Monthly Archives: February 2012

Feb 19th 2012 – The Last Leg

It just gets hotter! We arrived at Airlie beach in the whitsunday region and spent a day kicking around the town and staring at the amazing water that you cannot put a foot in! Its very posh here, but seems to cater more for twenty-somethings and cruises around the islands than diving, so I’ve decided to wait until I get to Cairns before taking to the water.

Airlie Beach

Gateway to the Whitsunday Islands

We have been driving for so long now, its become a bit of a blur as to what campsite was where, and we have to really think about where we saw this or that on our neverending Queensland roadtrip! But at last we are on the last run, with only about 400 KM to go, which to us seems like nothing, before we pull into our destination of Cairns.

Rollingston Creek

Rollingston Creek - Watch out for Crocs mate!

Every now and again we pull into a free site. The Australian councils and parks provide fantastic facilities at these places, they vary in quality, but most of them provide toilets, cold showers (no problem there with the heat here) and even free electric BBQs. At Rollingstone Creek we were even allowed to build a fire, which is not only the best fun I’ve had with matches since I was a kid, but is also the best mossie guard ever – they hate the smoke. Ray Mears would be proud! We actually got to sit out late into the night here instead of being driven indoors (batten down the hatches!) by insects.

Camp Fire

I give you fire...ug... Ray Mears would be proud!

Its at this point in our journey that we reached the true tropical region of Queensland, the centre of which is a place called Tully – the wettest place in Australia. It’s like being back in Malaysia. The rain comes in fits and starts, but is torrential, the heat is in the high 30s and the humidity is life sapping! But the landscape is really beautiful, lush mountain rainforest with creeks and waterfalls everywhere. Its also a big sugar cane and banana growing region “Oooo ‘ave a banaaaana!” – these vast plantations even have there own railways running through them, the tracks constantly cross the roads, to get the harvest in efficiently.

Tropical image

North Queensland Tropics

We had met a guy from Whitby at one point who told us to head for Mission Beach. This is the place where people ‘Jump the Beach’ We pulled in, got out of the van, and….spot on timing…the skydivers were just appearing high up in the sky. It was a fantastic sight watching them come in to land right in front of us. Very cool… even makes me want to try it! MMmmm well one day maybe… need bigger balls I reckon! 🙂

Mission Beach

Skydivers "Jumping the Beach"

Mission Beach was our penultimite stop and a great place to hang out for a night. We treated ourselves to a fantastic steak and chips at the local, looking out over the beach, and listened to a good three piece band play some good covers. At one point we even took our chairs and our beers onto the beach until the tide got a little too close for comfort – with the tide come the crocs! “It’s not rocket science” as the late great Steve Irwin used to say 🙂

Babinda Falls

Babinda Falls - Click image to enlarge

The next day we took a small detour to Josephine falls before settling into our last campsite before Cairns – Babinda Boulder Pool – and it could not have been better! Not only did we have the whole campsite to ourselves, with a clear cool rock pool to swim in and take the heat off, but we had an amazing visitor!

Rock pool

Swimming in Babinda Rock Pool

After a swim we returned to the camper to find a wild cassawary mooching about our vansite, picking up berries that had fallen from the tree. These things are straight out of Jurrassic Park – I know… I’ve said that a few times in our travels, but this truly was/is a throwback to dinosaurs. With it’s huge, leathery, veloceraptor-like feet it can rip a man open by kicking out front, if it feels threatened. It also has this kind of horn on its head, like a flattened rhino horn or something. And they can run pretty fast too as we found out…

Cassawary

The bird from the movie UP...

Earlier in our trip at Australia Zoo one of the keepers decided to have a laugh with one of them and sprinted past the enclosure, as soon as she did so the Cassawary chased her (from behind the fence you understand). I remembered this with our visitor and made sure to walk slowly around the van going about our business and not getting too close… but Jane…well…need I say more?? She was being sensible at first and not really noticing that this bloody dinosaur was right behind her. She got a bit of a fright. I told her not to run but she didn’t hear me (she is 50 after all) and she ran straight for me… with the Cassawary chasing her… it was so funny (but serious) she reminded me of the little kid in the movie “Up” who befriends a huge bird – not unlike these very things. Anyway, no harm was done and we enjoyed at least two hours with this huge bird – he even lay down next our van for a short rest before he dissappeared into the forest at dusk. Really good day.

