After a relaxing breakfast we decided to pack up and move from Miowera, heading down the Bruce Highway we turned off travelling through farmland over a small creek (with a pull off road that looked like a good campsite for the night) to the Hideaway Bay Road. Our first stop was past Hideaway Bay to the end of the point at a resort called Montes for coffee and cake. It was Julie's mum's birthday, she would have been 75, so Julie was a bit sad. The view from our beachside table was superb and the weather was fantastic, although it was sure to rain on us sometime today, it always rains on us wherever we are on Julie's mum's birthday, always…
As we were leaving Julie took a fancy to the seafood pasta on the dinner menu so Glen booked us In for dinner at the same table by the beach. Julie deserved a bit of spoiling.
We decided to have a swim at Dingo Beach and spent the majority of the day there before having a short walk on Hideaway Beach and making our way to Montes for sunset and a stroll along the beach before dinner. They'd moved our table back under cover because they thought it was going to rain, but we got them to move it back out next to the beach as we were pretty sure we wouldn't get rain before dinner was finished. We had a lovely dinner, although they serve their wine in cheap pub glasses which is totally out of keeping with the quality of the flatware and the food.
On the short drive from the restaurant to the creek it began to rain. Julie's mum never fails us. We set up the camper in the dark and a light rain yet by morning the canvas was dry.
After a short drive we arrived at the Airlie Beach Markets. Got some bargains in fruit and vegetables some rosella jam and a latte but by this time, about 8:30am, Glen was baking so we made our way to The Lagoon, the free man made swim lagoon, and cooled off with a swim before wandering the town. We got some information on some tours, went away for a little while, settled on a snorkelling tour for the next day and tried to book but it was now full, so we chose another company, Ocean Rafting.
On booking in at Flametree CVP we learned of deals with Whitsunday Cruises but even with the benefit of hindsight I'm glad we went with Ocean Rafting for the inner reef. We were both going to do an introductory scuba dive and the CVP owner said it was best to dive on the outer reef. We booked our outer reef tour through the CVP and got a free transfer to Hamilton Island worth $120pp thrown in. We set up and hit the pool. Saturday evening at Flametree they have a get together to relax and raise money for charity. We arrived at 5:30 with drink and chair and the finger food started coming around and the music started. After a few wines some of the ladies got up to dance. We hadn't realised it was instead of dinner so we went back to cook while the residents partied on.
Next morning we were picked up and taken to the marina, issued with stinger suits and allocated a boat - Jammin'. We chose the Northern Tour which had 2 snorkel sites and Whitehaven Beach for lunch. At the first stop, Manta Ray Bay, Glen was first over the side and was met with wall to wall fish including some large bat fish, giant trevally and wrasse. We were in the water for almost an hour and Glen was the last one out. At 25 degrees the water was lovely. The second site was one they don't get into often as it's rare conditions are favourable. Today was perfect weather. Sunny and still with no swell. At Mackerel Bay there weren't quite as many fish but more coral and a turtle. Once we alerted everyone to where the turtle was we left them to it as we'd swum with turtles in WA and 18 people following a single turtle is better than 20. in spite of the stinger suit Julie ended up with a jellyfish sting on her neck. A bit painful and annoying but luckily not one of the bad ones. After an hour it was back aboard the boat and after a short ride we arrived at Tongue Bay for the walk up the Hill Inlet Lookout over Whitehaven Beach. Most tours came down the same way but Ocean Rafting has 3 of the 4 licences to land on Whitehaven so we walked down to the beach for a lovely lunch and swam in the clear water over the pure white sand.
While none of the day felt rushed it was soon time to go and on the way back the drivers had bit of a play over each other's wake and came close side by side. Lamingtons were served for afternoon tea and this was new to the British guys on board who had no idea the Aussie icon they had received. When we got back to the CVP we went for a drive. We drove to Shute Harbour and the dock and found where we needed to be at 7am the following day. With the inner reef being so good we couldn't wait for the outer reef.
