North to South
01.11.2011 - 25.11.2011 27 °C
G'day, from the country of marsupials, schooners (about a half pint) and free public BBQ's!! And if you don’t have a ute your not a true blue man!!!
After a long night on the floor of Auckland departures (seems everyone had the same idea as us!) we eventually got underway and arrived early morning in Brisbane. A bit of a wait was in store, 7 hours until our flight to Cairns but we got there in the end and found the hostel painlessly. We were staying in Corona backpackers which was cosy, clean, cheap and right in the city centre with the added bonus of a free evening meal in the Woolshed pub. The free meals were basic eg. Spag bol or chilli but you could upgrade to the bar meals for a few dollars which were bigger and quite tasty. Cairns centre is hugely geared towards tourism in the way of day trips here, there and everywhere and is helped by being close to the Great Barrier Reef. The city doesn't have a central beach but to compensate for this there's a huge lagoon near the coast with fake sand and plenty of free bbq's. We looked into the various trips & offers available and decided to do the Greyhound east coast lite which included our travel plus all the main destinations & activities on route to Sydney. We also arranged a two day trip up to Cape Tribulation to experience Australia's oldest rainforest!
The area which includes Cape Tribulation is the Daintree national park and is about a 4 hour drive north of Cairns. So we were picked up early by our guide George who we later learned was an Aboriginal elder, should have been obvious from all his in-depth local knowledge and dreamtime explanations. We travelled along the Captain Cook highway which hugged the coast & our first stop on route was Mossman gorge which also has an Aboriginal community still living close. The water in the gorge was nice, clear and definitely refreshing. I think only one out of our group was brave enough to go for a dip!! George was on hand with local tea and biscuits before we set off towards the Daintree river. There isn't a bridge over the river so we had to wait for a small cable ferry to take us across. We were now officially in crocodile country and George had a few stories about people & children who had met their maker following a crocodile attack! But seriously why would you go swimming in a river, in the dark after a few drinks at a party??? The roads got a lot narrower and windier the other side of the river with forest encroaching on both sides. Along the road north we stopped and we were guided through a native rainforest walk, with George pointing out useful, interesting and unique plants, as he's an expert plant specialist in his spare time!!.
Cape Tribulation is home to the endangered Cassowary, a human sized colourful bird which is a cross between an emu and peacock and can be around 5ft tall. The signs along the road warned drivers that they can be seen at night crossing the roads, so no road kill please as there aren't many left in the wild! We arrived at the small Cape Tribulation village and got dropped off at our accommodation, Ferntrees lodge. We had the afternoon & next morning to explore the area before rejoining the bus for the second half of the trip. We headed towards the cape and beach after checking with reception about the stingers (box jellyfish) and the whereabouts of any crocs, apparently there was a “friendly” one living in the nearby creeks so just keep an eye out. All the landscape had been named by Captain Cook on the endeavour in about 1770 on their way up the east coast and by the looks of it, nothing much had changed, with the rainforest carpeting the hills and mountains and rolling down right on to the immaculate beach. Since the government turned this area back into a nature reserve all additional development has been stopped and with nothing built on, or near the beach the area has turning back into unspoilt beauty,with the odd person summoning the courage for a paddle...!! After a walk down the beach from the cape viewing point, we finish the day on a camp-site just of the beach, eating fresh stone baked pizza and a stubby (or bottle) of XXXX, lovely!!! All we had to do after was find our way back to the resort through the forest in the dark, lol easy....
With the only the morning left to explore, we check out early and headed down to the beach via a nature walk Cassowary spotting (failed), and chill out on the sand, before walking further down the beach to the creek, crocodile spotting (failed). After a morning stroll, we made it back to the resort only to find the unknown posh pool at the bottom of the resort so we dive in before jumping on the bus on time nice and soggy! The guide this time was Wayne from Port Douglas, and he drove us back south jokingly, dropping us off at the Croc boat tour where we took a cruse up river and were lucky enough to spot a 7ft Croc along a lovely cruse up the Daintree river, and later a stop at a fruit orchard with experimental native fruit flavour ice cream which was not so lovely, but refreshing!
