Menan Mayor Tad Haight and his wife Jolyn recently returned from a three week vacation to Australia, a trip which he says was the most fun he has had in decades.
“It was an absolutely incredible adventure. I haven’t had that much fun in decades,” Tad said. “I do remember feeling that sense of wonder while looking at a rainforest during a monsoon. Even the very air was heavy with life.”
“I really enjoyed it, it was beautiful,” Jolyn said. “It felt like we were in paradise.”
For the past several years the Haights have been saving money for a vacation, but time-after-time they kept pushing the vacation farther down the road. That all changed near the end of last year.
“My brother Wyatt and his family had been going up north for the last few years to spend winters—northern Australia that is. We’d been having an unusually long and dismal winter when he invited us to come down and visit. After some talking back and forth, we decided to pull the trigger on that “one day” trip,” he said.
Because the vacation was rather spontaneous, the two had very little planned, adding to the sense of adventure.
“So, with very little forethought, and very little planning, we had a passport and tickets. The lack of planning part really bothered me,” he said. “My wife will tell you that I like to plan things to death. I don’t like the unexpected. But if you’re going to have an adventure, you’re going to have to put up with a little uncertainty.”
After making the decision to go to Australia, and informing a few people, the Haights received a similar response from nearly everyone—almost everything in Australia can kill you.
“After hearing all this cheery news, I asked if the Australians had snow and ice on the roads. After they told us, ‘of course not,’ we decided to go anyway,” he said.
Following 24 hours of travel, the Haights arrived in Brisbane on Feb. 14.
“When we got off the plane, I expected heat. And it was warm. But not too vicious slap-in-the-face heat like Las Vegas in the summer,” he said. “It was born, humid, and a little breezy. After 24 hours in airports and airplanes, it felt like the Promised Land.”
Rather than staying in a hotel, the couple stayed in an Airbnb that was being rented by his brother and was located a stone’s throw from the ocean.
“There was not a lot to see as we walked along on the tidal flat, except vast herds of quarter dollar sized crabs. Tens of thousands of them would advance before us. If we got to close, they would corkscrew themselves into the sand and disappear from sight,” he said.
Although they only scratched the surface of the country, Haight said there were many things he loved about Australia, including the birds and other wildlife.
“I love waking up in the morning and listening to them, trying to sort out the sounds. One sounded suspiciously like the backup alarm on a forklift. Another one sounded like the screeching of an old-fashioned spring-loaded jumping jack being used. If you can recognize that sound, it probably dates you a little bit,” he said.
Jolyn also said waking up to singing birds was one of her favorite parts of the whole trip.
“It was beautiful, just these sounds you have never heard before,” she said.
A few animals Haight recollects seeing included platypodes, cassowaries (a large emu-like bird with colorful plumage), crocodiles, snakes, flying foxes and a koala.
“I never got to see a koala in the wild, though I got to hold one at the refuge. That one experience made it worth the trip. Think soft, slow, and heavy,” he said. “I’m not a big fan of snakes. The only ones we saw in the wild were the long super thin kind that you only find on busy highways. That was probably close enough for me.”
Other parts of the vacation he said he enjoyed was catching the tail-end of the fruit season and seeing the subtropical area of the region.
“We also saw areas of peanuts, mangos, sugarcane, papaya, dragon fruit, starfruit, and every fruit that I had ever seen, and many that I had never even heard of. Oh yes, and they also grew a few potatoes,” he said. “I wanted to see Greenery. And Queensland is the place to do it. It is a tropical and subtropical area of Australia. Other areas can be quite arid, and they have a lot of desert. As for me, I’ve already seen desert. I can come home and see desert. We stuck to the Tropicals.”
During their first week, the Haights visited places such as Josephine Falls, Dingo Beach and Hideaway Bay where they fished on the Great Barrier Reef and visited a deserted island. The second week featured a 500 mile road trip from MacKay to Cooktown, where Captain Cook was stranded.
“But the journey getting us there was the best part. After we left MacKay we drove the Bruce Highway along the eastern coast, passing tiny communities with names like Kuttabul, Pindi Pindi, Thoopara, Gunyarra, Strathdickie, and Wooroonooran until we made our way to Port Douglas. At Port Douglas we left the highway and used the largely unimproved Cape tribulation Bloomfield Road to finish our trip to Cooktown,” he said.
Haight said there were very few stop signs while driving and that most of the intersections used roundabouts.
“My favorite thing about this part of the trip was that we had no real timeline. Any time that we saw something that interested us, we stopped and looked at it,” he said. “One stop was made entirely because we had seen a large fallen tree that was covered with science fiction looking fungi.”
After their trip to Cooktown, the Haights returned to MacKay where they rested for a couple days before returning to the United States.
A few things he said that interested him about the trip was Australians seem to be more trusting than Americans; they don’t have a one cent coin so that anytime their change was an odd number, they kept the change; they don’t pronounce the terminal “R” in their words so words like car became “cah”; their food is similar to food in the United States; and numerous animals can kill a person.
“The kangaroo can kick you hard enough to do serious damage. The Platypus is the only poisonous mammal in the world. The cassowary male has a ripping spur that can cause fatal wounds in a human being. The entire nation is full of signs to minimize your time getting into and out of a boat because that exposes you to a wandering crocodile,” he said.
Plus, the ocean is inhabited by the poisonous box jellyfish that can secrete a deadly toxin that can kill a person in extremely small doses.
“I was advised to wear a “stinger suit”. It is basically a head to toe Lycra body stocking with an SPF UPF of 100. I was reluctant to spend that much money on a garment that might only be worn once or twice. And I did see some locals out in the water without protection. But one day as we were out on the beach talking to a local fisherman, he mentioned that you would see Life Flight go through two or three times a week. Most of the calls were jellyfish stings,” he said. “He looked at us quite seriously and reassured us that most people recover. That was not exactly heartening news. Plus, I did worry about subjecting Australians to the sight of a 250 pound American in a Lycra bodystocking. Then I thought about the embarrassment of being life-flighted out of a foreign country. I bought the stinger suit.”
Haight said Australia as a country has similar issues as the United States. He noted crime is minimal, but is on the rise, drug problems are increasing, they’re worried about invasive species and climate change, plus farmers are worried about unfair competition from highly subsidized foreign markets.
“To the Australians, the U.S. is a highly subsidized foreign market, especially on the subject of sugar,” he said.
Overall, Haight said his only regrets were not seeing more of the country, not speaking with more of the locals and not having a better camera.
“In the end, we came home. This is where my home and family is. This is where my job and community is. And after 3 weeks of everything being new, I was glad to see my pillow and my front door,” he said.
Both Tad and Jolyn said they would return to Australia in the future.