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Feb 15th 2012 – The Long Long Rooooooad…with many a winding turn…

Well yesterday we drove over 250Km in unforgiving heat on the A1 highway getting that little bit closer to Cairns, where, after nearly a month in a “bag of smashed crabs” camper van, we are looking forward to 2 nights in a an actual hotel bed – with an ensuite bathroom! But there’s still a long way to go yet!

We are now just over 1000km away now and only have another 7 days to get there. The heat is like nothing we’ve experienced, even in Asia, it’s much more clawing, it’s in the high 30’s everyday with very little cloud cover so there’s no shade (unless we park up in a rest area under the trees). The mornings are HOT in the van because you’re basically being cooked in a can!

Sky

The Big Sky - Where's Kate Bush?

However, the scenery is lush and green with big blue skies – typical ozzie bushland – and we’ve seen loads of Kangaroos although they’re all dead one’s on the highway! In the 1500+ km we’ve driven so far we’ve probably only seen about 16, and half of them were in Australia Zoo 🙂 They’re called “The Big Rat” or “The Big Red Rat” over here!

We’re now on a van site called Clairview just off the Bruce Highway. It’s right next to the ocean – for $25 a night! so we’re going to stay another night before heading off again in the morning. We’re now on the southern fringe of the Great Barrier Reef and we are just below the whitsunday islands a really beautiful area of small multiple islands and possibly a good dive site – all being well I’ll get a dive in at some point, seeing as this part of the trip is the whole reason I came here! Can’t wait for that!

Danger Sign

Stingers... stingers der der der der der der. (70's TV puppet themeshow)

We were talking to a local last night as we drank coffee in the bar…about the beach and the fact the tide was out and he just said “you gotta watch out for crocs! You need a strong torch so you can light up thier eyes when you shine it on the water. And always sit with something in front of you like an Esky (cooler box for beer etc.) or Jane 🙂 so there’s somethin’ between you and the croc!”.

danger sign

Crocs live 'ere and 'll eat yer if yer not careful... it's not rocket science!

So that ended the night walk on the beach for Jane and I – lol!! In fact thats the irony of every beach site stop we’ve done: you can look at the water, as you melt in the heat, but you can’t put a toe in it due to the crocs or the jellyfish, or both!

Clairview image

There's croc's in them there waters!

Going to chill here today and then head off for another long drive in the morning!


Feb 9th 2012 – Dolphins and Turtles

After heading out of the Glass House Mountains we headed north, still on the inland road but looking for a way across to the coast – the roads are really limited in this area – and we eventually set up camp for the night right next to a huge forest. This site was run by an ex veteran, (you got a discount if you had been to war, so full price for us!) and he seemed to have a lot of ex forces men settled there permanantly, so it was a case of gathering at the camp kitchen at 5pm for a beer, and everyone in bed by 8pm precisely. This owner told us about some dolphins that visit the nearby Tin Can Bay, so we were up really early the next day and off to the beach.

Tin Can Bay

Tin Can Bay Estuary

It was great to be back on the coast. Tin Can Bay is is where a big river meets the sea, and to our surprise we discovered that they were fresh water dolphins – the oddest looking things with long beak like mouths and short stubby fins. They get a few treats every morning (if they choose to come, they are wild after all) The head honcho male, very battle scarred defending his pod, brings in a different female dolphin each day, so generally only two come to visit. They were very gentle, even allowing the cheeky cormorants to steal one or two of the fish !

Dolphin image

Tin Can Bay river dolphin

That night we stayed in a free site in a beautiful place called Boyne River, so we pulled back some of the budget for our friday night bottle of wine (or two)!

