Thursday, 26 June 2008

Cape Hillsborough - Em's First Fish, Banoffee Pie, Coconuts, Turtle Rescue and more!

Cape Hillsborough National Park will definitely be a place etched into our memories of this trip.  We stayed at a privately run resort rather than the bush camp area down the road and it was wasn't bad value for money.  The area was stunning, P1070159 and was named by Captain Cook after the Earl of Hillsborough apparently...anyway here is a quick sample of what we got up to there (as I am writing this a few days later when we've already done so much I am forgetting some of the good bits!):

Em finally caught her first fish!  A whiting.  P1070130 Very nice it was too - after gutting it in the ocean we threw it straight into the fire wrapped in foil, it was only small (!) so was a tasty starter.  We got chatting to a couple of local old fisherman chaps as every evening we saw them coming back from the rocks where they'd been fighting off giant squid or catching sharks or something, and swapped stories about what we had caught (or mostly not caught) and they kindly gave us a little whiting they caught, and didnt want to keep, so we got to perfect our gutting and cooking skills a bit more!

There was a smart camp kitchen there and one morning Em decided to make Banoffee Pie - much to the delight of a couple of kids camping near us who came running over asking what the nice smell was!  Later on they came over to our camp and offered us a coconut that they had removed from the shell already and told us how to open it to get the milk and stuff inside (they were only about 5 and 10 years old, but I don't think I've ever opened a coconut before!) in exchange for a tasting of the banoffee it wasnt quite ready that day they came back the day after with flapjacks for us and we gave them banoffee! Em's banoffee was delicious and was thus devoured in a few hours by me & Em.  We also managed to scavenge some of our own coconuts and then spent about 1 hour getting them out of their casings.  P1070228 Seriously it is bloody hard work, even with a tomahawk!  Later in the week we spent a bit of a drunken evening with two nice French campers, Anne-Laur and Clement, teaching them what we knew about coconuts (not a lot) and having a good laugh on the beach late at night watching them try to open one!  P1070161

We also had some chilling time there swimming in the pool to cool off and practice snorkelling - this was to prove useful in the upcoming trip at the Whitsundays.

There were a few little bushwalks in the area, and at low tide we made it over the causeway to Wedge Island and poked around there for an hour or so.  On the way back we were walking close to the incoming tide and I almost stepped on a stranded green turtle - I almost stepped on it as it looks like a rock (has barnacles on its back so it was pretty old I reckon!) and was as big as a rock that you might step on!  I am talking about 3 feet nose to tail maybe?  He was pretty heavy to lift too.  The photo below doesnt give you an idea of size as we were rushing, but he was big!  It was properly stranded so was obviously a bit of a stupid turtle, as it had had time to dry out in the sun.  Me & Em thought it was dead at first, but it was blinking, so after much discussion about what to do I lifted him up and faced him in the direction of the incoming tide now about 2 metres away.  His flippers moved about 1 cm and he lifted his head up - so we realised he may not be dead/dying.  So I moved him closer to the sea and he seemed to appreciate that, but still didn't do what turtles do and swim away gracefully.  So I gave him a little push from behind to get him afloat and lo and behold the big ancient mariner drifted out to sea!  I like to think that when he lifted his head up a few times to breath as he was swimming away he was also saying thank you.  There are signs everywhere around the beaches saying don't interfere with marine life and ring such and such a number if you see stranded animals, but there was no mobile reception and help was probably an hour away so I am glad we made the decision to help the poor bloke and hope he remembers us whilst he is cruising around on the ocean currents!


We were sad to leave but needed to head on up to the Whitsundays and were unsure how to go about seeing these beautiful islands and the Great Barrier Reef itself, so needed to be local to it to decide.  Paul & Emily also turned up at Cape Hillsborough for one night and had been trying to reach us to tell us they were kayaking around the Whitsunday Islands, but we'd been out of range and hadn't got their messages, so they were busy preparing for that and we needed to get our arses in gear!  So onwards North to Airlie Beach......


