After much fussing about, searching for CD’s (never to be found), I teach Janette about placing your iPod in a cup-holder for instant speakers the MacGyver way. We decide which one of us will be Thelma (Janette) and which is Louise (me, as I’m the redhead), and get on the road. Our first stop is a kitschy pub which used to be named the Ettamogah, after a famous Aussie cartoon but, due to a buy-out and, as the waitress puts it, “a whole story behind it” is currently named the Pub. It’s a play on the typical Dinkum Aussie which is your Crocodile Dundee/Throw another shrimp on the barbie, stereotypical, caricature Australian. We sit and enjoy a nice lunch outside on this beautiful day (I’m finally warm!).
We get back on the road where, after just fifteen-minutes or so, we find ourselves at the Big Pineapple. It’s on the edge of some pineapple fields and, as a bonus, you can climb up to the top. On the way, there’s a whole display of pineapple history and statistics on pineapple production. We climb the two somewhat circular staircases to the top (a much easier climb than what I did all those months ago with the Tümerin von Münster in what is still one of the best travel experiences of my life. Read No Fires, No Foes.) After a quick lookout and a short climb down, we go hunting for the Big Cow but she seems to have escaped the pasture, so we head out to go see Matilda, the Big Kangaroo. After a bit of a drive, it looks as if Matilda has hopped away as we don’t find her either. We do, however, find a great little coffee shop in Tiaro called Retro Espresso. It’s been a long day so far and I need some caffeine and Vince, the owner, is just the man I need. While Thelma orders a half-shot latte (I mean, why even bother?) I order a double-shot one and ask for her extra 1/2 shot. Besides coffee, Retro Espresso has some heavenly looking (and I’m sure tasting) gooey treats as well as some kitschy (second-time I’ve used the word here but it’s so fitting) metal signs, some with Route 66 themes. This is a great stop when driving through the Hinterlands. (An area that’s not quite inland and not quite the coast – the Hinterlands.)
We continue on, with a quick stop at the Big Ned Kelly and drive past sunset (remember, it’s still winter here so the sun sets early) until we arrive in Riverheads, the town where Rosie (Thelma’s old school friend) lives. We’re staying with Rosie for two-nights which gives the old friends a chance to catch up and puts us in close proximity (about 120 km) to Bundaberg, the location of The Big Rum Bottle. After being introduced to Rosie, her daughter Tash, and their dog Honey, we sit down for a glass of wine. I drag out my computer as I want to get some writing and publishing done before I absorb more wine (and, perhaps, some of the scotch we stopped and bought). While I want to work, apparently my computer has other ideas and chooses not to work. There are no lights and it won’t even turn on. I try all night to no avail. Rosie lends me a computer (luckily I’ve save most essential things to a zip drive I purchased after the great computer crash in March in Kuala Lumpur) which allows me to get work done but does little to alleviate my stress. This morning I was irritated that I couldn’t find my $5 sunglasses. I’ve now forgotten about that. Perspective.
We enjoy a nice dinner and some wine before heading to bed. The scotch I bought remains unopened. (Who knew you could be too stressed to drink scotch?) After some stress induced insomnia I wake up and glance at my computer while praying to literally “see the light.” Apparently, this is only a philosophical answer as the computer and all of its power lights remain dark. After a coffee (Thelma is a bubbly person, even in the morning. Louise, well, she needs her coffee) we get ready and head over to Bundaberg to see The Big Rum Bottle.
Bundaberg is about a ninety-minute drive from Riverheads (right near Hervey Bay) and, on the way, we pass the small town of Childers. It’s a cute town with pubs and shops lining the streets and signs directing people to the wineries in the area. I make note as I think I might want to return here for a visit.
We continue our pilgrimage to Bundaberg along the ISIS Highway. Yup, it’s an unfortunate name for a highway these days. Perhaps they should think about renaming it. This area is all about sugar cane and fields are everywhere. At about 12:30, we pull up to our Mecca for the day – The Big Rum Bottle. And, even better, the Big Rum Bottle is strategically placed directly in front of the Bundaberg Rum Distillery. I’m stressed-out from my broken computer and standing in a rum distillery; this could be dangerous.
After taking the token photos standing with The Big Rum Bottle, we head inside where there’s a museum and tours. We sign up for the 1:00 tour, which a sign out front tells us, “Grown men have been known to walk away from the BDC Distillery Experience shedding tears of enlightenment” (a bit dramatic perhaps). We stroll through the museum for a bit, learning about how the distillery came to be as well as the great fires of 1907 and 1933. We stop to read a sign which tells us, “The Bundaberg Distilling Company was born in 1888, when a band of ingenious sugar millers turned a horrendous molasses surplus into a fine rum.” Sort of like making wine from water.
Just after 1:00, Angus, one of our guides walks through the museum collecting us and leading us into a small theatre where he gives us a brief description of what we’ll be seeing as well as introducing us to our other guide, Adam. We’re told that when we walk outside, we’ll be asked to place all battery-powered devices onto shelves which will be locked up for safekeeping. This includes all cell phones, watches and electric car-lock openers. Apparently, the fires scared the bejesus out of them and, due to the alcohol content in the air, one spark from a malfunctioning battery could cause the whole place to go up in a ball of flames. I fully expect to get drunk simply from breathing.
We head into the factory and are led through various areas, including a huge warehouse with a molasses lake covering the entire floor. The scent is strong and sweet. We continue on into a barrel room, as well as areas to see the metal vats which make the yeast used in the distilling process.
Finally, we end up in a room where Adam describes each of the many bottles of rum in front of us and the various tastes and development processes of each. We’re then invited into the bar (finally!) where we get to taste two glasses of our choice from the many different types of rum offered. While my first drink of their black label is a fine rum, my second choice, their chocolate one mixed with cream sends me over the moon. Being the designated driver, Thelma only has a half-shot and, by the time we leave, I’m a little more liquored-up and less stressed than when we entered.
We head off, make a quick stop at the Big Barrel, and drive on in search of the Cordalba Pub, which Rosie has told us is a nice, historic place. After a longer than expected ride and some amount of searching, we finally pull up in front of the 122 year-old building. It’s just after 4:00 and we’re the only ones here. After Anthony, the bartender, cook, and everything else, takes our orders we head onto the back porch to sit in the waning sun overlooking the sugarcane fields. We ask if they make coffee and he says you can serve yourself. He shows us to a dining area where, on a table are bottles filled with Nescafe instant coffee, tea bags, sugar and other paraphernalia. He bends down and turns on the kettle which is sitting on the floor. Yup, it’s an interesting place. After thirty-minutes-or-so, Thelma’s pizza and my burger arrive and we each scarf down half, knowing that Rosie has gone shopping and plans to cook us a nice salmon dinner.
Back on the road, we hunt for a bottle shop (liquor store) as Rosie’s asked us to pick-up a bottle of white wine for the salmon. Thelma’s bottle shop locating abilities are amazing and she can spot one as quickly as a birdwatcher spots a red-bellied, white crested, blackbird hiding in the trees. Bottle of wine in hand, we finally arrive in Riverheads at 7:15pm.
Tomorrow – Back to Brisbane