Next day in Cairns was our first package trip on the Down Under Snorkel and Dive Boat to the Great Barrier Reef, and even managed to get $20 introduction dive offer!!! Where better to do your first dive, Awesome!!!! After an early start and an hour or so boat cruise we reach a section of the largest coral reef in the world, and straight up after our safety briefing were suited and ready in our flashy blue Lycra stinger suits!!! We headed down after a couple of exercises, arm in arm to a sandy spot in-between the coral and knelt on the bottom and got up close to a massive clam and to some hard and soft coral. Sian got a bit spooked and headed up early, but the rest of us carried on down to about 5m, breaking off individually checking out all the massive coral formations from underneath, wicked!!! The crystal clear waters had a visibility of about 10-12m maybe more, with colourful coral types and masses of huge fish everywhere, it was great just to snorkelling around! Our lunch was a Ausse BBQ and buffet which was lovely, but a full stomach is not ideal for diving and snorkelling!!! After lunch Meurig jumped at a second opportunity for a dive at the second location, for an additional fee of course... Hooked!!! Sian opted for the more relaxed snorkelling and went exploring with the camera, whilst Meurig went off again for a 20min dive down to maybe 8m following the Divemaster round on a loop through and under the network of big coral sections, and seeing a 1.5m black reef shark a sting ray and awesome clams and sea slugs along the way. After a day full of activity, sea and sun we head back to port entertained by some live improvised reggae/rock by a crew member, great fun!!
After nearly a week in the Cairns area we started our journey down the east coast to Townsville where we could catch the ferry over to Magnetic island. Apparently the name comes from the strange behaviour of Captain Cook's compass as he sailed past the island! We stayed at the Bungalow Bay YHA which had a Koala resort next door, the rooms were like alpine cabins and the place did amazing pizzas. That afternoon we passed a group of really noisy parrots being fed, like unbelievably noisy! Not sure if it was the best idea but Sian picked up some of the food and some parrots swarmed towards her, perched on her arm and left a fair few scratches from their sharp claws! The YHA was in Horseshoe bay where there was a long sandy beach, a few nice bars & restaurants. That evening we took advantage of our meal deal for the pizzas and they had half price jugs of stongbow on offer. We spent a lazy day at the beach, swimming within the safety of the stinger enclosure. It feels a bit funny swimming around in a square net when the rest of the sea is empty but safety first eh and those stingers can be nasty! Meurig managed to find a chip shop for a bite to eat but again like in NZ no vinegar on the chips, weird. That night the hostel staff were putting on bingo for alcoholic prizes. With horseshoe bay not being the liveliest of places at night the hostel bar was usually full so there were a few bingo goers. Meurig managed to get a free drink but also was in the running for a larger prize but had to do a challenge against 2 other girls. The task was to eat some dry bran flakes the quickest, right this should be easy for him.... Oh no Meurig was beaten by a girl at one of his favourite pastimes, eating, so no free jug of cider for us.
Magnetic Island had a fair few walking tracks so we decided to get a bit more active and walk around some of the headlands and down to the various bays. We got some free snorkel’s from the hostel and off we trotted. First stop was Arthur bay then over the headland to Florence bay where we were told the best snorkelling was to be done. Unfortunately one of the masks was a dud and the rough tide was making visibility difficult but we saw a few fish and what we thought was a small ray. Onwards and upwards over the next headland to radical bay to a deserted beach resort, we found some palm trees to shelter from the sweltering midday sun. After a quick stop we continued over the stony oven feeling headland past the path to balding bay the naturist beach, even with the prospect of seeing some naked bodies it looked like bit too much of a climb so we headed back over to horseshoe bay for a cool drink. The rest of the day was spent chillaxing in the poolside hammocks, nice, before tackling the WW2 defence fort on top of the hill to go wild Koala spotting in the evening. That night was vour last on the island, the hostel bar was hosting a quiz night where we teamed up with one of our roomies from the Netherlands, a German & a girl from Chilli, maybe the multinational aspect would help. We weren't the winners but it was a laugh and again the pizzas were pretty damn tasty.
In Townsville we stayed at the Reef lodge hostel which was quite close to the ferry terminal and had decent reviews even if the guy at reception was lacking a personality and happiness! Townsville is home to the Reef HQ where they have the only aquarium with a living reef in one of the tanks. We went in for a look and they had an impressive amount of sea creatures living there and at one of the shark talks it was only the two of us there so we got a one to one presentation from one of the guides and were able to ask all the questions we liked! We got to watch the small croc being fed, a stinger presentation and were taken for a tour of the turtle hospital. They had a few turtles in there recovering from various illnesses but there one one which was absolutely massive, its healthy weight was meant to be over 100kg. The town itself wasn't overwhelming and probably had a bit more life during the weekends rather than on a Wednesday night! But the next destination would definitely be lively, Airlie beach & gateway to the Whitsunday Islands.
