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Archive for the ‘Wildlife’ Category

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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The humpback whale spotting season at Hervey Bay was one of the big things that I got excited about when I was researching our trip and was a major reason for choosing the way round Australia we’ve taken.  It is not known why these huge creatures like to hang out near Hervey Bay for a few months before summering in Antartcica, but the town certainly makes the most of their winter guests.  Knowing how excited we were about this, my Mum kindly offered to pay for the trip for our birthdays – woohoo!  After first arriving in Hervey Bay too early for the whales and heading North to kill some time, it was now time to return.  We had already decided to go on the Blue Dolphin trip as it was a nice small boat, so you are closer to the whales, that goes out for the whole day rather than just a few hours.  Ruth booked us on and confirmed the conditions were good and the next day we were being taken out to Platypus Bay just off Fraser Island to do some whale spotting.

The boat was a 10 metre long catamaran and there was only about 15 of us onboard.  Ruth and I went straight to the bow of the boat where I promptly setup camp on one of the nets, which were great fun.  We were gradually joined by most of the other people on the boat with everyone keeping a keen eye on the water.

Jo on Blue Dolphin Yacht

Jo on Blue Dolphin Yacht

Just a few hours into our trip we caught up with one of the huge power boats that went out a few hours earlier.  It had stopped to view a humpback whale and we saw it swim near them.  It then decided we were a lot more interesting and headed in our direction, the only problem was that it dived and so we had no idea where it went.  A few minutes later a big tail appeared about four metres in front of Ruth and I on the bow, but that was just the beginning.  For the next quarter of an hour or so the whale kept swimming around our boat, getting closer and closer.  It was about the same length as our boat and looked like it weighed a lot more!  The whale kept circling the boat, often diving under it to keep us guessing.  The boat kept rocking from side to side as everyone moved to see.  Quite a few times the whale surfaced about two metres away from us and because we were less than a metre out of the water it was definitely a close encounter.  Several times the whale spurted out of the blow hole and even got Ruth with it.  She said it smelt fishy!  The whale put on an awesome display for us and it’ll be something neither of us ever forget.  I still can’t believe just how close this huge creature came to us.  As with so many of the things we’ve seen over here, it was just awesome.  After a while another boat came by and see we allowed ourselves to drift out of the way so that the whale got a bit closer to them (the boats aren’t allowed to get close to the whales, they have to stop and let the whales come to them).  After having a little something to eat and calming down from the excitement we headed off to find more whales.

It wasn’t long until we saw two more humpbacks.  They didn’t want to come and play with us, but it was beautiful to watch them swim along just 30 metres or so off our port side.  We then got a tip about three more humpbacks swimming together by the shore of Fraser Island and we set our course to find them.  When we found them all the short trip boats had gone back and so we had them all to ourselves.  These guys were in shallow water about four metres deep and were playing together.

Humpback Whale surfacing next to the yacht

Humpback Whale surfacing next to the yacht

It was great to see this behavior and as they were staying in the same area we were able to all have our lunch whilst watching them.  All of a sudden there was a big splash and one of the whales swam off on its own.  Soon after another one joined it and they came towards us.  One of them swam right underneath us a couple of times whilst the other one was just metres away.  The whale that was left on his own was not impressed and started thrashing about in the water. After one particularly big fin slap the two whales near us quickly turned around and swam towards the solitary one.  The fin was down!  After that little tantrum they all swam away together and we started to gradually sail home with big grins all over our faces.  The wind had picked up a little and so Ruth and I went and had a chat to the captain in the shelter.  We were lucky enough to spot a dolphin on the journey back but couldn’t see any other members of his pod.

Fin Slap

Fin Slap

As we sailed back into the marina, we really couldn’t believe how lucky we’d been.  We weren’t even sure that we’d see whales but we were treated to six!  I had to look at the pics on my camera just to prove to myself that I’d seen something so amazing.  It was one of the best birthday presents ever – thanks Mum!