Monday, 23 June 2008

Capricorn Coast

After a quick one-nighter at Hervey Bay (waking up next to major highway roadworks AND a building site next to the caravan park after 8 nights on Fraser Island was a rude shock!) we drove into Bundaberg country.  Now unless you are Australian or drink a lot of rum this probably wont mean much to you, but here in Australia it is a national icon, and rum is closely linked to the country's early history - my favourite link being the NSW Corps (part of the RN Marine Corps that came here with the convicts on the First Fleet) became known as the Rum Corps as they held such a monopoly on the rum trade, which was roaring in those days of the British Navy ruling the seas (and notably the Caribbean!).  So Bundaberg has a rum distillery, and not surprisingly it is old and has a lot of interesting history, fires, spillages into the river killing/getting drunk all the fish! etc etc.  Me & Em went for the historical story interactive tour and a sample of the rum at the end - Royal Liqueur which was very nice with cream on the top!  I'm not a big rum drinker, but maybe one day I will be.....P1070030

Up the coast from "Bundy" is "Town of 1770" or "1770" or "Seventeen Seventy" whatever you like to call it.  We are still confused about the name, not just because it is numbers, but because Captain Cook landed here in 1770, which was 18 years before the First Fleet came back and the country was actually "settled" I would have thought 1770 was quite an important date being when Australia was discovered, not just 1788?  But maybe I am wrong and I will not pass the Australian citizenship test because of this....P1070036

We went for a sunbathe, a walk along the beach watching dolphins, seabirds dive for fish, fishermen, and other strollers, then watched a beautiful sunset on the beach from our campsite, I like to thin this would have been how Captain Cook would have seen the area when he landed here too (apart from the outboard motor in the corner obviously) P1070058 But then had the rest of the evening ruined by some "hoons" who were only about 16, with their 40 something totally dense father, getting drunk 2 metres from our tent and chatting up Canadian backpackers.  I shouted at them at 19:30 (dont laugh, it wasnt because I wanted to go to bed - they were being so loud me & Em couldnt actually hear each other) and then Em shouted at them at 22:30 as they were still going and we had their silhouettes dancing around on our tent wall.  They went to the beach and annoyed the rest of the campsite til about 01:00.  Not fun at all.  Then they were up at 6am making more noise!  I wanted to get up before them and wake them up but they beat me to it.  Actually I was going to reverse over their tent and run them all over, but its harder to hit moving targets.

We got on the road with a takeout coffee from the bakery as early as possible to get away from them, driving back through 1770 and Agnes Water, which are quaint little towns, and onto the Capricorn Coast....this is the most southerly point of the Great Barrier Reef and is very pretty, this is the view 20 metres from our tent:  P1070098  and these little fellas (flying foxes): P1070092  are about 30 metres away, but my god do they make a noise when they come home in the small hours of the morning!  They scrap all day fussing and fighting each other, making a screaming squeaky kind of noise, then they all fly off together when it gets dark to feed and come home to fuss and fight again.  I would rather be woken up by these little dudes than the village idiots we had next to us at 1770 any day though.  We've booked in for a few nights in Emu Park campsite which seems to be just right - delicious bakery and a fish and chip shop about 300 metres away, empty beach in front of us, and a powered site cheaper than some unpowered we've had.  We're both feeling quite relaxed here, swimming, sat around, chatting to the grey nomads (!) and will take our time cruising up the coast before meeting Paul and Emily again in Cairns on 13th July.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Second Half of Fraser Island

Since camping up for 4 nights at Central Station on Fraser we moved out of the rainforest area to a campsite "Dundaburra" about 300m from the beach which is much drier and much nicer!  Shame we didn't realise to start with as our towels are now drying in a few hours, whereas they never dried at all in the rainforest at Central Station.  This is our setup at Dundaburra:


Me & Em are loving it here; the beach and 4wd scenic drives are spectacular, we've had some of the best "day" trips on the island since being away.  Everywhere is quite busy with the backpackers still, but not badly busy, and if you go north of a place called Indian Heads it is a more quiet, tranquil beach and the area is zoned "semi remote" as the national parks call it.  Help is a bit more few and far between, but its worth the effort to get there: 


We haven't yet seen a dingo, although lots of these: P1060787 ...until we were North of Indian Heads, when a murder (or is that just for crows?  Damo would know...) of ravens flew off from behind a dune, and a lean looking dingo was there stood on the dune looking down at us, we only got a pic of his behind as he skulked away, but were chuffed we got to see one as they are in breeding season so there aren't many around apparently.