Airlie Beach seemed little more than a main street running along the coast with a section of beach and a big lagoon in the esplanade with a good collection of bars/clubs, cafes and food outlets. We got dropped off by the greyhound near the beach and made our way over to the opposite side of town to the X-base hostel. The place was collection of chalets round a pool and garden including hammocks, so not a bad hostel then really. With our trip booked in a couple of day's all that was left to do was chill out at the pool and spend a day down the lagoon, sampling the local fish and chips (with vinegar) and check out a few of the bars. On the day of the trip we dump our big bags at the hostel, picked up some cider at the liquor store and headed off the wrong way up over the peninsular instead of round but made it on time to the harbour to catch the Pride of Airlie boat.
The trip was a 3day, 2night but as we were picked up at 1pm, more like 2day, and our accommodation was in a deserted resort on Molle island, not on board but it did come with a added bonus of a pool and nice bed. The first day was “sailing” out to the island and with no activities except a walking tour on the island, all that was left to do was crack out the drinks and meet the people on board whilst basking in the sun. We ended up in a nice enough dorm with a golf course view with three medics from Aberdeen uni and to Sian's delight all girls + meurig, for a change! The rest of the day was taken up by food, drinking games and chat in the comical navel themed resort bar (with some fancy ballroom foot work from some frenchies some of the best entertainment of the night).
The next day was a full day on the boat travelling further in to the collection of islands which looked a lot like flooded hills, first stop Whitehaven beach voted one of the best beaches in the world, and has the finest sand around, nearly powder and made from pure silica so squeaky under foot. They're still unsure how the silica came to be there but best guess is a volcano dumped it there many many years ago. A lovely part of the world, the water crystal clear, with turtles bobbing up and fish everywhere, and at this time of year stingers too, as a result the sexy Lycra suits came out again. After a couple of hours on the beach playing cricket and general beach activities we jump on board for lunch and head off to a snorkelling location, with a strong current the boat dropped us at one end and picked up at the other, so good lazy snorkelling. As the water based activities were finished for the day the drinking could begin, and surprisingly the Irish leading the way with everyone gearing/drinking up for the Karaoke that evening in the resort bar. With drinking games and 2 for 1 drink offers the night turns into a bit of a blur, but there was some group singing in there some were and even a must have Tom Jones duet, classic.
With a early check out and another disappointing breakfast, the boat surprisingly was a bit less lively the following morning, with most finding it difficult to summon the energy for another snorkel, but there are worst things to do than lethargicly floating in warmish water watching the underwater world go by (it would have been easy pickings for a Shark). The trip concluded with an attempt to sail back into dock, but with little wind everyone just ended up drying off in the sun, with the exemption of our Irish friends who sheltered in the cabin. It was a good trip made by the people on board, the food could have definitively been better...!!!
With a night to rest in Airlie Beach before heading down to Rockhampton we end up meeting most of the boat trippers in the bar that night for some discounted food and drink, and end up hitting some bar/clubs pretty much a continuation of the previous night and just as late too!!!
After a long coach journey south we end up in the inland town/city of Rockhampton and as we found out cattle farming country. Nothing much here but our aim was to go inland and escape the coast for a while and see some outback, but unfortunately with no hire options available we couldn’t get inland to Carnarvon Gorge an apparently impressive national park, but as our hostel owner said “Not all is lost there's a Rodeo in town tonight” and even better a free one!!! So after a cycle round town the following day and a picnic in the free botanic gardens and zoo we head down to the rodeo ring at the Great Western Steak House where they were doing a buy 1 get 1 free t bone steaks. The place felt a bit like we were in the USA but we had a great time eating steak and watching men & boys aged 13 and up jumping on bulls of all sizes.
As much as the rodeo in Rocky was fun there wasn't much more in the way of activities so headed south to Hervey bay where we would start our Fraser Island trip. We stayed at Flashpackers Hervey Bay which was a spangly new hostel near the beach and not too expensive, which makes a nice change! Hervey bay itself is just a cluster of different villages lined along the coast so strictly I think we stayed in Torquay. Unfortunately the pool in the hostel wasn't quite finished so we headed to the beach instead & that night had a free 'sausage sizzle' with guests in the hostel kitchen, Bonus.