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Fraser Island

Lake Birrabean

Lake Birrabean

Going to Fraser Island was one of the big things that we came over to Australia for. It is the world’s largest island made completely of sand. How cool does that sound?! It is also home to some very beautiful scenery, is world heritage listed island and has the purest breed of Dingo. We were very excited about going!

The big decision would be whether to hire a 4×4, go in a set up group 4×4 or go on a tour 4×4 bus. This was a hard decision as the 4×4 self drive would give us the freedom to see all the things we wanted for as long as we wanted but was bad for the environment and neither of us have 4×4 experience. Secondly the 4×4 group drive limits the harm to the environment but takes away some of the freedom and you are dependent on the group you get (which is mostly 18 year olds who want to get wasted, not really our thing anymore!). The last option was the one we eventually went for. We found a tour that included most of the things that we wanted to see and was small enough that it would still be special. Our tour consisted of about 20 other people of all different ages. The bus itself was a 4×4 bus which had huge tyres and was comfy.

After being picked up early from the campsite we headed over on the ferry. On our first day we saw seventy five mile beach, central station rainforest and a huge sand blow. Seventy five mile beach is classed as a main road as it the main way that 4x4s get around the island. As the name suggests it is a very long beach. We were glad that we wern’t driving and could just enjoy the turquoise sea and golden sand. We saw a Dingo which was was very rare for this time of year. He was running along side the bus and we enjoyed watching him.

Central Station rainforest was stunning, with huge trees everywhere.  The sand blow was similar to the sand blow at Rainbow beach but bigger. Again you could see the forest being slowly eaten as the sand blow proceeded. We had fun jumping from a large steep dune.

That night we were taken back to our island hostel at Happy Valley. A treat after a few months camping! After dinner we decided that we wanted to have a look at the stars from the beach. As there is very minimal light pollution they were meant to be amazing. They did not disappoint. We have never seen so many stars and I saw my first shooting star (and a fair few after that). It was absolutely beautiful.  Jo gave up trying to identify the constellations as there were too many stars to pick them out!

Sunrise on 75 mile beach

Sunrise on 75 mile beach

In the morning we got up bright and early to see the sunrise on the beach. It was a classic example of a winter sunrise but soon warmed up once the sun was up. We headed out on the bus back to seventy five mile beach and encountered some planes. We had the chance to pay for a plane ride taking off and landing on the beach and going over the island and sea. We decided it was worth the small fee and jumped in. The plane was tiny and very bumpy which made us both feel quite sick. The view, however, was totally worth it. It gave a great perspective of how big the island was and a wonderful view of the variety of rainforest and lakes. We also went over the ocean. Jo was lucky enough to see a pod of whales breaching out his window and I spotted a hammerhead shark. Pretty amazing! On landing we went to check out the “Maheno” ship wreck. This boat has been here for a long time and is gutted and rusting. It was interesting to see.

Indian Heads was a great lookout over the beach and out into the ocean where we spotted more whales, stingrays, fish and birds of prey. We spent about 45 mins taking in the view. The next stop on this whistle tour day was Eli Creek.

Jo enjoying Eli Creek

Jo enjoying Eli Creek

This was Jo’s favourite place on the island. Eli Creek is a fresh water creek which gently trickles down into the sea. Jo got in up stream and reported that it was quite warm. He then waded through the crystal clear creek watching the fish and listening to the birds. I met him a bit further down stream and got my legs wet. It was lovely water.

On the way back we went past the coloured sands of the Pinnacles. These were large cliffs of sands of all different colours and were impressive. The highlight of the day for me was going to Lake Birrabeen. This was a gorgeous fresh water lake with pure silica sand. It was, however, freezing! We wanted to go for a swim and eventually worked up the courage but it was so cold that I didn’t stay in for long.

By the end of the trip we were exhausted and happy. We got on to the ferry and were relieved to chill out after packing so much into two days. It was a brilliant trip.