We managed to get a good bit of sightseeing in even though the weather tried to be more moody over the last few days:  P1060831

At Lake Allom we got to see the inquisitive freshwater turtles:  P1060886

And this is the SS Maheno wreck; after running aground during a cyclone whilst being towed to Japan for scrap, it was subsequently used for bombing practice by the navy and airforce!  P1060949

Anyway, I could go on, maybe I'll upload the full album soon as it would be easier!!!  So after 8 nights we headed back to the mainland at Hervey Bay.....

Friday, 13 June 2008

Noosa and First Half of Fraser Island

I am impressed with Fraser Island, where I am currently in bed in the tent typing this blog entry from....its a world heritage national park - which is in fact the largest sand island in the world as well - about 4 hrs north of Brisbane.  We are back in the tent again and so far, fingers crossed, the rain has held off. 

Now I've just been moaning about them over dinner tonight (fried rice and stewed apples + custard - thanks Em!), and I do love Fraser Island for its beauty and its remoteness, but the backpackers are like a plague here.  They have exactly 4 minutes before 9pm to turn their music (all they play is indie, that we love, of course) off, otherwise I may wander over and tell them to get to bed like the little kids they are!  Anyway....

We stayed in Noosa for one night which was a cool place, nice beach, although there wasnt much left of it after the floods (Em was here about 2 years ago and said it looked totally different).  We did a little bike ride into town and had a swim at the beach.  Emily has come down with a virus so rested up back at camp.  After that we headed onto Rainbow Beach which is one of the gateways to Fraser Island via 10 minutes on a barge.  One quick camp near the beach there and then we were on the barge by 8am Wednesday morning!  We were all pretty excited as this is one of the highlights of our East coast tour.  P1060628





Once off the ferry it was a 45 minute drive straight up the beach.  Nice easy driving compared to Stockton beach, the sand was very hard and compacted and the tide was at its lowest (well planned by Paul).  For Fraser Is. camping you need to bring all your own drinking water, have enough fuel (diesel is $2.26 per litre!) and all your food supplies for the stay as there are only about 3 shops on the island and they are quite limited.  No doctor or hospital either.  We headed inland for our first camp site Central Station which is all sandy 4wd tracks, some of it quite rough.  On the way we met up with a couple that Emily and and Paul had befriended back in Byron Bay - a Swiss German Felix and German Nicole.    P1060677They are driving around Australia at roughly the same time as us in their Land Rover Series 3 from 1978 on the left below, he has to crank-start it as the starter motor/electric ignition has failed!


They joined us at Central Station campsite for the next couple of nights.  We've basically been 4wding, a bit of (unsuccessful) fishing, swimming (in the lush clear water inland lakes), walking and and sightseeing since we got here and both really like it.  Em says there is less traffic than when she was here before with her dad, which I am glad about.P1060678  This is Lake Wabby below, it's being slowly engulfed by the sandblow to the left of the picture, but remains the island's deepest lake:


On our first night whilst setting up camp Em got bitten or stung by something when we were putting up our tarp.  I was worried so put my shoes on and walked over to where she was bitten (her toe was going red by now) and in the process got bitten/stung myself on the ankle!  I swore and jumped back to safety and when I looked back realised we had both been stood on a nest of half-inch long red ants with nasty looking jaws on them!  We arent sure what they were, but they stung real bad, like you had been burnt by a match-head or similar:  P1060666

On the animal front we have finally seen a goanna (Jan I hope you are reading this - it's only taken me 2.5 years to see one!):  P1060733    These are about 1.5 metre long monitor lizards.  It was frozen to the side of the tree after running across the sandy track in front of Paul and Emily and praying we would drive on and leave it in peace I think.

The backpackers switched their music off precisely after the 4 minutes I mentioned was up - there is some justice in the world and I won't have to walk over there in my pyjamas.  Now we only have 5 more nights on Fraser Island to enjoy....


Sunday, 8 June 2008

Brisbane and Australia Zoo

We are coming to the end of a really pleasant week staying with Emily's Uncle (Ross) and Auntie (Bridgette) plus 5 year old Sam and the new golden retriever puppy Rupert!  It's been a really comfortable stay at their place in Brisbane's west and they made us feel very welcome.  But the time has come to move on, and Fraser Island is the next destination so it should be a good-un.

