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Archive for August, 2009

The Whitsundays is another of those must do things in Australia. We had been looking forward to it for a long time. We had seen lots of pictures and heard lots of stories so knew what to expect from the trip. We also knew exactly what we wanted from the trip, boat and crew which made choosing a lot easier. We spent 2 days and 1 night sailing around the beautiful islands. The boat we chose was a racing yacht called Siska and had a relatively few number of passengers (25) looked after by 3 crew members including Jack the Cornish lad. We were also joined on the trip buy two Dutch girls called Freya and Susan from our campsite who were really good fun.

Jo was a little nervous about being sea sick after the 1770 trip so we decided to give him some sea sickness tablets. Unfortunately whilst half asleep I gave him the wrong dosage as unbeknown to me we had two sets in the first aid kit. This meant that he was overdosed and about half an hour after taking them was not looking so hot. He couldn’t walk in a straight line and could not focus his eyes long enough to read anything. It is fair to say that the drugs were working but perhaps a little too much. He soldiered on and we started the long walk to the boat. To try and soak up some of the medicine I got him a large bacon sangar which he was very pleased with. When we got aboard the boat where the motion started to make him feel a bit more stable. Within about 6 hours he was back to normal. Ooops!

Siska is a 23 metre long yacht from Perth with two sails. It was designed for speed and had been an Australian racing yacht winning lots of awards and had sailed around the world. It had since been retired and fully decked out for taking tourists around the islands. We had a double berth for our one night at sea with its own hatch to the deck of the boat.

Whitehaven Beach.

Whitehaven Beach.

After a brief safety talk it was all hands on deck and we got a chance to participate in raising the sails, which was great fun. Once we were sailing, well sail assisted as the wind was only blowing 10 – 15 knots!, we were off to the extremely well photographed (after only Uluru and the Sydney Opera House) Hill Inlet lookout which looks over Whitehaven beach. This was gorgeous and one the most stunning beach views we had seen in Oz. There was a gorgeous combination of many shades of turquoise water and white silica sand which made beautiful patterns of colours across the inlet. This was definitely the place for photographs and as a consequence had a fair few other people around. After enjoying the view we headed down and chilled on the sand of Whitehaven beach for a bit. It was lovely but I have to say that Australians call it the most beautiful beach in the world and I am not sure I would agree. It is stunning but so are lots of beaches for many different reasons. This one was peaceful and picturesque but had no life or vibe to it unlike a surf beach. Perhaps it was the clouds coming in but we weren’t feeling it. That night we had a few drinks tried our hardest to figure out the cryptic mind puzzles the crew had given us and admired the stars.

On day two we headed off to one of the best snorkeling spots in the islands. The water was warmish and we jumped in. Although part of the Great Barrier Reef this was more of a fringing reef and so was not nearly as spectacular as the Fitzroy Reef Lagoon. There were still lots of colourful fish and amazing coral so we were happy. It made us really appreciate what we had already seen and reflect on how colourful that had been.

Nara Inlet

Nara Inlet

As it was a cloudy day snorkeling did not take as long as usual so the crew took us to Nara Inlet. This is a picturesque little inlet which is very sheltered on 3 sides by large cliffs covered in rainforest. Apparently this is where the boats shelter if there is a cyclone as it is so well protected, this also makes it a perfect breeding ground for hammerhead sharks. We did not see any though as it was the wrong time of year. Our crazy crew decided this was a great spot for doing a rope swing off the boat. There weren’t any takers as you had to swing high otherwise you would crash into the railing and we had just been told about the hammerheads! We were then taken in shore to explore an old aboriginal cave with cave art. This was very interesting a real treat as it was not planned. We heard about how the aboriginals in that area used the water ways and made canoes. It was fascinating.

The ride home was very peaceful and again we did a bit more sailing. We enjoyed chatting to Freya and Susan and wished that they were heading North not South so that we could do a bit more with them. After we got off the yacht and were heading off the marina to our surprise we spotted a green turtle. He was right next to the shore in the busy marina just going about his business.

