Around the world in 60 days
Mal and Tracy's adventures
Australia; the east coast
After coffee and a croissant we booked into the YHA, which turned out to be very posh and more like a trendy hotel than a hostel.
Finding and staring at this stuff takes most of the afternoon but we manage to get out before 5 p.m. and take a stroll through the Botanical Gardens and round the harbour front to the Opera House.
In the evening we meet up with Tina and Oscar Westerlund. Tina is a descendant of the branch of the Weller family who went to New Zealand and started a whaling station in 1830. They are great people and we had a wonderful evening.
Christina had told us the night before where to find Clarendon House where the Weller family had lived in 1840's (51 Buckingham St. On the corner of Bedford St.) so we went to take a look. It turned out to be a large country style house that looks quite out of place in amongst the tall apartment blocks of Redfern / Surrey Hills.
We walked north up Riley Street in amongst small and English looking terraced housing until we reached Hyde Park and then on into the Botanical Gardens. This is one of our favourite places. We get to see the fern collection and the fruit bats but not the largest flower.
The real destination of our walk today is the Sydney Opera house where we take a guided tour round some of the 5 theatres and the Utzon room that had just been completed to the original design.
Just past Circular Quay we stopped at a little cafe at 'The Rocks' for an early dinner and then walked down to Cockle Bay. This bay is surrounded by glitzy and shiny new buildings. Actually, most of central Sydney looks like it was built only yesterday. Just on the other side of China Town we stop for a beer or two before quitting for the day.
We were up at 6 am to catch the Oz Experience bus which would be our home for the next 6 days as we weave up the east coast.
After the traffic jams of Sydney we soon made it into the Blue Mountains where the airborne Eucalyptus oil turned the landscape views blue. We drove on through miles of Eucalyptus forest punctuated by rugged brown rock outcrops.
Further on the land had been cleared of trees and natives to raise sheep and cattle. Further on still, we came into wine country and after a stop in Mudgee we visited a winery for a tasting and some edification. Our guide gave us quick, informative and amusing lectures on viticulture, barrel choice, wine making and of course, tasting. The tasting came with definitions of some of the unlikely words used to describe a wines flavour. Tartness is obtained by picking the grapes early, alcohol content by picking the grapes later when they contain more sugar to convert to alcohol. Sweet wines are created by fermenting the juice for less time. Flavours can also be altered by stirring the sediment back in after fermentation. Either way, we managed to get slurp of grog out of the deal.
Many of the fields by the side of the road are covered with blue flowers that look like a carpet of bluebells but are an introduced flower that has thrived in pasture but is inedible to farm animals. It was introduced by a man called Patterson who gave a bunch to his wife who then planted it in her garden. It is now called Pattersons Pest.
Our first stop is the Warrumbungles for a steep 2km walk to Fans Horizon. The view is spectacular out over granite towers poking up out of the hilltops, the remnants of magma plugs that forced themselves through the sandstone during volcanic activity and are now exposed by the erosion of the sandstone.
Further on we stopped for a walk to Sawn Rock where the volcanic lava had formed hexagonal pipes as it cooled. As the rock face was eroded it exposed the pipes like that of a church organ.
For the night we stayed at the Gwydir Hotel in Bingara, a fair enough place although it was like stepping back 50 years into the past. Down in the bar the locals were very friendly and chatty so we had a Tooheys Dark beer with them before dinner was served. Dinner was a good barbecue out the back under a lean-to. Needless to say we spent the rest of the evening in the bar sampling more beer, watching the pool table and listening to old hits on the jukebox.
Another early and hurried morning as we grabbed some breakfast and walked down to Gwydir River Riding stables on the edge of town were a huge horse ride of about 50 people was gathering. It was a good way to see more of the Australian bush but from a different angle. My mount was called Flora but was not as docile as the name suggests and I had some trouble keeping her from running on ahead of the lead horse and getting me expelled from the group. Part way through the ride we stopped by a river while some folks went swimming or were pulled through the water while hanging onto a horses tail. It was a 2 hour ride but was over far too soon.