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Hervey Bay

Arriving in Hervey Bay was a very exciting time. It was the first place that we were going to be able to tick off some of the major things that we had come to Australia for, Whale watching and Fraser Island. Unfortunately despite what the “lono” (Jo’s new word for our Lonely Planet guide) had told us it was not quite whale watching session yet. It would be about another 2 or 3 weeks before the whales really turned up. This meant a big re-think of the plan. We decided that as the whale watching was very important to us we would continue with Hervey Bay and Fraser Island then carry on our journey up the coast until the season kicked in. At this point we would then return and see the whales. With this in mind we set about organising our Fraser Island trip and exploring Hervey Bay.

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

The bay itself is beautiful, a long curved beach with flat clear waters. We admired several sunsets from the beach and one sunrise! There isn’t much to say about the town as it’s really five small districts put together, none of which offer anything that exciting! The best thing about Hervey Bay was the birds. This was the first spot that we saw 2 of the parrot type birds that we had been hoping for, the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo and the Cockateel. They were very noisy but great fun to watch, especially the crested ones as when they land they stick their crest up for a moment as if to announce their arrival. We both agreed that this action should have a sound effect but could not agree on what that noise would be. We have since realised that we did not take any pictures of Hervey Bay itself, oops!

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We nearly didn’t go here and only did as Ruth saw a sign about it on the drive to Rainbow Beach.  There isn’t much in this little town but the opportunity to feed wild dolphins every morning brings in the punters.

The story goes that a few decades ago a dolphin got caught in the nets of a fishing trawler and got badly hurt.  It was an estuarine dolphin and so lived right by the town.  To help it out the locals would feed it every morning.  This was a pretty good deal for the dolphin and so not only did he keep coming back but he started to bring his family!  A few generations on, the family still come in most mornings to pick up their free feed but now it is all regulated by National Park wardens who measure out a specific amount of food for the dolphins to make sure they have to hunt for the majority of their daily diet.

Although Tin Can Bay is just across the rive from Rainbow Beach, it is a long drive around!  The first morning we went we underestimated this and although we arrived in time to see the dolphins, they decided they had eaten enough and swam off, leaving a lot of disappointed people who were waiting to feed them.  Ruth and I liked this though as it showed that they really were wild.

We went back a few days later (this time getting up mega early as we had to pack the tent up as well) and we got there with plenty of time.  We were able to spend half an hour standing in the water with two of the dolphins (Mystique and Harmony who, oddly enough, are both boys) swimming around us and clicking away to each other.  Then at 8am the fish were handed out and we were able to feed them.  Twice!

Feeding the Dolphins

Feeding the Dolphins

On the second time whilst I was feeding the second dolphin the first came up to Ruth (who was taking photo’s) and nudged her ankle to ask for more food.  I really can’t say how amazing it felt to feed them, we were so glad we did it.It was one of the most amazing experiences ever. To top it off (not that it gets much better than this) Ruth was delighted at the fact that we treated ourselves to bacon butties in the cafe afterwards. What a morning!

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Whilst we were on the Sunshine Coast we took a visit to one of the recommended Aussie tourist attractions: Australia Zoo.  Usually we enjoy zoos but always feel a little sorry for the animals, but this place was just awesome!  All the animals here have great enclosures and are all really well looked after.  The people running the zoo have just as much enthusiasm for the animals as the late Steve Irwin.  Walking around his family’s zoo we really started to realise just what a legend this man was and why he is such a hero in Australia.  He is certainly missed here and the family atmosphere does make you realise what a sad loss it was.

Due to the size of the zoo we packed a lot into the day but there were quite a few highlights.  One of the first things you do as you walk in is get greeted by some of the staff who are holding various lizards for you to look at and touch if you wish.  We were introduced to some skinks and the amazing blue tongued lizard.  The next fella we met was Slater the Koala, who kindly had his picture taken with us.  Being up close to a Koala was fantastic but they bloody stink! He was very soft and fluffy.

Us & Slater

Us & Slater

When we had to give Slater back we saw the Tasmanian devils which were living up to their feisty reputation by running around and fighting with each other very noisily.  Then we were onto the crocs!  They had both freshies and salties and although both were great, the sheer size and look of the salties made them the winner.