Back on dry land everyone went their separate ways but decided to meet up in the pub that evening, this was helped by the free drinks on offer by the company! Luckily the drinks were in our hostel so we didn’t have far to go. Freya and Susan joined us and it was a great way to end the trip. that was made possible thanks to my aunt and uncle – thanks guys!

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Airlie Beach

Airlie Beach is the “gateway” to the Whitsundays. It is a backpacker town which has a laid back vibe to it. The town consists of a small strip of shops, hostels, pubs,a marina and a lovely lagoon. Airlie Beach is apparently a good spot for nightlife so we decided that as we hadn’t been out for a little while, we would give it a go. We were hoping for a big night out and after a few drinks at the campsite headed into town. We weren’t sure where to go so we thought we would see where the crowd was. We found a bar with lots of backpackers and everything was going well. At about 11 we decided to find somewhere to dance, however, everything went quiet. There were people around but they were spread out over all the bars and there wasn’t anywhere playing any good music. We ended up staying in an Irish bar that had a terrible band on. A little while later we went home.

Boardwalk

Boardwalk

We were staying at a campsite out of town. The campsite had a strange feel as there were lots of permanent residents (always a strange bunch) and some of our food got stolen. It was a very natural campsite though with lots of birds, we even had a goanna walking around our tent most days. The walk into town from the campsite was lovely as it went along a board Walk by the edge of the marina (the Aussies do like their board walks). At the end of the board walk was the lagoon. This was a large free outdoor pool which is very busy as it is hot and during the summer you can’t go into the water due to the stingers. Most of the backpackers were sunbaking around the edge of it and so we joined them for a bit and then enjoyed a cool swim.

Lagoon

Lagoon

The marina was full of very large, expensive boats. When walking in the marina one day we spotted some fish swimming around and then a fairly large ray came up and scared them all the way. We think it was a small Eagle Ray but we’re not sure.

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Camping in Australia

We have been camping now for about three months. We go through phases of having enough of it and not wanting to see a tent again, to it being normal. The worst bit is as we head further and further North the ground gets harder and harder. The dry season is three months in now and the ground is like concrete. We have given up and no longer pitch our tent properly. If it rained or was windy we would be in real trouble. Luckily for us at the moment it is sunny every day. We did have our fair share of rain in Yamba and Brisbane though.

Our camping setup.

Our camping setup.

It is nice being in the campsites and being able to talk to lots of Australians on hols rather than just other backpackers. At this time of year the caravan parks are full of people from Victoria and South NSW trying to escape their cold winter. Like us they are up in the tropics staying warm and enjoying the sun. It has been good to talk to other people who have done similar drives to the one we are about to make and it has reassured us that we will be fine.

At night time the moon is so bright that you are able to walk around the campsite without a torch, although most places have lighting anyway. In the remote areas the stars are amazing and you can see huge clusters.  It’s free entertainment.

The councils seem to pick the best spots for the campsites and they are relatively cheap. They are usually in the town centre or right on the beach – ideal! We have had some amazing campsites where you open the tent door to be greeted by the sunshine, beach and gentle waves lapping on the shore. At night we often go to sleep to the noise of the sea. Although we won’t be hearing that for a while once we head West.

Kookaburra at camp site.

Kookaburra at camp site.

The other great thing about their campsites is the wildlife. We have so many great wildlife experiences whilst just sitting at the campsite or being in the tent. We have been regularly visited by Kookaburras (especially at 6am!), lizards and an array of birds. We have be treated to a few more exotic animals like Emu’s, Kangaroos, Goannas and Possums. A few creepy crawlies have also come our way, a couple of big Huntsman spiders and a few cockroaches! Mostly though, it’s been ants and some are a bit bite-happy! It has been wonderful to be this outdoors and it definitely beats hosteling whilst the weather is this good.

Each campsite runs on much the same rules as the last, for example check out is always 10am. Why they insist on cleaning the bathrooms at 9am and cleaning the kitchens at lunch we just don’t know. Common sense would suggest that these would be the busiest times of the day, but that does not seem to prevail!

The final advantage to camping is that it is cheaper. One night for both of us in a campsite is about the same price as one of us staying in a hostel dorm. Jo says he doesn’t mind going back to hostels but he doesn’t know where I’ll sleep!