Boyne River

Boyne River - Not bad for a free site

The next stop was a long drive to the Bunderburg region and for some reason Jane decided we should detour about 20km off the main drive to a small town called Burnett Heads, right next to the sea, and chill for a couple of days. It turned out to be a good choice. Jane got befriended by a couple of young boys (whether she liked it or not) and we eventually got chatting to the parents who happened to have spare tickets for a turtle hatching event just down the coast. Now this was great. We were taken along a beach in the pitch black – the stars were fantastic and the moon was rising bright orange over the water – where we watched a clutch of 66 turtles hatch. Apparently it should take about 15 mins, but our set, now labelled the laziest turtles in known records, took over an hour and a half! Once they were all out we guided them to the sea with torches and watched them disappear into the vast south pacific. Jane was worried about them 🙂 – only one in a thousand survive to full adulthood. Things just got better, because when we went to walk back to the centre, a massive 30 year old female was just filling in her nest of newly laid eggs. Double whammy for us and a very memorable night.

Turtle

"Number 66 your time is up"

The next day we popped into the community centre to use the WiFi. The guy there told us that there was a bunch of wild kangaroos living on the meadow behind one of the houses in Burnett Heads. This is the ONLY time we’ve seen them in full HOP mode, which is cool, but they disappeared pretty sharpish into the long grass when they saw us coming! Except for this old girl who was guarding a little ‘un (see the ears in the grass!?)

Kangaroo imag

"What's that Skip? YOU'RE stuck down a mine shaft?


Feb 8th 2012 – Australia Zoo Day!

We left Kilcoy Racecourse via Alex Brown Bridge and through places like “Bald Knob” and “Willawong” our intention to get to another set of huge volcanic plugs known as the Glass Mountains.

The distance from Kilcoy to the Glass Mountains wasn’t huge so we ventured inland a bit intending not to hit any toll roads (if you pass one of these the car reg is noted and you have to pay an undisclosed fee by credit card within three days, online only – its an impossible situation if you do not live here and have trouble getting on-line, so we kept out of the way of them) and to take in more of the country side, or ‘bush roads’ as they call them here.

Australia, whether the Australians like it or not, is a lot like England. You have pubs and clubs and darts teams and sports bars and pie shops and bookies, green fields and supermarkets, the only difference I can see is they have ridiculously hot weather – even hotter than Asia – mosquitos in thier thousands and snakes that have such potent venom that one bite can kill a hundred grown men.

So we arrived sometime later and found the glass mountains to be similar in vista to Halong Bay in northern Vietnam. Huge mountainous plugs, rising from the earth like the teeth of a giant crocodile. Our view was obscured by the bush, but we could still make out thier huge presence towering over the roads and towns surrounding it. Amazing!

Passing through the Glass Mountain road we noticed a sign for the Australia Zoo, the previous home of the late great Steve Irwin the crocodile hunter… ok lets go in, we’ve come all this way you can’t NOT!

croc image

Don't worry its not real... notice the little lizard cousin next to it 🙂

This place lives up to it’s reputation of one of the best zoos in the world. It’s clean, well kept, the enclosures are amazing works of art and the sculpturing is totally lifelike – they make trees and logs from concrete to give the place an authentic feel, I thought they were wood! – The Asia part was amazing considering we have just been there so we know what it looks like! They have concrete copies of the roots and buildings of Ankor Thom in Cambodia… reallly good! The animals all look healthy and well cared for, a testiment to the dedication of the Australia Zoo team.

sculpture image

Amazing sculptures here...!

The zoo is made up of various regions like “Africa” and “Asia” and each exhibit (or animal) comes from those regions, either rescued or bred because of the declining numbers. The animals have lots of room to roam and behave normally and seem undetered by a constant stream of tourists from around the world trapsing through thier habitat… great stuff!

crocoseum image

Feeding from a great height in the crocoseum

We watched the crocodile show in the “Crocoseum” made famous by Mr Irwin, although its a lot tamer than the way he used to do it. They explain about the crocs – thier lifecycle and signs to watch out for in case of attack – and then feed them from a platform so you can see them leap from the water! Brilliant! We wandered around the croc cages – they all have thier own – names like “Agro” – kinda says it all really 🙂

kangaroo australia zoo image

Jane feeding a really gentle "Roo"

We spent the whole day there wandering past Wombat and Kangaroo enclosures (you can hand feed the “roos”), through Aviaries and Poisonous Snake cages… we even watched the Elephant feeding time but we’ve seen and done this many times in Chiang Mai and Laos so didn’t stay very long (too tame you understand for us qualified Mahouts :)). The tiger enclosure was cool. Seeing full grown cats climbing trees for a bit of meat was something to see. They are trying to breed Sumatran Tigers because they are sooo endangered… less than 1200 left in the wild now!!