At 7am we parked at the dock and went inside to find something more like an airport check in than a wharf. There were two airport check in counters complete with the scale and conveyors that go out through the wall. We checked in and booked our times for Hamilton Island the following day. We boarded the Seaflight which picked up more passengers at Hamilton Island and we were soon headed out to Hart Reef and the pontoon moored there - Reef World. Glen had taken his sea sick tablet but it was another perfect day with glass seas and no wind, even two hours out to sea at the Reef. On the trip out we booked in for a scuba dive and of course a helicopter flight over Heart Reef. Our first dive briefing was done as we were still travelling out and we learned the hand signals we would need. As we were pretty booked up as soon as we arrived we orientated ourselves as to where the various things were, checked out the under-water observatory then suited up and got straight in for a snorkel. The water was a pleasant 26 degrees but today we were in wetsuits rather than stinger suits because we were scuba diving later. Keeping an eye on the time we worked our way along the reef and back again enjoying the wider variety of fish and coral than we saw at the inner reef. Back at the pontoon we had to strip out of the wetsuits and dry off as all of the food was on Seaflight. Lunch was a smorgasbord with seafood, chicken and a variety of salads, fresh bread or wraps. With no time to eat our plates were covered in glad wrap, our names written on them and they were put in the fridge for us. Back on the pontoon we had a little time to kill and watched the 2-3m gropers sitting like docked submarines under the pontoon before pulling on the wet wetsuits and fronting the dive master. It was warm so none of the usual discomfort many of you associate with pulling on a wet wetsuit for that first ski after it's been outside all night from the previous afternoon of water skiing. Julie was very nervous but the instructors were very reassuring. There was one instructor to each diver and we had weight belts put on before sitting on a bench while the tanks were strapped to our backs. Obligatory photos were taken and we were then escorted down the stairs to a waist deep "pool" consisting of a floor and three walls of aluminium mesh. We were shown how to breathe and equalise the pressure in our ears then proved we were ok and not going to freak out by putting our heads under then kneeling on the bottom for a couple of minutes. That test passed the three of us were allowed to the edge where the instructor took our arm and swam us just below the surface out from under the pontoon, past the under-water observatory to the edge of the reef returning the OK sign every minute or so as we slowly descended. Julie and her instructor were in front, then the other guy and Glen was last. The tanks which were so heavy on land felt like nothing in the water and at first it wasn't much different to snorkelling but as we descended the light changed and so did what we saw. The coral wasn't as colourful but the fish were bigger. We could see under the ledges and realised what we'd been missing by floating about on the surface all these years. The feeling of air bubbles over our ears as we breathed out was a weird sensation and looking up it looked like we were such a long way down. Much deeper than the 11 foot 6 deep end at Revesby Pool where Glen and his friends would prove themselves by touching the bottom and all without the excruciating pain in the ears. Pretty soon we were joined by Taylor, the underwater photographer, and her entourage of tens of fish including a large wrasse who doesn't mind a pat as long as Taylor feeds it every now and then. With no rush to the surface for air Glen and his instructor could pause and watch the amorous advances of a cod on his intended wife and watch another fish's spots turn brighter blue as we slowly approached before it darted off to devour a smaller fish. We did four passes of the coral wall at different depths then swam back to our entry pool past the 20 or so 1m long giant trevally who were enjoying a rest in the shade of the pontoon. Julie loved it and her apprehension vanished as soon as she hit the water. You can see from the photos and the smile on her face just how much she loved the experience.
Speaking of love it was now time to see the most romantic place in all the world… OK maybe that’s a stretch but it was almost time for our helicopter joy flight over heart reef. Unlike Horizontal Falls and on the Outback Floatplane Experience the helipad wasn't attached to the main pontoon so it was a short boat ride to another pontoon. We'd been talking to two sisters on the boat ride out in the morning and they were on our helicopter flight. Mary wasn't keen to do this but was making the effort however she didn't want the front seat offered to them. We generously offered to swap so they could sit in the back seat and she wouldn't even have to endure a window seat. We ended up in the front with the pilot and a clear view all around. I know, the sacrifices you make so others are comfortable! Maybe it truly is lucky to be pooped on by a bird as earlier in the day Julie got christened by a gull. The other couple on our flight wanted the front seat too but they were already seated so it was offered to us.