We have had time to take in a few of the local sights at Brisbane including; CBD, South Bank, Mt Coot-Tha (the picture of me and Em below is from the lookout there), Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo (about 100kms North), the famous Queensland Castlemaine Perkins XXXX beer brewery, and various other short trips around the area.  Check out my full album uploaded here.  We've also serviced the cars so they are running nice and smooth for the sandy 4wd'ing coming up! 

Brisbane seems like a nice place to live, however it is winter now so daytime temperatures have only been 23-26C (only) and humidity reasonable, but the summer's are a lot more uncomfortable because of the humidity.  P1060596Still, me & Em wouldn't rule it out as a place to live and work when we run out of money as it is very easy to get around and seems like there are a few good things to do - although its only a quarter the size (or population at least) of Melbourne so, being such city slickers as we are/were, we may get bored easily....we'll see I guess.  

Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo was a good day trip, about one and a half hours drive north of Brisbane.  It's very weird seeing his face everywhere though.  He still presents the videos before the croc displays.  Even the road was renamed from Glass Mountain Road to Steve Irwin Way after he died.  All very weird.  Anyway it was good fun and very interesting.  The bird demo (them flying around inside the crocoseum) was cool.  We also got to watch the Steve Irwin movie for the first time, as it's one of Emily's cousin Sam's favourites!  P1060474 The only problem we have now, is that I am not sure if I am looking forward to seeing one of these prehistoric predators (to the left) in the wild in FNQ or Northern Territory or not!  Some facts for you:  Relatively unchanged in the last 60 million years, they have outlived dinosaurs, forms of the species have been on the planet a total of 250 million years.  They have sensors in their throats that pick up vibrations, they have reactions faster than a humans, 3000psi of pressure in their jaws (human head = melon), a strike range half their length of their body (some are easily 15 foot long so even 7.5 feet away from the water's edge you are still potential prey!), even the pointy bits (not sure what they are called) on their backs are there so when they submerge the water hardly leaves a ripple....impressive huh? 

This monster was called "Agro".  He was about 15 ft long and 600kg.  Apparently he never forgave Steve for capturing him (taking him away from being hunted in Queensland), and always had a go at eating him at feeding time...he ate/destroyed 4 lawnmowers as they annoyed him so much:


The Castlemaine XXXX brewery was also good fun, although their beers aren't exactly my favourites it was still worth the tour and to try out 4 pots of their different beers at the end.  They did one "sparkling ale" which is an old recipe (129 years apparently) which was basically a chilled real ale; it would have been better warm I reckon.  But Australian's wouldn't give a XXXX for anything else. 

Tomorrow we head off up the coast to Fraser Island via Noosa and some other strangely named towns that I don't remember.  Everyone is looking forward to Fraser Island and we are all hoping we get a good week weather-wise as last week the main campground and the main Lake exit road were closed due to storm damage!  Oh the tent is now patched up with a bike puncture repair patch, so fingers crossed for us that it has sealed the hole if it does rain please.  A good internet weather site is Weatherzone if people want to know what it is like wherever we are.  The link above is set to Fraser Island already.

On a final note me & Em are thinking about doing some harvest work.  There is a government initiative to get "itinerant travellers, grey nomads and backpackers" in touch with fruit and vegetable suppliers at the right time in the right place for a workforce to be supplied to pick/pack/harvest crops.  We might sign up for a few weeks (if we can) and see how it goes.  It's hard work for little money, but it might be a good laugh too!  There are even jobs for old people like me who don't like to bend too much.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Current Location Updates

Using the searchable Google map at the bottom of the blog, I'll try to update it to our current location as often as I can. You can zoom in and out by double clicking the left or right mouse buttons and also scroll around.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

How could I forget Nimbin...