Twice a day there is a show in the “crocoseum” where staff and keepers introduce you to the animals and put on a display.  The staff were very entertaining and you could see that this show was designed around Steve Irwin’s personality.  The highlight of the show was the croc.  They brought out a salt water crocodile and showed off exactly what he could do to catch his prey.  It was a very humbling experience and you definitely do not want to meet one of these fellas in the wild.

After the show we wandered into the kangaroo area.  The animals are not really in cages, they are left to roam around with forest areas that the public are not allowed in so they can get a break. 

Us & Eastern Grey Kangaroo

Us & Eastern Grey Kangaroo

You are allowed to purchase some special food and feed the kangaroos.  This was brilliant.  They hop over to you and get down low and lazily eat out of your hand.  They let you pet them and when they have had enough they hop off.  It was fantastic and an experience we will never forget.  They had wallabies (lots of different kinds), eastern grey kangaroos, red kangaroos and even a mum with a Joey.

One of our favourite animals was the strange but fascinating Echidna. Like hedgehogs on steroids these little critters were awesome.  They waddled quickly about their enclosure and looked like they could fall over at any moment. I also got my first chance to feed an Elephant which I loved and went back a second time for.  We also saw wombats.  They were funny!

The zoo was a great display of unique Aussie animals and was a very passionate place. It was definitely worth it and a truly unforgettable experience.

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When we were back home at the start of the year I managed to track down one of my old childhood friends on Facebook.  We soon had an on-line catchup and I found out that she now lives in Brisbane!  The hassles of buying a car got in the way of our plans to meet up when Ruth and I flew back to Oz but this time we managed it. I hadn’t seen Beth for about 15 years or so and it was great to catch up properly over dinner.

This time around we decided to finish off the museum that we previously abandoned when our first car deal fell through.  The museum was very good and had exhibitions on Queensland (as the state is now 150 years old) and wildlife.  It also had an excellent collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artifacts to compliment its interesting but quite sad history of the people and what happened to them when the Europeans turned up.

For a change we decided to take a trip out of the city to Mount Coot-tha which has some stunning views from the top as well as lots of scenic lookouts on the drive around it.  At the bottom of Mt Coot-tha is a planetarium which had some amazing displays as well as a special weekly show on which we signed up for.  The show was an excellent trip around the stars that were currently visible before taking us through our solar system and beyond.  After the show we decided that we liked the view from Mt Coot-tha so much during the day that we’d go back up to see it at night it.  It was worth it.

Back in the city Ruth and I went to two of the major sites in Brisbane, the botanical gardens and city hall.  Brisbane city hall is a city icon and an impressive building with a reasonably long history (for an Australian building).

City Hall

City Hall

The highlight was taking the old lift up the clock tower where we watched the bells chime midday.  Very loud.  We then went onto the botanic gardens which we had also visited on the previous night to look for possums.  The possum hunt was very successful as we saw loads and they were very used to people with one coming right up to Ruth to see if her foot was food or not!  During the day the gardens are busy but a welcome respite from the busier city.  It is quite easy to forget that you are surrounded by several million people whilst taking in the views.  We had a picnic lunch by the ponds watching all the birds, fish and even a little freshwater turtle going about their day.

On our final day in Brisbane I finally did the thing I wanted to do since we arrived – go to the XXXX brewery!  I booked myself on a tour where I found out the history of XXXX beer drink and brand before being taken around the brewery.  Apparently the thing that makes XXXX different is the fifth ingredient: sugar.

XXXX House

XXXX House

This gives the beer that sweeter taste and makes it a bit lighter and so ideal for Queensland’s tropical climate.  At the end of the tour came my favourite bit, the free drinks!  As well as the standard XXXX drinks (lager and bitter – which is just a darker lager) I tried XXX.  XXX is only sold at the brewery bar as it wasn’t all that popular.  That’s a shame as it’s one of the nicer beers I’ve had over here as it was more like an ale.  I also tried a stout that they brewed there but it was horrible!

As soon as the tour finished, Ruth picked me up and we headed on our way up to the Sunshine Coast.  After a few beers my navigating may not have been at its best but we got there in the end and I even managed to stay awake for the whole journey!

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