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For my birthday I had the beautiful view of Pioneer Valley to enjoy whilst having breakfast.  What made it even better was that a kookaburra came to join us.  Ruth treated me to some surprise balloons, a home-made badge and a lovely card.  The plan was to move off the camp site today so after breaky we got on with packing everything away and hit the road.  As I did the long drive up the road to Eungella, it was Ruth’s turn to drive down.  It was a stunning drive but not nearly as exciting in daylight.  On the way to the gorge we’d decided to check out, we stopped off at Finch Hatton village for Ruth to stock up on birthday supplies as we had not been near any shops.  I waited in the car.  Upon Ruth’s return I was given my first surprise: Mars Pods.  I don’t know if these are out in the UK but they are new in Oz and I’ve wanted to try them for ages.  They are a Mars chocoloate and caramel dollop with a Coco Pop like shell on one side and apparently, are quite moreish.

With fresh supplies on board (minus a few poods) we headed off to Finch Hatton Gorge for a nice walk.  The road was mostly sealed but the last two KMs were dirt track with a few creek crossings.  Dory doesn’t have a very high clearance off the ground which made both fun, but we got there slowly.  Upon arrival I was treated to some of my favourite Aussie crisps, Burger Rings, and Ruth prepared lunch whilst I was sent off to read the info board on the routes that we could take.  When I returned lunch was made and a balloon had magically appeared on my rucksack.

Just a few minutes into the walk we stopped to admire a large goanna.  It was at least a metre long and was quite enjoying warming up in the sunshine.  Just a little bit further we came across a family who had stopped to watch a snake slithering away.  We just about caught a glimpse before we lost him in the undergrowth.  Our walk took us through the rainforest to Araluen Cascades, a lovely swimming hole with a tiny waterfall.  I was disappointed that I hadn’t brought my boardies with me and so couldn’t go in until I dipped a foot in.  It was bloody freezing.  We sat down to enjoy the picturesque spot and I was treated to a lovely choc milkshake – a real travel treat!  Shortly after, a few people turned up and went in for a dip.  They didn’t stay in long.

Finch Hatton Gorge - Araluen Cascades

Finch Hatton Gorge - Araluen Cascades

A little bit further up the track we found a nice rocky part of the gorge.  As we still had to walk back and then drive onto Mackay we decided this nice spot would be ideal for our picnic after which we’d head back.  As it was my birthday, I was treated to a birthday… scone complete with candle!  Apparently there weren’t any cakes in the village shop and so she plumped for another of my favourites.  It was yum!  The walk back was slightly less eventful with no reptiles but was still lovely.  We then headed back over the dirt road and onto Mackay.

There isn’t much at Mackay but we needed a big enough town for my family to send some birthday post to and we didn’t think we’d quite make it up to Airlie Beach so Mackay it was.  We got into town, pitched our tent and went to pick up my post.  Unfortunately not all of it arrived but most had.  I wasn’t allowed to open it straight away though as my family had arranged with Ruth for us to do a video call for my birthday.  Ruth had a hard time finding an Internet cafe with web cams but did a stirling job and we were online just in time.  It was lovely to see my family (even though the girls were a bit bleary-eyed having got up early for the 9am call!) and open my cards from them.  Although we are having a great time out here, we do miss our families and we really enjoy the phone and video calls home.

Birthday Scone

Birthday Scone

After the call it was time to eat and my birthday was on a tuesday which meant CHEAP PIZZA NIGHT!  As we’d had an early start and an active day we decided to go use my birthday as an excuse to go to the cinema.  We went and got our tickets and then headed off to Eagle Boys for pizza where I was allowed to choose a premium pizza (that’s an extra $3!), how spoilt am I?  Once we’d stuffed our faces with all the pizza we could we went back to the cinema and arrived just in time to catch the film.  There wasn’t much on and so we saw Bruno, it was very odd but entertaining.  We were wiped when we came out of the cinema and so we drove back to the campsite.  Just before we got ready for bed Ruth’s gran kindly called to wish me a happy birthday, she then chatted to Ruth whilst I passed out in the tent.  And no, it wasn’t due to any rum!