We left the zoo via the Komodo Dragon cages HUGE lizards that look like a throwback to the dinosaurs – but don’t do much 🙂 and said our goodbyes to Mr Irwin and family. A great day out in a VERY ethically conscious and spectacular zoo. Everyone should go there if they’re in Oz!

Koala bear australia zoo

Janes favourite... a sleepy Koala.

We left so late in the day that we ended up staying on one of the free, roadside campgrounds not far along the road. These are great, usually in shady areas, with at least toilets, but some have showers and even gas run barbies for you to cook on. They are well used and this site was full by the time we settled down to sleep. Australia really does look after its motorists and travellers, I suppose because of the huge distances poeple have to travel in this vast landscape.

Kangaroos everywhere!!

Kangaroos everywhere....er....finally!


Feb 4th 2012 – Meeting up with friends Mount Warning!

Our first night on the camp site at Mount Warning was great. We had the whole place to ourselves, and all we could hear was the water from the boulder stream and the wildlife. It had a big camp kitchen, so for a change we escaped the van and cooked dinner with some space.

cookin doug

Room to move in the camp kitchen!

The only down side was Janes idea of an evening stroll to the base of the mountain – which is actually the magma chamber of a 200 million year old volcano, the rest of the mountain has eroded away – Well, this stroll turned out to be 6 KM of hard walking, UPHILL! When we actually got to the base you couldn’t even see the damn thing because of the rain forest! Not impressed.

doug not happy image

Yet another "stroll" turns out to be a 6k hike uphill!! to see nowt! Not happy! 🙂

The next morning we were totally gob-smacked when a couple we met in Asia, Kim and Martyn, pulled into the site. We had intended to meet up, but with the WiFi thin on the ground and intermittent communication, we definately thought we had missed them. Hats off to them, by the time they did get our email we had passed on the road, but they turned around and headed back to find us. And they didn’t even know which site we were on! By some miracle they pulled into our site….and the party commenced.

Martyn and Kim image

Just kidding mate 🙂 Good company, our friends Martyn & Kim. See you in NZ??

Unfortunately Jane and me had no booze and the campsite had no “bottle shop” so we just HAD to drink all of Martyn and Kims… result 🙂 So a few tinnies and bottles of wine later we crawled into bed (not all four of us together you understand although I can appreciate that those things happen after the amount we drank!) AND we did it again the next night (Me and Jane nicked off to the bottle shop to repay the booze debt 🙂

us image

A walk into the rain forest - See... Sasquatch does exist!

Three days and a hangover later we parted ways – Kim and Martyn headed for Sydney – and we set out to explore the caldera. Its a circular landscape about 30 miles across, almost completly surrounded by a massive vertical wall of rock, over 1000 meters high in places, that was once the footprint of the volcano. It is an amazing place but at one stage we found ourselves on a gravel road – now our contract with the campervan company says we can’t do this, so oops. The map did have the whole drive down as sealed road though so honest mistake, but we must have travelled 15 miles at 10 – 20 miles an hour, listening to the van crunch and rattle. Not fun. Eventually we got back onto tarmac just in time to head over the pass into Queensland.

As we drove out of this high mountain area we found ourselves in horse and farming country. Stables and horse training grounds are everywhere. The land is very green, lots of meadows and woodland, and we pulled into a camp site that was actually a racecourse. Our toilet and shower rooms were the jockey changing rooms, right opposite the finishing line. (You’re right Martyn it was cool) It was run by a man who moved there from England in 1969, Michael, and he still speaks with a strong Bradford accent, and boy can he talk 🙂 So we settled here for a couple of nights before finding our way back to the coast.

Mount Warning image

Mount Warning hiding in the forest... keep expecting UFO's for some reason...mmm..