After lunch at Glen Innes we stopped at Raspberry Lookout to admire the view over the Great Dividing Range, or at least, this part of it for it is 6000 km long extending from Cairns to Melbourne. Much of the rain-forest has died off to be replaced with eucalyptus forest except in some wetter valleys sheltered from the sun. I have seen fern and palm trees in the forest which must be part of the old rain forest. From here the hills seem layered, more distant layers fading off into the distant haze, their tree covered slopes seeming fluffy from this distance.
We did not see much of Byron Bay but what we did see was not attractive. It appeared to be one of those kiddie towns of beer and brawls that you can find on many temperate coastlines. One such fight took place in the courtyard outside our room for about half an hour during the night.
We left Byron Bay at 7 am. Somehow we did not feel that we had missed anything although we would miss Sabina and Edgar who we had become friends with on the first bus but who would be leaving now to take a trip to Fraser Island.
We stopped briefly in Surfers Paradise for breakfast and a quick look at the famed golden beach and surf. The beach was quite full for 9 am with a surf board race going on and numerous bathers of the sun and sea varieties.
Surfers Paradise changed its name from Edgar Town many years ago and has since prospered from the images the name created in the minds of certain tourists. Since then the place has become covered in accommodation towers and apparently taken on a similar appearance to Miami.
We did not even set foot in Brisbane but waited in the bus as passengers were loaded and unloaded. From what we saw it is much like Surfers Paradise anyway.
We opted to skip the Australia Zoo featuring big posters of Steve Irwin and go to see the Glasshouse Mountains from the viewpoint at Caincross. The mountains turned out to be made of granite like many other mountains and not glass after all.
Behind the viewpoint was the Mary Caincross Reserve rain-forest which contained fig trees of many types including the Strangler Fig which winds its way around a host tree often killing it in the process. We also saw a couple of Red Legged Pademelons (little Roo's) who persisted in moving each time they sensed a camera shutter about to click.
What we hoped would be a long relaxed lunch turned out to be another food stuffing and scenery marching episode, one drawback of taking the tourist bus.
Our stop for the night is in Mooloolaba. Another coastal town but one that seems more civilised than our experience of Byron Bay. By the time we get to the beach the sun has set so we make do with a cup of coffee and plonk our bums down on the soft white sand to watch the waves crashing onto the beach. The sun soon sets but the surf is lit up from the restaurant behind us and the coast that curves round sharply is picked out by the lights from the high rises and navigation lights.
Back at the accommodation we share a bottle of wine with Chris and Vanessa from the bus before retiring early.
Another 7:30 start on the bus. This touristing thing is hard work! We are beginning to think we should have planned in more stops as all we seem to be doing is riding the bus all day.
Other bus trips like this that we have been on have included many stops along the way to view the scenery, hike somewhere, swim in a water-hole or some other exciting activity. Unexpectedly, this trip seems to be all about getting from A to B, all day long. I have to admit to being a bit disappointed and somewhat bored.
Just after a coffee stop we pass through Gimpie, named after a stinging tree that if you so much as brush past it will give you a sting that will last for months. The Aborigines called the tree 'Gimpie Gimpie' which means devil devil.
There are some beautiful trees along this part of the coast. One has lilac blue blossoms that stand out against the dry green background and seems to be a favourite to plant in gardens. Other trees have bright orange or yellow blossoms on them and occur naturally in the bush.
The houses round here in Queensland are rather more architecturally interesting than further south. Many are of the older designs that are raised in stilts with verandas around to keep the interior cool. They also have bays and multilevel roofs that add character despite being made of bits of old corrugated steel.
Our accommodation for the night was Kellys Beach Resort which was, strange as this might seem, right next to the beach. Not having set foot in the water so far we decided to dash down to the sea and take a dip before the sun went down. The water was warm and the waves were big enough to splash in if not to surf on. By the time we emerged the sun was low enough to have insufficient warming or drying effect so we jogged along the beach instead. Totally refreshed we went back o the resort for a barbecue dinner and a few beers.