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We needed to pass some time before we got to Mackay as we were waiting for some post. We looked at the map and the “Lono” and decided that we would explore the area West of Mackay as recommended. This area is a large national park with rainforest and gorges. Although we had seen some of these already it sounded nice so we went to give it a go. We didn’t really know much about the area before we arrived. Rockampton to Eungella is a bit of a drive and so we arrived in Eungella at sunset. To our surprise, after driving on some single lane minor roads that could only just be called sealed, we were met by a rather large steep hill.

Road to Eungella, in daylight!

Road to Eungella, in daylight!

Leading up the hill was a very long, winding road which we discovered was the road to our campsite. Luckily for me Jo was driving! The road was an adventure all of its own with a sheer drop on one side and only enough room for one car in places. We made it safely to the top though and were relieved to pitch up at the campsite.

The campsite was very different to any of the ones we had stayed in so far. There weren’t pitches and there was no reception just an honesty box with prices. We found a spot and set up camp in the dark. The next morning on opening our tent the view was breathtaking. We were indeed on the top of a very big hill with a view out over the valley. It was stunning.

Pioneer Valley - The view from the campsite

Pioneer Valley - The view from the campsite

Eungella itself is a tiny town with a school and one shop. This made it extremely difficult with the upcoming birthday celebrations! Around the corner was a spot called Broken River. We arrived at Broken River for lunch having spent some time taking in the valley view on the skywalk. We knew that the area was a good place to spot Platypus but didn’t think that we would get to see one as it was the wrong time of the day. Before I could open up the rucksack to get the sandwiches out, up popped a platty. He was lovely and swam around for some time near us. We remembered all the old tricks of looking for the bubbles and not moving once he was on the surface. It was great watching him. We also spent some time viewing him and his friend on the official viewing platform a bit further down stream and were fortunate enough to see them going into the burrow. Whilst platty watching we also saw some freshwater turtles and striking azure kingfishers. Around the platty viewing place was a very scenic walking track with some great vines to swing on which we enjoyed. That night back at base we were admiring the view as the sun set when all of a sudden a huge blaze could be seen alight in the valley. It remained well contained so we guessed it must be a controlled burn or something similar. It lasted for about 10 mins and was very bright, then all of a sudden it was gone.

The next morning it was Jo’s birthday and the festivities started.

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As the title suggests Rockhampton is known for its cows. It is one of the biggest farming and agricultural towns in Queensland and produces a large proportion of Australia’s beef. This is something they are very proud of. Large plastic cows adorn the streets and are a feature on a number of the shop displays or signs. The towns slogan is apparently “Eat more beef, you bastards!”, which Jo wanted to get on a t-shirt but had no luck.

Rockhampton Cow

Rockhampton Cow

In order to fully appreciate the beef we went out for a meal in the local pub and had us some fine local steak (it tasted like steak to me but Jo assures me it was beautiful!). The town has a real country feel to it and the advertised local radio station is one that plays country music. Jo took great delight in dialling in the station and turning up the tunes. We arrived into the town at dusk, located our campsite and followed orders on where to camp, picking a scenic spot on the banks of the river. When we got back from the pub at 1am, having sampled some of the fine local bundy rum, we noticed this sign next to our camp spot.

Fitzrory River Croc Warning

Fitzrory River Croc Warning

I did not get too much sleep that night as I had visions of a croc coming into the tent. We survived and no crocs were seen! I am now on permanent croc alert though and we won’t be camping next to the river again!

On the way out of Rockhampton we joined a tour of the Capricorn Caves.  The cave system was quite impressive but luckily set out for tourists so there were no head torches or climbing through small holes. The highlight was probably the chamber in which they used to hold weddings(!) and sometimes still do. The acoustics in here are supposed to be not far off perfect and so they played some music to demonstrate this, Jo was very impressed.

Unfortunately we didn’t see any of the bats that live in the caves as they were a bit further in but we did enjoy the Indiana Jones style bridges on the way out of the caves.

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