The Great Outdoors: The Bonding Benefits of an Aussie adventure in Queensland

If you asked the average Australian male what defined them as “Australian” you would typically expect to hear about the rugged outdoors, camping, fishing and hanging with your mates. Trust an Aussie beer company to put this notion to the test. According to research released from Queensland’s Great Northern Brewing Co., while most men would agree with these typical bloke-bonding activities, almost nine in ten haven’t actually found the time to connect with their mates in the great outdoors recently.

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With this in mind, Great Northern Brewing Co. conducted an experiment. By bringing together six guys to experience a Queensland outdoor experience, they wanted to find out if a three-day outdoor adventure would really work to connect them together and work to improve happiness and well-being, or what many call “mateship”. I was one of the participants in this trial.

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The first of three days was spent meeting up and getting to know the others in the group, at the time all strangers to me. Over a BBQ dinner of local seafood, meats and salads, washed down with some Great Northern Super Crisps, we spoke about what was in store for the next couple of days. Firstly our tour leader, Jack, would take us out into the Great Barrier Reef for fishing and snorkeling, then we’d go out in 4WD vehicles into the southern part of the state’s famous Daintree rainforest. It may not seem it, but that’s a big itinerary right there, one obviously requiring sufficient sleep, so shortly after a few getting-to-know-you chats and a feast day one was cut short by the need for rest.

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Cairns has long been a tourist mecca for those more inclined to the beauty of nature; it’s not hard to see why. Being situated at the junction of two world heritage listed areas, with easy access to the rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, warm weather and friendly locals, this central starting point for vast Australian adventures remains one of the most unique spots in the country.

There are plenty of places to stay for all budgets, cafes and restaurants overlooking the ocean and numerous boat charters to take any group out to the reef. It’s a surprisingly busy town nestled in amongst cane fields and rainforest, absorbing the natural surrounds with a cool, calm approach to life. Just be careful of the stingers in the summer months and the salt-water crocodiles in the mangroves (one was actually caught nearby in a trap, just before we arrived).

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The group was up before dawn and we headed down to the Marina to meet Alex Johnston, a junior world record holder (he caught an 864lb Black Marlin when he was just eight years old) and the skipper of the Shikari, which was to be our fishing charter for the day. We headed out west, past Green Island towards the reef. We weren’t in luck for fish that day though, only one of us managing a bite from a Marlin, which got away, plus an undersized Spanish Mackerel that we let back.

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Once we made it to the reef, some 80 kms off shore, we dropped anchor into the most beautiful, bluest water that I’ve ever seen – it was time for our snorkeling gear. The sight of the reef was breathtaking. Beautiful coral and colorful fish everywhere and with 25m visibility, it’s a memory that will stay with me for a very long time.

We headed back to shore and found ourselves in Alex’s bar, the Cock and Bull. This place is a local institution, with all the walls covered in fishing trophies from both Alex and his father Graham. Be warned though, the meals are massive, the stories as big as the fish that adorn the walls. It was the perfect setting for a few more cold Great Northern brews as we all talked about the ones that got away. As they say, a bad day of fishing is still better than a good day at the office.

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After a solid night’s sleep, the lads were all keen to see what the next day had in store. Mick and Darryl from Discovery Tours Australia picked us up and we headed out into the Dinden National Park in the Atherton Tablelands. We stopped at the Henry Ross Lookout overlooking Carins, where you could see how big the place really is. What our guides – and educators – didn’t know about the rainforest wasn’t worth knowing. I certainly gained an appreciation of the bio-diversity and the importance of preserving this rich heritage region. Climbing “Big Red” was probably the highlight of the morning. Everyone in the car took a deep breath watching Darryl climb first, then Mick took an even deeper breath and away we went. They say you should do something every day that scares you. That was my quota for the day.

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Soon we were at the Billabong, a cool little bar by a billabong (naturally) that hosts music festivals, paintballing and of course, quad biking. After some basic instruction and a practice around the oval, we assembled and headed into the forest track. Yes I missed the first turn off. Yes one of the riders did manage to tip their bike. Twice. But despite these minor mishaps everyone had a great time. The track had open land, river crossings, rocky hills, river stones and dense forest and by the time we got back the adrenaline was high. We were dirty, wet and hungry, so what could better than a BBQ lunch by the river with a couple of cold beers.

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After lunch we visited the Cathedral Fig Tree, a giant tree that overtook its host tree 500 years ago, growing down and strangling it. Then it was onto the Freshwater Lookout, overlooking Lake Morris, which is the main water supply for Cairns. Lake Morris road is popular with cyclists and joggers.

During dinner that night we all had stories to tell. Darryl told us stories about mud-crabbing in the mangroves and coming face to face with a salt water crocodile and almost losing a thumb to another mud crab. We heard about the trap that had caught a large croc that had attacked a local dog that managed to fight off his attacker. We learned that the birds screeching in the night were the Bush Stone-curlew. Jack told us stories of growing up in PNG and how he can dive to 40m and hold his breath for five minutes. Relaxed and exhausted, the conversation flowed freely until late into the night.

The final day brought the time for us to say our goodbyes before reluctantly heading back home. Everyone had different highlights and we all swapped contact details.

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So, would I say that the experiment was a success? That’s very much a yes. Over a few short days, six strangers became friends. We all agreed that Australia has so much to offer for a group of mates to get together and come into contact with the great outdoors; to get away from the pressures of the daily grind and experience the lifestyle that Australia has is something truly magical. In the context of The Great Northern Brewery’s experience: knowing how we, strangers, formed friendships that easily, it wasn’t hard to imagine how much would it increase the bonding between guys that are already mates.

What about the beer, you ask? Great Northern Brewing Co. was established in Cairns in 1927 to brew beer specifically to suit the conditions up there. Their full-strength Great Northern Original is only available in Queensland, but the recently released, mid-strength Great Northern Super Crisp is available all around Australia. It tastes as good as it sounds, a light and refreshing way to end a warm summer’s day spent truly experiencing the great outdoors.

John Goodridge traveled to Cairns as a guest of Great Northern Brewing Co.