This Australian bush seems to go on for ever. You can ride the bus for hours and the scenery hardly changes. Similar looking woods interspersed with huge dry fields containing a few cows. Occasionally you might see a few dilapidated buildings on the horizon. The grass here is more brown than green and the land is rocks and dust but occasionally a farmer has created a little oasis of a water hole that sometimes contains blue lilies.
We stopped for an excellent but rather large lunch of Baramundi, chips and salad at a roadhouse called the Raglan Tavern. We sat outside and watched a flock of Rosellas as they gathered for the feast of scraps the landlord was about to put out for them.
Our next stop was Namoi Hills, Dingo, Queensland. Namoi Hills is a cattle ranch the size of Belgium (45000 acres). It is so big because there is bugger all for cows to eat on the land.
Fortunately, today it is only about 30 degrees centigrade but the land is just dust and dried grass. The rains do not come for another couple of months and only last a few months of the year but that does not stop the cattle from wanting to drink 200 litres of water per day. The solution was to drill bore holes down to the water table and pump up water into tanks for the cattle.
Tonight we stayed on the ranch, drank tasteless beer, ate a good beef dinner and learnt to line dance, well, almost. There was also a tug of war and a drinking competition between the members of the north bound and southbound Oz Experience busses. We lost the tug but won the drinking.
One of the ranch hands took us all out to see some of the ranch, the cattle and see some of how things work out here. We stopped at a dry water hole, dry now even though the sides have been banked to hold more. The water it holds can get pretty manky due to the dust, cow shit and dead things that get scattered over its dry surface. This is why the water that comes out of the taps at the ranch is an unsavory brown colour.
We also saw a bore hole with its concrete cistern and petrol powered pump. There are still a few wind powered pumps on the ranch but petrol is preferred as the wind does not always blow at the right time. Derek poured in a measured amount of petrol and left it running to fill up the cistern. The water table is actually rising here due to a shortage of trees that tap down and absorb it. The trees were cut down to create pasture land to feed the cattle. Unfortunately the rising water table absorbs slat from the earth and brings it to the surface, increasing the salinity and killing off all the plant life. The obvious solution would be to stop trying to graze cattle and re-grow the trees but I don't suppose they will do that.
We also met a herd of cows who had gathered around the fresh water supply although there was very little grass to eat. Twenty to thirty acres of land are required to feed each cow as opposed to about 2 cows per acre in Europe and they have 3000 head of cattle here. The cows are a breed originally from India so that they can withstand the heat which has been known to rise to 50 degrees centigrade.
Derek also said that they have a problem with feral (introduced) animals such as wild pigs (digging up the pasture for the roots), cats (killing all the native wildlife) and dingoes (killing calves and kangaroos) so they are instructed to shoot them on sight. The usually use a sawn-off, double barrelled shotgun from a helicopter for this so Derek demonstrated the effects of the shot on a few pairs of jeans. The owners were delighted. Amy, a Scottish lass from the group, was given the chance to shoot a water bottle with a Winchester rifle but unfortunately the bottle got away.
Our next lesson was in whip cracking. This was a little more difficult that it seemed but soon enough we all had imaginary cattle jumping to our commands. All too often the end of the whip would carry on flying round and wrap itself round the wielder leaving dusty marks on shirts and trousers making it appear that they were indulging in a spot of self flagellation.
After that we had a go at throwing a boomerang. First off we learned that a boomerang will not fly and return unless there is a little chamfer on the leading, underside edge of one of the ends. Then there are all the 30 degrees. While facing the wind, aim for thirty degrees to the right, hold the boomerang at 30 degrees from the vertical and throw it up at 30 degrees from the horizontal.
That ended the bush farming instruction for the day but then we were invited
to the farm owners house for 'smokies'. This turned out to be tea with Lemon
Eucalyptus leaves in it and a slice of Damper (flour, water and milk powder)
which tasted better than its description.
Back on the road we often travel parallel to a railway. Initially there seemed to be no traffic on it but then we saw a number of coal trains. No passenger trains though.
Most of the time we can see a range of mountains in the distance and sometimes cross them. I guess this must still be the Great Dividing Range.