We were told by the pilot that the Heart Reef was a little smaller than most people expect, and it did seem small from the air but the manta ray swimming close by was just a speck in comparison so we aren't sure how big it really is. Suffice to say it was big enough to see and we were stoked to see it in real life after all the pictures we've seen of it over the last few years. Our deckie from Ocean Rafting told us that Whitehaven Beach is the second most photographed spot in the country behind Sydney Harbour yet when Julie's photos of Whitehaven hit Facebook few had even seen it before or at least few recognised it. Perhaps it's partly because it looks slightly different after every tide and partly because when you get down to it it's a white beach that could be anywhere. It's not instantly recognisable like Wineglass Bay in Tassie or indeed Heart Reef or the Harbour Bridge. Heart Reef may not get the visitors to make it the most photographed but everyone recognises it. Wonder how many knew it is just a 2 hour boat and 5 minute helicopter ride from Port of Airlie… We could not have asked for any better. We had perfect weather with blue sky and no wind and we had the uninterrupted view from the front seat. Julie rates it as one of the great moments of the trip but Glen isn't asking where the kiss from Outback Wrangler Matt Wright fits in… Postscript - the young lady in the front of the helicopter when he flew in to kiss Julie we have recently seen in a "popular women's magazine" as being Matt's fiancée. Our congratulations to them both.
Anyway back to our highlight day… Our next activity was to catch the last semi-submersible boat tour of the day. Basically it's a glass bottom boat on steroids and while every other trip it has done that day averaged 30 passengers we had 6. I'm not sure how it is propelled or steered so accurately but it makes its way along the reef wall from the snorkel limit for about 100m. It is able to skim centimetres from the coral and we have the benefit of a guide telling us what we are seeing. Julie spotted the one and only turtle they'd seen all day. Back at the pontoon it was straight up the gangplank back onto Seaflight for the trip back to Airlie, leaving only the 9 doing the reef sleep and crew on the pontoon - (we are so doing the reef sleep next time, they spend two days and one night on the pontoon and the weather for those two days was as perfect as you could get, and yes there will be a next time, family in tow we hope). We were given our lunches and soon the photos of the day were being shown on the screens. Prices were great if there were 5 of you but tended to be on the expensive side if you just wanted one or two shots, still we'd paid for the trip, scuba and helicopter so we could hardly quibble and bought 5 photos which came with 100 general reef shots which admittedly we'll probably never look at again. You can imagine the trip back in the afternoon past some of the Whitsunday islands with no wind and smooth seas and then they served muffins! To Glen this was bliss.
That evening on returning to the dock we decided to go for a drive and ended up at The Lagoon. We swam around for a while and asked the lifeguard what time it was open till. She said "I know you, you teach at Moorebank" Yep, Glen had run into an ex Moorebank student, Jessica Simmonds. Of course he couldn't place her at the time and it came to him later. She'd been there for 3 years and we'd come across her on her first shift as lifeguard at The Lagoon. Her day job is in IGA. Remarkably brave these young people who settle thousands of kilometres from their family. You have to admire them.
