Fortunately, one of my clients – a small-group travel agent for over 50s – who was sure I would go crazy at Bonnie Doon offered me a part-time tour leader position. So, what I am about to share with you is – one day in the life of a tour leader.
Up early – I am to be picked up at 6 am. I have stayed overnight with my friend Angela who lives in Montrose; the spare bedroom is now called Noelle’s room and my car is safe in her two car garage. This trip is for 12 days with a small group of 14 passengers to sunny Queensland! It is one of my favourite trips, not too far and not too long, and staying in the rainforest firstly at Binna Burra Lodge and the O’Reilly’s Guest House in Lamington National Park.
I am collected on time by my mate Grenville, in an 18 seater coach. We head off to Southland Shopping Centre where we are to meet some of the passengers. The folk on these holidays are collected from home, in this case by taxi, and transferred to a central meeting place to join the coach. We collect, and welcome, eight people (two couples, two friends and two ladies travelling on their own) and on the road again to Melbourne International Airport to meet another five people (one couple, three friends) who live north and west of the city and have been transferred to the airport by taxi. One more to meet at Coolangatta Airport on our arrival. I’ll tell you more about this lady later when we get there.
I distribute name tags, check that everyone has ID, and also ask about sharps, drugs and anything else they are carrying in had luggage that they shouldn’t be! It’s a pretty hectic time, navigating the airport is hard enough on your own let alone being responsible for 14 others you have just met.
I check with the airline staff to see if we are to be processed (don’t you love that word) as a group or if we all have to be processed individually – which is more difficult for me. If I go through first I need a blue heeler to herd the last ones. If I go last, I am available to assist in case of a problem, but there is the risk of folk straying off to buy a newspaper, visit the toilet, get a coffee…
Good – group check-in.
Next security. One of my passengers is being held up by a guard – I step up to assist and am ordered to stay back! A small parcel of white powder in her handbag … “is this yours madam”? She is shaking, nervous. Laundry detergent – just in case she needed it. Only thought of it at the last minute – popped it in her handbag. Panic over.
Finally, we board, secure our seatbelts, lift-off, relax and enjoy reading, in-flight entertainment or just chatting to new friends. I take time to check the itinerary for the rest of the trip, passenger information and any special directions from the office.
All under control.
Arrival at Coolangatta, on time, and we are met by Kevin, our coach driver for the transfer to Binna Burra. Kevin greets me with a kiss, and lots of smiles for the group. He has met up with our last passenger (remember I mentioned her before). She, and one of the passengers from Melbourne, had both been air hostesses with TAA as young women, and since retirement had spent at least one holiday together every year. It turned out they had many hilarious and adventurous tales to tell over drinks that evening. TAA – Trans Australia Airlines – was one of the two major Australian domestic airlines between its inception in 1946 until its merger with Qantas in 1992.
We had a short drive to a restaurant, with views over the ocean, for lunch before heading for the hills. One of my responsibilities – to pay for lunch with the company credit card.
On our trip to Binna Burra, I sat in the passenger seat at the front of the coach and relaxed while Kevin pointed out places of interest, told stories of the history of the area and generally did the touristy stuff coach drivers do. It always amazes me that he tells the same jokes or yarns at the same spot, so I offered to tell them for him. The passengers laughed. So did Kevin. When the microphone was off, I asked Kevin about his wife. She is suffering with cancer of the throat and is not responding well to treatment. It has been a difficult time for them both and Kevin is trying to sell his coach business to enable him to spend more time at home. They are planning a holiday and hope to spend time catching up with friends and family. Such a difficult time.
One of the things I really enjoy about being a tour leader is the friendships that develop. Not only between myself, and say drivers like Kevin, but also the team at both Binna Burra and O’Reilly’s, including receptionists, chefs, waiters, rangers, botanists and guides. It is very special to feel welcome at distant places.
So we arrive at Binna Burra after a spectacular drive up the mountains and into the rainforest. We are warmly greeted by Nola (yes, another Noelle) and settle by the roaring open fire in the lounge to be briefed on what to expect for the next few days. I have invited those who want to join me on an orientation walk at 4 pm, allowing time to unpack and have a little rest beforehand. Keys are allocated and everyone is delighted to see their log cabins nestled among gum trees, tree ferns and native bush. The cabins are cosy, en-suited, and have a little verandah to sit outdoors and enjoy the flora and fauna. Binna Burra Lodge has been welcoming guests since the early 1930’s and while the cabins have been updated with modern amenities, there are no phones, clocks, radios or television to intrude on the serenity.
At 4pm we head off for a little walk (happy to say, everyone came along). I was able to show off a bowerbird bower not far from the cabins and take them along a trail designed for the visually impaired. This trail through the forest has a hand rope (instead of a rail) and has knots to warn of steps ahead or turnings. It has been especially planted with fragrant native bushes to provide a sensory experience – some you will just brush against, others have tags on the rope to make you aware they are within reach.
Back in time for a pre-dinner drink in the library before dinner in a room with the most spectacular views I have ever seen. The full glass wall (the rest of the building is in timber and stone) facing east is on the side of the mountain, a sheer drop down the valley, and the National Park sprawls like a rich emerald carpet across the spurs and valleys of the McPherson Ranges.
Dinner was sumptuous – soup served from a big iron pot on the table; large and delicious main courses and sweets for those who still had room. Conversation ebbed and flowed as it does among friends.
No entertainment was planned for our first night – after such a long, exciting day – so “good-nights” were said and everyone headed for their cabins. I took a glass of wine back to my cabin, filled in my report for the day and sat at the window. Way down, on the horizon, I could see the lights of the Gold Coast – a world away.
Another day on the job.