It was a fairly early start from Hervey bay for the ferry to Fraser Island, the biggest sand island in the world and we were on a 2 day, 1 night tour there with Dingo's. After a nice calm 45min ferry crossing we got to the port were we met by our guide Dave who looked a hell of a lot like crocodile dundee and turned out to be seriously well read when it came to biochemistry, not what comes to mind first when you think of tour guides! The bus was bright pink and had massive wheels to cope with the soft, sandy roads! It was possible to do a self drive on the island, but as they were suffering a fairly dry period it turned out to be a bad time to be a 4wd novice as we had to help out a few tourists and a tour bus stuck in the dry sand. The only bits of tarmac on the island are in the resorts and the rest is made up of sandy tracks winding through to bush. The ride was a bit bumpy but no worries as Dave knew his stuff and we didn't get stuck like some of the others. Dave took us to Basin lake which was full to the top, as they had a really wet winter, apparently due to sun spots effecting the climate which also has a pattern correlating with the financial crashes over the past century, and with even more rain predicted to come in 2012 he also believes the real recession will come too, we’ll see! Before lunch we went on a bush walk for about an hour passing all the native plants and trees growing on and in this sandy land. Luckily the food on this trip was a hell of a lot better than the Whitsunday trip and we had a nice buffet lunch in the forest only disrupted by the monster flies who were biting everyone, even through people's clothes. We had a nice few hours at Lake McKenzie which is definitely as good as it looks in the photos, fresh crystal clear water, white sand and the weather was spot on too. The lake was a bit chillier than it looked but after the initial shock it was nice & refreshing. The downside to not having tarmac roads is that you can't get anywhere fast but that gave Dave plenty of time to tell us about the biochemical effects of drugs, alcohol and poison on the human body on route back. We stayed in the wilderness lodge which had cool little chalets and a nice bar/restaurant. Again the food didn't disappoint and we made the most of the buffet!
Day two of the trip included a lot of driving along the seriously long beach and first off a visit to the Maheno shipwreck which sank in 1935 due to a cyclone. It's pretty rusty nowadays but it's still in tact enough to make it a decent photo opportunity, that is if you can get a shot with no other tourists included!! Just a short trip up the beach you can have a look at the pinnacles coloured sand rocks, layered coloured sand varying degrees of red, oranges and golds, again another photo op. With a longer drive up to the beach you get to Indian head and the champagne pools. The pools are rocky outcrops on a lovely beach, battered by the waves making the white frothy water look like foaming champagne! Just make sure you're not sat on one of the rocks when one of the big waves come over because it certainly pushes you one way or another = cuts & scrapes! After another equally good buffet lunch the bus heads back to Indian head where we climbed right to the cliff face to see the marine life below. It was pretty busy down there with 4 turtles bobbing around, stingrays and we could see a shark approaching!!! arghhh. The ride back on the beach wasn't as smooth as the tide had come right in and Dave had to manoeuvre around the pounding waves and the soft boggy sand. A quick dip in Eli creek for tea and cookies(we hit it the same time as everyone else so it was tourist central) then back to our lodges before our last buffet before leaving the island. Great food, amazing guide and all in all the cool dingo tour was definitely worth it. We spent the night again at Flashpackers before jumping on the greyhound bus bound for Brisvegas (local speak for Brisbane).
So was Brisbane Australia's answer to Las Vegas, uhmmm not sure it's quite in the same league but it's a nicely sized, modern city which benefits from the sunny Queensland weather. Our hostel wasn't so flash this time but more of a cosy feel in the Woodduck mainly because most of the people there were long termers working in the city. The city has a lot of Victorian style buildings and modern skyscrappers along the river. It's not quite on the coast so to make up for it they have created the Streets Beach on the south side of the river which is a lagoon with sandy areas to make it feel beachy. We took a trip up to Mount Coot-Tha which was about 7km out of town on the bus. The sky was a little hazy but we managed to get a decent view over Brisbane's city centre and the sprawling suburbs of the hills and coast beyond. We walked down one of the many walking tracks and had our picnic lunch in one of the bbq areas along the track! Can't believe how many free gas bbq's there are in public areas, wish it was the same at home! We made a visit to the planetarium which was right near the bus stop and managed to catch the show, a film on Galactic collisions in space. Then the guy gave the audience a virtual tour of the night sky detailing where you could see the various stars e.g Orion and the Southern Cross, but unfortunately it was too cloudy that evening.
Another day was spent following the lonely planet walking tour of the city. First it took you on to the southbank past the cultural area where the museum was closed for maintenance so no chance of having a look, past streets beach & the lagoon, over the walkway bridge and to the mangrove boardwalk in the city botanic garden, and past the sleek skyscrappers and upmarket riverside restaurants and appartments. Of course we couldn't visit Brisbane without going to Steve Irwin's Australia zoo, even if if it's about an hour train ride north & we did miss the first train!! We did get there just in time to get to the crocoseum and see the croc and bird show, where they fed the rather large croc by dangling bits of meat and waiting for him to come up and snap! Apparently humans are faster then crocs on land so it's ok!!!!! We got to pet some Koalas, feed some kangaroos and walabys, see some tasmanian devils, and visit Africa where they had rhinos, zebras and giraffes! It was well worth going but the only sad thing was that it would have been loads more fun if Steve Irwin was there! It started to rain on the afternoon of our last day so looks like we were heading out of Queensland at the right time, before the overdue rainy season started!