The next day it was back to the marina and we boarded a boat for Hamilton Island which picked up and set down at Daydream island on the way. Arriving at Hamilton we explored the shops at the port including the artist at the far end of the beach which had some absolutely incredible stuff, much of it in cast marble - you can buy instructional DVDs of the technique. One thing you notice on Hamilton Island is the golf carts. There are hundreds. We chose the free shuttle bus to get around and our first stop was One Tree Hill with it's views of the surrounding islands and it overlooks the Resort area. That's where we went next and pulled up a couple of deck chairs by the pool. It was evident pretty quickly that this is the bogan island, albeit rich bogans but bogans none the less. Of course not all were bogans but there were enough to keep us entertained. There were a nice family where the brothers, one wearing VFL shorts as swimmers were chucking a wahoo footy around. Glen wanted to join them.. They were there with mum, dad and sister. The group next to us were "destination wedding" where it appeared the brother in law was going to absolutely cop it from his wife later. Their child was tired, we assume they'd already had to check out of their room and he went off with his mates leaving wife and child even when asked not to. The groom played with the kid and helped out the mum. Later when the dad returned we were surprised the pool didn't turn into an ice rink - in our humble opinion he deserved it.. The most intriguing group we would pick as being from Punchbowl. A single girl arrived first dropped her towel and revealed her bikini bottoms were inside out. You'd just love to tell her but how could we? No worries she spies her friends and over come a couple, let's call them Lebanese Christian as that's probably the closest stereotype. He with his board short legs tucked up to stubby length jumps in the pool and heads for the pool bar making a loud show of getting them a drink. She is asked by bikini girl to put sunscreen on her back - phew she'll get told now, but no she vaguely rubs a bit of sunscreen on and doesn't notice a 100mm white tag flying out on the back of a black bikini bottom! Seriously? It appears the couple are still smashed from the night before and are continuing. He sits on the side of the pool drinking and chatting to bikini girl as his girlfriend stands in the pool drinking. Bikini girl has only just met them by the sound of his conversation, which everyone could hear. He then tells his girlfriend to jump out and give him the bag. An elderly couple take pity on the girl and give him the bag from which he takes cigarettes and lights up under the no smoking in the pool area sign. Finishing his cigarette he leaves the butt in the dregs of his drink on the very edge of the pool and they leave a towel on their deck chair to reserve their spot. As the elderly couple leave the gentleman picks up the glass with the floating butt and puts it on Neanderthal's deck chair. We then went for a walk along Catseye Beach and unfortunately missed the trio's return. Wonder what he made of the glass on his seat? I hope it wasn't picked up before he saw it. Bikini girl wasn't drinking but the couple were downing cocktails standing in the water with him talking loudly the whole time. At one stage he makes a big show of taking his credit card to the bar to get more drinks, spends ages trying to impress the barman then comes back with his own drink and apologises for forgetting to get a drink for her. She goes to bar while he chats to bikini girl. Along come 5 early 20s people of Indian appearance and they don goggles. All 5 stand in the chest deep water and four of them then seem to try to touch the bottom with their hands while the skinny guy wearing glasses and holding his phone in a plastic pouch takes video of the attempts. One girl finally does a passable duck dive and tries to teach the others who continue to basically splash on top of the water. Really nice watching them have such a good time with lots of splashing and laughing. At this point balding old guy and his younger companion get back into the pool for a final swim before they catch the boat back to the mainland. He begins a game of tip. Glen actually beat Julie this time.
We walked the short walk over the hill to the dock and bought an ice cream - they need a retail assistant… there are worse places to work… With time to spare we went into Trader Joes and found prices very high. Even the newspapers and magazines had a 50c island markup. As we sailed back to Airlie it was pretty clear to us we aren't resort people as even with people watching the day was pretty boring.
We'd stayed an extra day at Flametree CVP because of our free trip to Hamilton and much to Glen's surprise it was Wednesday and the mozzies and midgies were being fogged this morning. Glen could have sworn it was Thursday so the fogging would have been done yesterday. Between ducking the clouds of pesticide we had breakfast and packed up then restocked on the way out of town headed for Cedar Falls for lunch then Cape Hillsborough. Glen's faith in the GPS took another beating as since it was getting late we decided to check out the free camp first. The GPS said Cape Hillsborough was just 1.5km down the road. Turns out the road was a 4WD track with big wash outs and ended on a beach. No worries we'll put it in 4WD. The end of the beach was miles from the National Park we thought we were going to so after getting stuck we let the tyres down a bit and were able to get off the beach, back up the track and onto the road out to the national park. There was supposed to be kangaroo feeding on the beach but we either missed it or it didn't happen so after checking out the rest of the beach and the CVP we had dinner in the park then headed back to set up camp in the dark.
