Perils of the highway

Nothing like road tripping to get in some adventure and excitement, spiced with some dread and dismay.

Face masks were back by order in Sydney because of random outbreaks of COVID-19, which is not much fun for someone with breathing troubles.

It is one of the conditions currently keeping me from returning to the islands and I got desperately tired of trying to deal with soggy paper across my mouth and rasping breath steaming up my glasses.

It was like a new version of that torture known as waterboarding and has nothing at all to do with stand-up paddleboarding.

An escape to an Australian bush region that had no history of coronavirus cases seemed a smart, safe idea.

Perhaps taking the younger daughter, known in the family as Cuddles the Thug from the time of her rambunctious youth, as a travelling companion was a daring option.

But we couldn’t venture out in the good old four-wheel drive vehicle due to a big hole in the canvas top above the driver’s seat.

It’s hard to drive when (a) you are sopping wet and (b) there is more rain blowing on the inside of the windscreen than outside.

So we ventured forth in the little blue bug Cuddles usually drives. I gradually felt more confident somewhere between “uh-oh, the orange light is on” and “hooray, a service station” and “of course I had it serviced, I’m not an idiot”.

Just didn’t think to fill up the fuel, apparently.

Getting to rural parts is initially best done on terrifying motorways that are meant for speed. I can do speed, but it is harder when it involves dodging around huge trucks and road trains.

People prone to anxiety probably shouldn’t drive on motorways but they are actually irresistible.

They are smooth as a baby’s bottom, without a crater, ditch or teensy pothole to mar the surface and many kilometres of concrete over and underpasses, drains and barriers to stop dozy drivers from running off the road.

And signs! You could make a book of the signs between Sydney and any other distant destination.

They told you where you were, where you were going and how many km it was and where else you could go; also when there would be a passing lane, a turn-off road, joining the road, how many car lengths you should leave between you and the vehicle in front in frosty or windy weather, so forth and so on in endless succession – plus lots of silhouette pictures of animals.

Drivers were obviously not paying proper attention to the pictures of the iconic kangaroos, cute koalas and darling wombats; and possibly none at all to the prickle bush bird that we whizzed past too fast for me to read the sign properly.

It made me want to get out my black felt pen and embellish the wombat picture with horns, dripping fangs and a pointy tail to try and frighten drivers into paying proper respect to native animals.

I didn’t do it because of the strong opinion that the highway patrol would probably not be paying much respect to someone who graffitied their signs.

However, the locals apparently take fine care of their wildlife, including the fish.

We stopped for the night at a beach destination with enough time for a swim.

A charming cove was partially enclosed by what we understood was a shark fence, although nobody would absolutely guarantee it was in working order.

When I asked whether people fished there they looked horrified and wanted us to look at the absolutely huge flathead and a delicate seahorse which were amongst the denizens of the deep hanging around the net.

Interfering with the fish would not be taken kindly, they said.

This is the sort of attitude we need much more to protect our Fiji reef and sea creatures, and not just to show our (currently greatly fewer) tourists.

Next day’s beach excursion further up the coast was also wonderful, to begin with anyway.

The white sand was so fine it squeaked underfoot and the water was what could be termed refreshing without turning your toes numb.

We bobbed about in another delightful cove, this one I thought was without any shark net.

On reflection, I probably should not have used this as an excuse to expand on Cuddle’s understanding of predator behaviour and stories of shark attacks.

Especially not ones about people who had their legs bitten off in a mere metre of water. In a way it was her fault because she would keep
pointing to something and saying that it wasn’t a shark, it was a bird.

Couldn’t I see it ducking and diving away and then sticking its black head up? No, I couldn’t.

I had sensibly left my glasses on the beach and would not be able to see anything smaller than a fully-grown whale that kept the 1.5m distance away to be coronavirus safe.

I certainly would not be able to distinguish between a bird’s head and a pointy shark fin.

Cuddles insisted we leave the water and complained I had put her off.

But that was nothing to the screaming when she discovered she was sitting next to a bull ant.

It is true bull  ants have a nasty bite, as verified when she took its picture and looked it up on the internet to discover it was related to the African fire ant.

It could also cause some sensitive people to go into anaphylactic shock.

Fortunately, this was one of the beaches with wonderfully designed low-riser steps and well-placed railings that actually help people who breathe like an expiring steam engine.

Be good to have a lot more of that sort of thing around, to actually provide real help to real people who need access to places everyone should be able to go.

Wandering around the Australian beaches and bush, even for a few days, gave me all sorts of insights and appreciation of what Fiji could achieve to regain its much boasted ‘way the world should be’. Speaking practically, not politically, of course.

“He’s lost his mind,’ the principal dog minder said.

  •  The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and not necessarily of this newspaper

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