Jan 31st 2012 – Heading north…

We set out North after 3 days in the city in our ‘Bag of Spanners’ campervan. You could say that you get what you pay for, but actually we paid quite a lot for this bed and a cooker on wheels. It was lashing down with rain and took well over an hour to break out of the city and really feel we were on the road. Meanwhile we passed places that could have convinced us we were back in the northeast… Newcastle, Hexham, lumley, Wallsend, Gateshead, Jesmond…kind of easy to tell that this area was settled by northern miners sometime in the past.

van image

Our home for the foreseable future...gulp!

All was going well until Jane ‘the navigator’ went to grab the next map, and it didn’t exist. We were told by the van hire company that all maps and camp site info, to get us all the way to Cairns, was in a pull out book in the van. The lying B*****ds! We were driving completly blind. We tried to get a map in a couple of garages unsucessfully, and eventually, late in the day, found a town with an information centre. So at last we had maps and directions to a camp site.

On first impression I thought we were in for a terrible night. There were mosquitos EVERYWHERE inside the van! Jane was not a happy bunny and we spent a few hours killing mozzies by the bag full. The inside of the van looked like I’d been shot and there was blood spatter everywhere. After a while the mozzie invasion lessened (apparently they only feed in a certain time frame) so we were finally able to take the surroundings in a bit. Basically it was a trailer park. And WE are trailer trash. Or as I like to call us trailer middle class 🙂 You meet some canny people on these parks and the term “Trailer Trash” is very unfair. I met a guy who had arrived in Bulladelah to work so he was staying on the park while he was employed. He was of aboriginal extraction and was quite funny… he said he’d just woke up – it was 11pm! In his own words “Yeah mate, I just kicked back this avo to watch a movie and the next thing I know I needed a P, didn’t realise it was 11 o’clock!”. I really enjoyed our first night in a trailer park and hoped that they would all be as quiet. We had a great nights sleep.

Sea lizard image

Sea lizard sunbathing... loads of these here!

Next day headed for the Great lakes coast, an area sandwiched between rivers, salt lakes and the sea. It is a very scenic route with tree covered hills and winding lanes with treetop walkways across the roads to let koalas and possums cross safely. We pulled into a “view point” on the coastline and found a couple of guys offering tandem Hang Gliding experiences. It was quite something to WATCH there was no chance of going up for me! Although I’m losing a bit of my fear and may do something like this further into the trip. Mind you that will depend on the budget seeing as Australia seems intent on ripping the eyes out of your head and taking every penny it can:) (Its REALLY expensive here!).

We had plans to visit an area called Yamba, a particularly spectacular area of the coast, but due to the rain causing flooding we were diverted inland away from coast. Having no choice but to go west we became a bit aimless as we didn’t know where to go. We ended up driving all day before we found a town with some information, and by now all the sites were shut. We actually ended up staying in a designated ‘rest area’. These are everywhere in Australia, (some of them even serve free coffee) to ensure that people do not drive too long without stopping. They have toilets, sometimes showers, and bays to park up for as long as 20 hours. You can’t stop overnight in all of them – including the one we stopped at! But we had no choice, and the information centre had advised us it would be very unlikely to be moved on if you did stay in this type. So we cooked tea, watched a movie on the laptop and went to bed.

Kooaburra image

Kookaburra resting between squawks

Next day we headed east for the coast again, and the rain still lashed down. Eventually we found a town called Ballina, settled into a realy nice site and had a long hot shower! We even managed to take a walk to the beach without getting wet. Result. At this stage we were much further north than we intended to be, the diversion had scuppered our plans, and we were very close to the Queensland border, so we decided not to travel too far next day and stayed on another really nice site right next to the ocean. The rain stopped, the stars came out and we woke to a sunny morning!

Now the next leg of the journey was planned – to head slightly inland to a place called Murwillumbah where there is a volcanic caldera that Jane just has to see. At fist we stayed on a great camp site close to the town. The wildlife was great to watch and the weather was fantastic – very hot! At night we watched the fruit bats come in to roost and sat in awe of the train of the milky way when we looked up at the stars.  Right now though we have moved to the base of Mount Warning onto a very rural site right in the middle of amazing rainforest. As I write this there is a 4 foot monitor lizard staring at us from the base of a tree, with a wild turkey pecking it’s tail… it’s like Jurrassic Park here!

monitor lizard image

Monitor Lizard - Big fella this one!