The next day it was into Mackay and we got the long awaited second season of Outlander from JB HiFi and had a swim at the Blue Lagoon before having a drink at the Eimio Hotel overlooking the beach and ticking it off from our Top 101 Beaches book. We intended to spend the night at Eungella National Park. The drive from the valley floor is 4km of steep climb and once again the car got so hot we had to stop half way up. While trying to cool the car we lifted the bonnet and found that the air con belt was off. After all the money we spent getting it fixed at Mareeba! Since it was now dark we went to the Broken River campground as it was the most accessible. We saw 3 or 4 fireflies, much bigger than the one Glen saw at Wallaman Falls. That night there was a spectacular and prolonged lightning storm which dropped a little rain but it was soon over. Camped right next to the river next morning we could see a platypus from our campsite. After breakfast we went for a walk along some of the trails and ended up seeing lots of turtles and a few birds we hadn't seen before. We came across a large pool in the river and saw a platypus there so we were able to watch it feeding for 40 minutes or so, getting some great shots, before Glen got hungry and we went back for lunch. Glen checked the car and found the driving pulley for the air con had come off -later identified as the harmonic balancer. It seemed to be stuck on with rubber. A bit more platypus watching in the afternoon then some Outlander watching in the evening. Only one firefly tonight. Spent a fairly quiet day around camp catching up the next day and we had a little bit of rain around lunch. Again only the single firefly that night.
Packed up the next day and explored the area and the campsite only accessible by 4wd which looked great. If we'd come in the daylight we would have stopped there, but speaking to campers they hadn't seen a single platypus and we would have missed out on that special experience. The Sky Window Lookout is so high and looks out over a flat valley floor. Very impressive.
We drove down the mountain towards Finch Hatton Gorge.
After putting up the camper in the dark and the rain in Townsville's Rowes Bay Beachfront Holiday Park we went out immediately to see some sights. The Strand was close by so we did mainies in the 80 (translation: we drove up and down the main street in our car) before deciding on the pub for dinner. Being a wet Sunday night there were a few people about and it took us a while to find a parking spot. Good meal, good beer and we were soon headed home.
We woke to our first morning in Townsville and it was warm and sunny. Luckily about the sunny part as we have no way to charge the camper off 240V so we were relying on solar panels. We needed to do some washing but once that was on the line we set off exploring the town Glen spent a weekend in a couple of years ago thanks to the AFL. Ever since then Glen and Ashley have been unable to mention Townsville or Magnetic Island to Julie. Not for much longer as soon Julie would be on Magnetic Island and all will be forgiven!
First stop was the lookout at Castle Hill. It's only 265m high but because everything is so flat you get an excellent view of the city and the island just 7km off shore. It was certainly easier driving up than walking as Glen had done last time. Back to The Strand and lunch (prawns and fresh bread rolls by the water) a walk along the boardwalk, ticking off another Top 101 Beach on the way to Juliette's Gelato and Coffee. We enjoyed 2 scoops each and a latte overlooking the ocean, Magnetic Island and a turtle in the water. Because of the stingers lots of towns have man made lagoons to swim in and Townsville is no exception. We went for a walk around what they call the Rock Pool. We found a lost ball in the water…thank you we'll have that to play with and of course Glen had a go on the flying fox and spinning pole in the kids playground then we played handball with our new toy, Julie winning every game. We even played with the ball on the long walk back to the car. On the way back to the CVP Glen stopped the car and had another climb on the kids playground. At the CVP we hit the pool, which we had to ourselves, a BBQ dinner then a movie on the computer rounded off a great day.
