This week has been full of impressive experiences in South East Queensland. My brother and his family from Denmark visited, in conjunction with celebrating his 50th birthday.
Our home in Brisbane is neighbour to breath-taking natural environments with exquisite opportunities to experience unique flora and fauna. South East Queensland lets you get close to authentic nature in ways Danes are unused to: in Denmark very little land is left uncultivated.
During the week, we’ve lived high up in the thin mountain air of Lamington National Park at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, where we spotted birds and wallabies on bush tracks, had colourful parrots vying for our outstretched food bowls at the bird feeding station, enjoyed breathtaking sunsets, interacted with birds of prey from the humble, yet clever magpie, Jackie, to the large and ferocious wedge tailed eagle, Stella, who spread her wings over the valley, but then had to walk back up through the bush because the wind direction was wrong. We’ve also been out on a catamaran in Moreton Bay where we were treated to a playful show of humpback whales on their migration up north, including a young male jumping right out of the sea and spinning around his large body. We walked on the beach of Moreton Island, fed dolphins at Tangalooma and marvelled at the sunset over the mainland. Finally, we’ve been up the Sunshine Coast to the home of the late Croc Hunter, where we scratched lazy kangaroos between the ears, padded koalas and marvelled at crocodiles at Australia Zoo.
We are all full of great impressions – with a little help from Mountain Villa luxury, rangers and zoo keepers, nature has generously given us experiences that remind us that life is bigger than our small concerns and insignificant lives.
While these experiences have been fantastic and will stay with us for a long time, from the tourist’s point of view they have not be excellent. Consistently, what let them down were the very people who try to make a buck out of the riches of nature because they fail to provide a whole experience at consistent quality. And most of this could be fixed easily: providing better customer-centred service and food experiences that match the experiences nature offers.
For my brother’s birthday we wanted a special meal, so we went to book a table at the only restaurant at O’Reilly’s. That was not possible. But the manager would tell the kitchen that a party of nine would arrive at around 6.30. So we did, yet they were out of tables and had a couple of parties waiting already. We were directed to the bar, where we would be called down when a suitable table became available. Once we were seated, next was the menu. The ranger conducting bird of prey show had lectured on the consequences of eating beef and lamb, and promoted the idea of consuming kangaroo and other meats that can be harvested sustainably and preserve habitat for birds of prey. But there was no kangaroo on the menu – no option for sustainable eating at the restaurant. We placed our order and were treated to abject confusion over the drinks order, with two reminders required before the beer was served. The whole chicken stuffed with chicken farce turned out to be a very small cylinder-shaped chicken piece – and a bit of a farce – and the grilled salmon was rather cold and quite raw. The tandoori pizza turned out to be pizza bread with curry on top and the beef and salami pizza was rather dissappointingly without any vegetable matter at all. It was not cheaply priced and we expected better. And when we went to pay, the manager forgot to press some button so that the attempted eftpos transaction was nearly 500 000 dollars!
On the day we went whale watching we were stuck at Tangalooma for a while before the dolphin feeding at six pm, after which the catamaran would take us back to the mainland where we would arrive after eight too late to go to dinner. So we had to eat before dolphin feeding. However, the only food place open was a canteen with an uninspired menu of pies and sausage rolls, uncomfortably close to a noisy construction site. The proper restaurants opened too late to let us eat there. The cafe did open 1 1/2 hours before dolphin feeding time, but its menu was limiting. When the beeper told us we could pick up our dinner, the bredcrumbed fish was either cooked twice or baked for too long, its breadcrumbed skin extremely hard.
At Australia Zoo the ‘Feeding Frenzy’ area consisted of long queues before various types of fast food outlets. Not seeing anything we felt like eating for lunch, we lunched on muffins and coffee This was disappointing. One might be naive to expect a zoo to deliver a proper dining option, but it would certainly enhance the overall experience.
Would it be too difficult to provide a range of food choices that respond to a range of tastes and deliver a whole experience that is positive from one end to another? In spite having world class natural experiences to offer, all three experiences were tainted by the poor service and consideration of visitors’ whole experiences.