
On the day I venture out with Dean we start with a quick lesson on how to steer and paddle then glide on to the water and head for an island.
As we work up the river, the boat houses, cars and other people all but drifted away. We were isolated and relaxed as Dean pointed out a stingray underneath us and a white-bellied eagle high up in a tree. The bird is one of about six breeding pairs in the area.
As we continued to work our way about 3km upriver I wondered if we were heading to out to sea. When we eventually headed to the side of the bank I was quietly relieved - until I realised this was a quick drink and biscuit stop. It was halfway - not the end.
Fortunately, the current was in our favour heading back and my tired arms didn't have to work so hard. It was also the trip back that made the experience truly memorable. Pending thunderstorms that had nearly resulted in our session being postponed seemed to track around us, making for an amazing sky and sunset.
As we neared the boat ramp the golden setting sun eventually gave way to a spectacular fiery pink sky - right up there with some of the most amazing sunsets I've seen. There's something special about being out on the water with no one else around to watch the day draw to a close.
It's yet another one of the reasons Dean does what he does - every day, every sunset is different and he has pictures of them all.
"When I first started I thought to myself "I wonder how I would feel about this after five years?"
The answer is he still feels the same as when he started - he loves it. "Every time I go out I have got different people, I love to show them this area."
Getting there: Air New Zealand flies direct from Auckland to the Sunshine Coast several times a week from June to October.
Further information: See queensland.com.