Nimbin! I almost forgot it. It's a hippy town about 80kms inland from Byron Bay. We went there whilst our tent was being rained on. Very alternative - and I mean very. It has a permaculture centre, an alternative energy centre, a candle making factory, and a hemp bar! It's really strange to see a police van drive through the main street knowing full well what is going on all around - considering anything to do with cannabis is illegal elsewhere in NSW. There is a pretty strong anti-government/pro-marijuana message everywhere which is funny to read about. Did you know before the 1950s (or 30's? I dont remember) Australia didnt really have any laws surrounding cannabis use? It was all some American's fault that it was prohibited, as he said it made juveniles go bad or something to that effect. Tour operators offer day trips there. Well worth the drive through the country to get there.

Coffs Harbour, Byron Bay, Surfers Paradise and onto Brisbane

We are currently staying at Emily's uncle's house in Brisbane.  Her 5 year old nephew is very excited today as they are picking up a new 5 month old Golden Retriever puppy.  I dare say I am little excited too!  We are basing ourselves here for a few days to dry off and recharge before heading up the coast again.

The last few days up the Gold Coast, before we got here, have been wet and not that great really if I am honest.  I thought I wouldn't particularly enjoy this area of Australia, but it has to be seen I guess.

We drove from Tamworth via Armidale, spent a night camped at a campsite on the edge of a spectacular gorge - Dangar Gorge - at Oxley Wild Rivers NP.   The campsite was not in any of our books, and so was quite clean and rather pleasant.  We were lucky enough to see a Peregrine Falcon surveying the gorge when we arrived.  No sign of the elusive Rock Wallaby's though.  This area is home to the story of bushranger Captain Thunderbolt.  I am reading a famous Australian classic called Robbery Under Arms which is loosely based on the story of Thunderbolt.  Ned Kelly was another infamous bushranger.

In the morning we dried off (not from rain, just a dew) and headed onto Coffs Harbour.  Not my favourite place (but better was yet to come) as it was busy and touristy.  However it does have a big banana:


Hmmm.  So anyway....we camped at a clean little caravan park out of town thankfully.  Next stop up the road (after the big prawn, bigger than the banana,  but with an grotty little fish and chip shop beneath it):


was Byron Bay....plenty of Wicked Camper vans (British backpackers on holiday around Australia for those that don't know!) and expensive, cramped caravan parks.  Good beach all the same.  When we arrived there we set up camp and managed to get in a swim, a surf, a bit of beach chill out time.  The ocean water temp was the mildest yet.  However the weather turned nasty the next day after a beach bike ride to the Cape Byron Lighthouse and checking out the most Easterly point in Australia:


Around the cape we saw a pod of dolphins doing what seemed to be surfing the waves!  They would cruise along the line of the wave, then when it was about to break they would turn into it, surf it and then jump back out the other side!  Quite remarkable.  We also spotted a large turtle bobbing around above some reef.

Back to the had drizzled a bit in the day, but the thunder and lightning then started and overnight it just didnt stop.  Me & Em had a bad nights sleep rudely interrupted by leeches (yes, leeches) in the tent.  Em had one on her throat and there was another on the inside of the door to the tent.  We think they must have attached to our clothes when we got up for the loo in a break between the rain.  In the morning when we packed up we also found we had a wet mattress with what appears to be a hole in the tent floor somewhere (yet to be found).  All in all a bad night.  We did manage to see Byron Bay at night and had a nice meal out which made a decent change to camp food though.

We packed up dry, amazingly, after at first a wet, then windy night the next night and headed out of Byron the next day cruising up the coast via Pottsville, Mooball and into Surfers Paradise.  Now if I have a favourite worst place in Australia then Surfers Paradise is it.  What a dump.  It was a wet, grey day which probably didnt help, but it was dirty, scummy, full of faux, plastic people and expensive, high rise apartment blocks right on the beach front and the beach had an oil rig in it!  Bizarre.  And certainly not any kind of paradise that I imagine.  Anyway we didnt stay long, but at least I've seen it.  Strangely I didn't take any photos of Surfers, but here is a pic of a nearby suburb (Miami I think) to show you what lush weather we are having:


Mount Tamborine on the other hand was nice, but a tourist trap.  We camped there and got rained on from about 4am onwards (mattress still wet/tent still leaking remember).  The English breakfast, then cheese and fudge tasting in the morning got us back on track a bit.  Then we arrived at Emily's uncles place around lunchtime, and after a hectic evening with lots of kids around and a few beers last night here I am writing this blog!