The weekend Rocked

It’s just under a year since Alex and I last visited Rockhampton. It had been six years since our previous visit and we had just returned from a quick visit to Singapore, with Alex just recovering from a bought of gastro. B remained in Sydney. We only stayed a night, enough time to see my sister’s new baby and the Botanic Gardens before returning home.

This time we decided to stay longer – a whole two nights – and bring B along as well. The occasion: My sister’s wedding.

After booking our tenth anniversary Europe trip I had no leave to spare, so we had no choice but to fly up on the Friday and back on Sunday. Apart from the fun of celebrating a wedding with my family I was viewing this trip as a bit of a practice run for the Europe trip. How would Alex track on a flight now that he is almost three years old?

He was terribly excited about the flights and seeing his Nanna again, continually asking me if we were going to the airport in the days preceding the trip.

Sydney Airport’s Long Term Carpark was around $8 more expensive than catching public transport than a ride on public transport to the airport, so we went with convenience. With the rate that traffic was crawling along the M5 motorway the train and bus might have been a better option. We made it to the check in desk with only a couple of minutes to spare.

Alex was excited by the sight of airport x-ray machines for the first time in six months. B took him for a toilet stop but our names were being called as they walked up to the gate.

I was a tad disappointed to see that our Virgin Australia aircraft was the larger of their two types of Embraer jet aircraft, as Alex has never caught the 170. Not that it matters. Alex was seated by the window, B in an aisle seat and myself at the opposite aisle seat with another passenger at the window. The lack of a window view annoyed me immensely and I resolved to move back to vacant row 18 as soon as the seatbelt lights were off.

We taxied out towards the runway and were then delayed for a while as every other aircraft took off and landed in front of us. Then it was our turn and we shot up into the air.

It was a pretty boring journey for most of the flight. Alex was pretty well behaved, eating some snacks with his mum, then walking back to where I had relocated to row 18 to watch some recorded ABC television on my phone. It was only as we descended into Rockhampton across a mountain range and through puffy white clouds that the ride became more visually interesting.

Singaporean Super Puma and Apache military helicopters were lined up on the tarmac, waiting to fly out on military training exercises at nearby Shoalwater Bay. As I walked down the stairs and across the tarmac I took out my camera for a couple of quick shots when a Virgin Australia flight attendant shouted out to me “No photographs! Put the camera away!” There had been no announcement made about photography, nor were there any signs around stating photography was banned, plus I have taken photos on Rocky’s tarmac before without complaint. It was a pretty rude end to what had only been an average flight.

We got a surprise inside the terminal when we found my mum, brother David and his family waiting for us. They had just arrived on a Qantas flight. Alex then had another thrill as the luggage belt started up.

We had previously booked a Nissan Tiida class car from Budget, but when B went to pick up the keys she was given a big Toyota Aurion instead. After stopping by my sister’s apartment we checked into our Travelodge. Our room overlooked the brown Fitzroy River that runs (and overruns!) through the city, dividing it in half. It’s a pleasant hotel, not quite up to the standard of the Leichardt of last trip. Unfortunately, the Edge Apartments block the views of the old bridge and CBD as this would be a more exotic view.

My sister was holding a practice run of her wedding ceremony that afternoon, so we packed back into the car and drove off to Rosslyn Bay on the coast. Up through North Rockhampton, past the big redeveloped shopping centre that can do no better than a BigW, past new furniture shops, the university, then turned east through the dry scrubland of Yeppoon Road.

Somewhere along the way, past the waiting police car, my mum sounded the horn and overtook us. They too were running late for the practice run.

The road to Yeppoon is fairly unremarkable except for a series of volcanic plugs about 20 minutes out from the coast. These outcrops are the remnant cores of volcanoes after the surrounding softer rock has eroded away. The area around the outcrops was burned black from the recent bushfires in the area.

Rosslyn Bay, which has a marina and port for the ferry rides out to the Keppel Islands, was itself carved out of a volcanic outcrop of hexagonal columns of basalt.

Once the practice was finished we, along with my other brother Jon, decided to visit Mum’s house, which lies in a country locality back towards Rockhampton. On the way we stopped at the Causeway Lake Kiosk for a really delicious lunch of fish and chips as the sun set across the lake waters. It’s a lovely spot, complete with a playground for Alex.

It was dark by the time we made it to Mum’s. Along the way we unfortunately ran over some small marsupial that was attracted to the road by the car’s lights before turning off on to the gravel and dirt roads that lead up the hill to the house. Sadly it was too dark to see the view of the Berserkers mountain range from the front of the house. But it was fun dredging through some of my old Matchbox, army and Star Wars toys. The latter returned to Sydney with me “for Alex”. Then it was back to the hotel room.

As we drove back that evening I listened to a compilation of various SciFi movie music on the “Star Tracks II” cd that I had bought the last time we hired a car, in Malaysia. I had originally got a copy back when I was a student in Canberra, but listening to it now brought back memories desperately trying to chat to B online while she was in Sydney and I was in Queensland on summer holidays.