At 8:45 we walked down to Airlie Beach to meet up with the crew and other passengers of Providence V, a 62 ft Gaff-rigged topsail Schooner. From there we walked out on the jetty and pontoons to the ship that would be our home for the next 3 days. Without much ado we set sail for West Molle Island where we stopped for some snorkelling with the fish and the coral. After lunch we set sail again and went north along the Molle Channel, past Hannah Point on North Molle Island across Whitsunday Passage and then off towards Dumbell Island. For this last bit, because of the wind direction, we had to sail almost past Border Island and then tack back to Dumbell Island where we moored for the night.
There are only 3 crew on the boat so the passengers were encouraged to help out. My main task was 'Gasket boy'. A gasket being the rope that ties a sail in place when it is not being used. This became more interesting when the Head Sails needed unfurling which required climbing out onto the Bowsprit. I also got involved in hauling the sail, sweating (pulling the sail tight) and tailing (taking up the slack from the sweater).
Molle Channel, Hannah Point, Whitsunday Passage, through the narrow gap between Hook Island and Whitsunday Island, moored at Dumbell Island.
The crew cooked us a fine meal of barbecue steak as the sun went down and darkness set upon us. A few beers and a little wine was drunk but many folk were a little sea sick so the night ended quite soon. It was at that point I realised that I had forgotten to put sun screen on when I took my shirt off during the day. Fortunately sleep came easily despite the soreness and the rocking of the boat. Most folk slept up on deck being unable to face the enclosure and heat of the cabin.
We went snorkelling before breakfast and saw more colourful coral and fish. Darren threw in bread so that the fish would rush in to grab some. They were supposed to feed from your hand but when I saw their teeth I decided just to let them have it.
After breakfast we left Dumbell Island for Tongue Point where we stopped for more snorkelling and a walk up Tongue Point to the lookout on the other side of the headland. My sunburn and the cool breeze on the boat made me switch to jeans for the trip but then the sun came out and as we climbed the steep headland I wished that I had stayed in shorts. The view from the top made the sweating worthwhile.
We sailed to Esk Island but the currents were too strong for snorkelling so we just had lunch.
A short sail took us to Whitehaven beach with its long wide strip of pure, white, fine sand. There were a few other boats moored in Whitehaven Bay and a few helicopters landed on the beach but it was so long that it felt like we had it to ourselves. I built a sand castle to defend our section of the beach and then hid under a blanket to prevent further burning. The Providence V was moored by Lagoon Rock so we snorkeled by the coral there before heading off to Cateran bay on Border island for our overnight stop. After the sun went down the stars shone clearly in the cloudless sky and I counted three satellites ambling by without even trying.
The crew provided another excellent meal of rice, chicken and stir-fried vegetables which we ate by the light of hurricane lamps.
A few brave souls stayed up on deck strumming the guitar and singing sailing shanties or some such until the late hour of 11 pm or so.
Despite having slapped on loads of sun screen, a T-shirt and stayed in the shade, my back was even more burnt than last night but the rocking of the boat was more gentle so I soon fell asleep to dream of mermaids.
I skipped the morning swim not wanting to drag a damp wet suit past my sore back but I went ashore after breakfast to climb across Border island through the Grass Trees to the view point on the other side. The view of the boat in Cateran Bay could have been taken from a holiday brochure and was distinctly better than the view point.
From there we embarked upon the long haul under power back to Airlie Beach not even stopping while we ate lunch.
There are a few other boats about but none of them quite as elegant as our Schooner. The skipper tried sailing by wind alone but our headway against the tide was painfully slow. A few people jumped over and swam leisurely by the side of the boat.
I never got to climb the rigging preferring to hide in the shade away from the fierce sun but I am sure I will make it one day.
We enjoyed the trip so much we decided that we would do more sailing in the summer months back home.
Back in Airlie Beach we checked back into Koalas Resort which, although not a bad place, was a bit loud for our liking. Dinner was pizza on the beach again, a far cry from the meals served on the boat.
At last a relaxing day with no early rise and nothing pressing to do. Breakfast took most of the morning and shopping took most of the afternoon. Dinner was a really nice risotto at a little beach front restaurant.
