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18 March 2000, Cairns, Queensland to Heron Island, Queensland

We had arranged for the porter to pick up our bags and get them to our bus. He was scheduled to get them at 8:00, so we got up at 7:30, finished our packing, retrieved e-mail, and waited. My sister, Theresa, had sent an e-mail update on Daddy. His surgery had gone fine, with the doctors bypassing the three blocked arteries. The doctors were happy with the way the surgery had gone, and expected the best.

When the porter wasn’t at our room by 8:15, we left the bags in the room and went to breakfast. We then checked out and waited for our shuttle. It left at 9:00, getting us to the airport more than ninety minutes early for our flight. I spent the time writing our backlog of journals, not catching up, but getting close.

Our flight to Gladstone was “the local.” The plane went from Cairns to Brisbane, with four stops in between. We were to get off at the fourth stop. We finally boarded the eighteen-seat Dash 8 propeller-driven aircraft. We heard the safety lecture, took off, and landed four times, stopping in Townsville, Mackay, and Rockhampton before debarking at Gladstone. From there, we would take a helicopter over to Heron Island, fifty miles out to sea.

Oops, we had missed an important note in our itinerary. We were restricted to fifteen kilograms of baggage each on the helicopter. We hadn’t packed for this event, so we quickly ducked into a side room and re-apportioned our clothes, putting the essential items for the next three days into our carry-on bags. We checked the big bags with the helicopter service. Instead of a safety lecture from a flight attendant, we sat down and watched a ten-minute video that introduced us to the safety procedures on the helicopter. We were to wear life vests throughout the flight. We would also wear headsets equipped with microphones, both to protect our ears, and to allow us to communicate with the pilot and each other during the flight.

After the video, we walked out to the helicopter and got in. We were two of four passengers on our heli. Neither Chris nor I had flown in a heli before, and we didn’t really know what to expect. The flight turned out to be interesting, fast, and smooth. We lifted off, flew away from the airport by following a runway, then rose over Gladstone harbor. The pilot gave us a running commentary about Gladstone, it’s main business (exporting coal) and the various landmarks before we were over the Pacific Ocean.

During the ten minutes that we couldn’t see anything but water, we found out about the pilot himself. He was on his eighth flight to Heron Island of the day. He got his start as a heli-pilot in Scotland, flying support for offshore oil rigs. He also told us that we had picked a good night to start our stay at Heron Island; on Saturday nights they have a fabulous seafood buffet. He then told us that the birds are quite loud on the island, and we may need earplugs to get a decent night’s sleep. He warned us especially of the mullet birds, who burrow into the ground, then spend the night making calls that sound like a crying baby.

Then we were flying over beautiful coral reefs and small islands, each one different from the last. After about four or five reefs and islands, we came to Heron Island, surrounded by its own reef. Heron Island is only forty-two acres and you can walk all the way around it in half an hour. When the twenty-five-minute helicopter ride was over, we got out, took off our life vests, and were greeted by a resort employee. She gave us the quick tour, taking us by reception to check in, then pointing out the restaurant, bar, and shops.

Heron Island

One of the first things we noticed was the sound of thousands of birds chirping, warbling, cackling, and generally making bird sounds. Another thing was the tangy smell of seafood that had made it through the birds’ digestive tracts. We hoped we would soon get used to both.

Room rates at Heron Island include all meals during your stay. Breakfasts and lunches are buffet-style, and most dinners are four-course meals with three or four choices for each course. We would be assigned a table for the duration of our stay, so we wouldn’t have to wait to be seated each time we arrived for a meal.

After our tour, we were shown to our suite, a two-room setup on the second floor with a very open and airy floor plan. It turned out to be a free upgrade from our original reservation. After distributing the little bit of baggage we had been allowed to bring with us around the room, we headed over to the bar for some margaritas, which we drank while looking past the palm trees to the peaceful waters of Heron Reef. We enjoyed a nice breeze and a colorful sunset.

Feeling quite relaxed, we headed to the restaurant to check out the seafood buffet that our helicopter pilot had mentioned. It was immense. There were crabs, prawns, oysters, baked fish, sushi, vegetables, fruits, and desserts. We were shown to our table (#55) and told to help ourselves to the buffet. We pigged out, trying samples of anything that looked appetizing. While we were at the restaurant, we filled in a form requesting a picnic hamper for the next day’s lunch. We figured we would find a secluded spot, eat lunch, then stretch out to sunbathe.

Back at the room, we realized that there was no television — not that we had been watching any — and no telephone. That meant no way to dial into the internet and post journal updates or send and receive e-mail. I checked at reception to see if there was a phone jack I could use. There was, so I took my laptop up there and posted my latest journal update. I also sent a message to Theresa, letting her know that voice mail was the best way to contact me for the next couple of days. She had already sent me a message telling me that Daddy was progressing as the doctors expected. He would be out of intensive care and into a private room the next day.

With a full day behind us, we turned in early. It was then that we found out that the birds are louder at night than during the day. Since there is no air conditioning in the suites, we had to keep the windows open, allowing the birds in the trees just outside to screech right into the room. I eventually got to sleep despite the noise, too sleepy to look for my earplugs. Chris got up and found her earplugs, and by sleeping with her good ear to the pillow, she had a pretty sound sleep. I vowed to follow her example the next night.

Next day

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