The wedding was not until 3pm, so we had plenty of time to explore Rocky before heading out. Alex and I attempted to have a swim in the hotel pool, but the water was too chilly. Quite messy too, and I overheard the lady at the front desk saying that it wouldn’t be cleared until the Monday.

On the previous trip I hadn’t made it to East Street, the main street of the city, so we decided to have a wander along this shopping strip. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was no longer the sole domain of discount shops. The fascinators and dresses were out for the spring horse races (especially the Melbourne Cup), there were trendy household goods at My Sister’s Keeper and the Capricorn Model House brought back so many childhood memories with their model trains and planes.

I was also surprised to have a very tasty “Burmese laksa” at Feast on East. Like the other Asian eateries on the strip they couldn’t seem to make up their mind which Asian cuisine they wanted to specialise in, with all of them selling Thai, Japanese, Chinese and Malaysian dishes. I did find out that Feast’s chief cook was Burmese so that might explain the quality of the dish.

A bit of a rest back at the hotel, then it was time to head off to the wedding. This time we used the alternative coastal route via Lakes Creek and Emu Park, which is also the normal way to go to my Mum’s house. I was saddened to see that the railway tracks had been torn up past Nerimbera. The branchline to Yeppoon, and the long gone line to Emu Park would have made fantastic tourist train routes.

Alex slept almost the entire way to Rosslyn Bay. We stopped shortly before the turn off to let me change in the car, as I was determined to wear formal clothes for the least time possible.

The wedding went well, I thought, though Alex’s formal ring bearer role was edited out by a pastor determined that this ran her way, not the way the bride and groom might want. No matter, he had a fantastic time running and dancing around with the other young kids. During the bit between the ceremony and reception we wandered around the area and spied a sea eagle nest atop a tall lightpost.

By the time we returned to Rockhampton and the hotel we were all utterly exhausted. Fortunate then that, unlike Sydney, there was no need to set aside an hour just to reach the airport.

We met up with my Mum and an uncle and aunt at the airport terminal. They latter pair were on the same flights as us. Alex was so excited by drinking orange juice, luggage belts and Nanna that he didn’t go to the bathroom and thus wet his shorts. Out with the next pair…

We had used Frequent Flyer points to book our return flights to Sydney. Last time Alex and I had flown a turboprop down, but QantasLink were wetleasing Alliance Air’s Fokker 100 jet for this particular run. Fokkers are relatively rare sights in Australia these days, outside of the mining routes, so I was quite excited.

The interior was visibly older than your average Australian jet, but we were seated in row 2 and the legroom was amazing. Others in further back rows were not as lucky. The cabin had a seat configuration of 2-3 and it was nice for us to be seated all together.

We soon raced down the runway and launched powerfully into the skies. The cabin was surprisingly quiet up front, though things were probably noisier at the rear near the engines. Once in flight we were actually served a reasonably sized meal of zucchini slice, muesli bar and apricots, by the two flight attendants who had that air of country competency seen on the regional services. I enjoyed the scenery much more than on the flight up.

I hadn’t dared take a photo of the aircraft while on the tarmac in Rockhampton, which is a pity because there were some great shots to be had. Once in Brisbane I couldn’t resist. A minibus took us from the remote stand and into the main terminal, where we had to pass through security once again in order to catch out next Qantas flight down to Sydney.

We had a quick lunch at the food court in the terminal, Alex having missed out during previous flight by being
asleep. Then it was time to board the Qantas 767 for the final leg of our journey.

As we boarded Alex was given a plastic activities pack in the shape of Little Miss Somethingorother, containing pencils, paper and activity cards. Most were a bit old for him, but pretended the case was a robot.

Unfortunately the 767 cabin was 2-3-2 with the centre aisles staggered as well, so B was seated a bit away from Alex and I at the window. I remarked to B that the old cabin, with its centre RGB lamp projection screens brought back memories of our honeymoon flight to Paris in a 747.

We roared up and out of Brisbane, passing by the reclamation works around the port and down along the coast. When the seatbelt lights were switched off we were served some ham, lettuce and mustard sandwiches, along with an apple. Things were going well until Alex decided he was too scared of the toilet flushing noise to use the facility. He had been drinking a lot of juice and suddenly out it came, all over the seat.

I carried him to the toilet, but he screamed and cried. After the previous accident there were no more spare pairs of pants in the bag and only one pair of underpants. So that’s all he wore for the ride back, seated on a blanket.

After that ruckus he kept himself amused watching videos on my phone or playing with the activity pack.

Due to heavy westerly winds we were delayed and landed on the East-West runway, affording Alex and I views of Sydney’s CBD. The golden late afternoon sun outside put the airport in a perfect light for beginning a long overseas flight, but I felt a cold coming on and just wanted to go home to bed.

The continual complaints of the shuttle bus driver on the packed ride back to the long term carpark was a complete contrast to the friendly hospitality that we had experienced across Central Queensland. We really enjoyed this trip to Rocky and it’s a pity that we couldn’t have stayed longer. I would have liked to have visited a few coastal haunts again and just spend a lazy time doing very little. I’m actually looking forward to our next visit!


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