Back on the bus at 7 am for a journey through more sugar cane plantations and on into mango orchards. The land is still perfectly flat for miles around with the occasional bump and the Great Dividing Range still off in the distance to the left. The sugar cane farmers run the largest privately owned railway in the world to convey the cane from the fields to the refinery. We cross many bridges over dry river beds. Often the only greenery is the sugar cane because it is watered by water cannons. That is probably where the river water has gone.
Finally we roll into Townsville where they crystallize salt from sea water and pile it up in heaps. It is not a bad town, having some character retained in some old buildings. We had planned to jump strait on the ferry to Magnetic Island but then we heard about Reef HQ, an aquarium containing examples of coral and tropical fish from the Barrier Reef. This we had to see so we stored our bags and walked round to it. Reef HQ turned out to be a wonderful place where we got to see views of the reef in greater detail than we ever would have by snorkelling or scuba diving. After a happy couple of hours we trekked off to the ferry for the short trip to Magnetic Island. As the ferry came close to the island we saw a nice little resort at the other end of a long beach from the ferry terminal and would never have believed that would be the one we had booked. We were driven by an entertaining but mad old coot to Base hostel accompanied by his train whistle noises and commentary spoken into an unplugged microphone.
Once installed in our lavish wooden A-Frame log cabin overlooking the beach we set out for a swim in the sea. We were joined by Ingrid and Anna, (two Swedish girls we had travelled on the bus with) for a good splash about but they skipped the run along the beach. Dinner was not half bad and we did not complain about the free jug of cocktails either.
Later on we were lulled to sleep by the sound of the sea lapping against the rocks outside our cabin.
After a hearty breakfast and a good old chat to many of the friends we had made on the boat trip, we set out, somewhat late, for a hike to Hawkings Point lookout on the nearby headland. Just for fun we made a deviation to another lookout point on the way, then stopped to pick up some lunch in Picnic Bay village (no, seriously) before we even started the path to the lookout. It was not a difficult climb but it was so hot that we stopped for lunch in the shade of an outcrop of rock. The view from the lookout was worth the effort and there was a stiff, warm but cooling breeze that made you temporarily forget about the sun burning your skin.
Back down in Picnic bay we stop for coffee and a stroll along the beach. It is so nice not to be in a hurry but just to relax and enjoy where we are. We would stay another couple of days if we could.
As we hike back over the headland to Rocky Bay and our hostel the clouds darken, thunder rolls in from afar and lightening flashes in the distance. Soon enough a few spots of rain help to cool us a little. This will be a welcome sign of rains to come at the arid farms up and down the coast.
By the time we get back to our cabin the rain has stopped and the sun has gone down behind the island which spells the perfect time for a swim in the sea. About 10 m out there is supposed to be coral but it does not look like the best, bright colourful stuff so I think we have not missed out on not hiring snorkels for the day. We finish off our exercise for the day with a 1.5 km jog along the beach and back as the sun sets fully behind the island.
We round the evening off with weak Thai curry, weak cocktails but stimulating conversation from our old Canadian shipmates and an English couple new to the island.
We were up at 6 am to see the sun rise over Australia over the sea then a quick ride to the ferry terminal for our 7:10 ferry ride back to the mainland. Soon enough we were back on the Oz bus heading north again, this time the sugar cane gave way to banana plantations. In between the forests changed to the rain forest variety.
We stopped off briefly in Mission Beach (which lost its mission years ago to a hurricane) then carried on to Innisfail for lunch. Just outside Innisfail we stopped at the Johnston River Crocodile Farm to see the lethargic crocodiles perform for snacks. In another pen were a couple of
Just outside Cairns we stopped at A.J.Hackett's bungy jumping emporium to sip coffee while watching the Lemmings jump from a perfectly serviceable raised platform. There was also a free sausage in a bun which we ate while viewing the rainforest, behind the blur of falling bodies.
After dinner we went for a walk along the Esplanade. This must be a new addition to Cairns because friends who have been here in the past said that the sea-front is rubbish. What they have done is to build a shiny new beach-front area with swimming pools, boardwalks, flowerbeds and even a strip of sand down to the mud flats. It all creates a rather nice if unnatural setting providing us with a wonderful evening stroll.
Down in the city centre we pick up a bus out to Skyrail. This seems to be another new attraction to Cairns that is very well worth doing. It is a 7.5 km cable-car ride up into the hills behind Cairns and the rainforest that covers it. There are two stop off points where you can walk on paths and boardwalks a little way into the forest. Occasional guides tell you a little about the rainforest and the uses the Aborigines used to put the plants to. You can't get more clean and convenient than this for a walk in the rainforest. The view from the gondola is fantastic as it sweeps down low over the treetops. Is is said that you can spot reptiles sunbathing in the nest ferns and even the odd Cassowary but not surprisingly we saw neither.
Skyrail passes over the Barron river, gorge and waterfall providing spectacular views but all too soon we reach Kuranda and have to get off. Kuranda seems just to be full of souvenir shops and cafes so we head for the bus stop and find a $2 bus ride back to Cairns.
We caught the 8:30 ferry for a 45 minute ride over to Fitzroy Island. It is only a small place but it is a National Park and very beautiful so it is good we managed to see it before they build the planned 150 apartment hotel.
First off we trekked through the rainforest to the 'Secret Garden'. There was a great deal of rustling in the dry leaves off to each side of the path and this turned out to be Major Skinks or Red Sided Skinks (little lizard things). Occasionally we saw Orange-footed Scrubfowl scratching about for fallen fruit to eat. It was nice and cool in the forest compared to the burning heat on the beach but it was still quite humid. Although many colourful tropical plants are cultivated you hardly ever see any in the wild so when we saw a fig tree in flower I thought I had better take a snap to prove its existence to any doubters out there.
Back out on the beach we hire a couple of mask, snorkel and fin sets and set off along the coast path to Nudey Beach to see the coral. The beach is made up of broken bits of dead coral but in the water is a live and colourful reef for us to explore. Blue lipped clams, embedded in what appears to be rock, but probably isn't, close up as I approach. Elsewhere in the same 'rock', what appear to be little coloured paintbrushes in blue, red, green, orange and white, disappear as my presence is felt. The coral comes in many colours and shapes. The names they have been given usually reflect what they look like; branch, plate, brain, they are many and wonderful.
We became so engrossed that we almost missed our prepaid lunch. Upon reflection we should have booked the ferry only for $35 rather than the day trip that included the lunch and glass bottom boat trip.
After failing to finish the lunch we dashed to the beach to jump on the glass-bottomed boat trip. We did not see so much of the coral and fish as when we were snorkelling but the commentary was worth it.
Afterwards we walked along the beach in the other direction for a further spot of snorkelling. This spot proved to have less coral but many more fish. I managed to find a small shark hiding under a large coral mascarading as a rock but it would not come out to play. We spotted a Ray briefly as it shyly darted away and Tracy spotted a Turtle which hung conveniently around and let us watch it for ages. A long thin fish persistently swam above the Turtle. I figured that it was using it for cover for I saw it dart out once, presumably to catch some unwary prey.
All too soon it was time to catch the ferry back to Cairns but the ride was scenic as we rode the top deck into the setting sun.
We did not expect much of Cairns but it turned out to be a great place, as did all of Australia. The huge traveling between places of interest got us down occasionally but on the whole it was well worth the effort. The only downer I can think of is that the Australian beer is tasteless and full of bubbles. The only saving grace is Coopers who do a good, tasty Stout. Tooheys Old Black is almost worth drinking.
For our last evening in Cairns and indeed, Australia, we relaxed in the YHA jacuzzi and drank Coopers Stout.
Not much to do today except drink coffee, stare at Cairns for the last time and wait for our flight to Japan. It was a bit surprising to find that there is no public transport to the airport but after lots of searching we managed to find a private bus to pick us up from the YHA.
As the airplane turns east out of Cairns airport we fly over the barrier reef which shows up distinctly as light blue green patches in the deep blue sea. It is good that we managed to see it from the air because we never managed to see a Cay up close, just the coral around islands which we figured would be much the same. Further north we pass over Port Moresby where the cloud formations are quite dramatic if not turbulent.
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