MI Day dawned sunny and bright and we packed light and headed for the wharf. Just enough time for a coffee to be made and we took it up to the fly bridge for the 20min trip to Magnetic Island. We chose the bus ticket with our ferry ticket rather than the topless hire car and when we arrived jumped on the bus headed west for a 10 minute stop over at Picnic Bay. At the advice of a local our next stop was the opposite end of the island at Horseshoe Bay because it was supposedly the best place for lunch options and the bus also has a lunch break so we were going to be stranded wherever we went for an hour and a half. We went for a swim at the beach and they were getting ready to put out the stinger nets. After our swim in murky thigh deep water we went across the road to check out this variety of choices for lunch. Somebody forgot to tell the local that Tuesday is when almost every eatery in Horseshoe Bay is closed. Pub it is then…
After lunch we went back to our towels at the beach but they were winching the nets in place so while we waited we were chatting to a lady from a boat moored in the bay. 7 years sailing around, tiny fuel bill due to sail and no caravan park fees. Too bad Glen gets sea sick. She told us about 3 days in 100km/h wind and 25m seas and that was pretty much it. The bus came so we caught it to Alma Bay. Could have spent all day in the water here. Clean, warm and a small wave. All too soon it was time to head back. What a great day we had.
We left Townsville the next day headed inland. Our first stop was the lookout at Mount Stuart. Stupidly Glen started the 10km climb with the air conditioner on and the car got really hot - 103 degrees C. We don't know if the viscous hub fan is working properly as sitting still with the engine revving lightly didn't cool it at all. We needed to lift the bonnet as well and then it cooled quickly. We continued up the tared road marvelling at the downhill mountain bike tracks on either side of the road. As a council maintained facility it must be a legal nightmare as the steepness, jumps and sheer drop offs had us in awe of anyone who could ride it. From the top it was an amazing view.
Driving further along the Flinders Highway we stopped at a rest area for lunch and discovered a 1 cent piece from 1967 that someone had obviously found on the ground there. It surprises Glen when we come cross things on the ground that have been there for years. It's not that unusual to come across the old ring pulls from cans, some even with the tab still attached to the ring part. All the things that just got thrown away over the years that will be there still long after we are dead and buried. Camped at a free camp called Macrossan Park outside Charters Towers. The council roadside rest areas seem to be more important for towns now and while this one was fairly old (and according to an ex-local who is now on the road but was camped there is no longer maintained as it once was with extensive mown grass by the river. It's just weeds and toilet paper down there now so travellers too lazy to do the right thing, even though there is a toilet and showers provided, are partly responsible) and set up for travellers who didn't make it into town today's overnight rest areas are right next to the town as they know people who aren't spending big on accommodation spend more in the town and the town survives. Babinda is a case in point. There is an excellent free camp right on the highway at the town turn off. $4 coin in the slot hot showers, choice of grass or tar to set up on, the river is great for a swim.
so lots of people every night. Since you need to drive through town to go to their only attraction, Babinda Boulders, many would stop and spend money on something in town. Even if they don't go to the Boulders at least they got them to stop at the turn off to the town. It's only a short walk to the pub too. Many of these also have fire places or free electric barbeques and power points available. Anyway back to our immediate travels…
We stopped in Charters Towers for a coffee and a wee. Impressively restored old buildings including Target Country in the old Stan Pollard Mercer and Draper building with it's lead light walk around display cabinets out front and the ornate awning with skylights. Stan obviously wasn't short of a quid as that was only one of Stan's businesses. His name appeared all over the place around town. On our way out of town we passed a sign for windscreen repairs and not 100m further down the road a council lawn mower threw a rock and we ended up with a large chip in our windscreen. All the kilometres we've travelled on dirt and not an issue then we do one on the tar. Turned back but the windscreen place couldn't repair it (chip too big) and didn't have our windscreen in stock.
On the way to Winton we detoured to Porcupine Gorge and spent the night there then in the morning Glen flew the drone into the gorge before we walked it and had a swim at the bottom. There were some pretty big fish there. Into Winton that afternoon and camped at a free camp called Long Waterhole. Glen changed the oil and topped up the grease on the trailer bearings. The flies were pretty bad until sunset but at night there were millions of little green bugs attracted to our light. Didn't matter if it was white, yellow, red, green, or citronella candle light they flocked to it and we ended up retreating inside pretty early - some bugs made it inside with us. Next morning the flies relieved the green bugs by reporting for their shift at sunrise so we could be bothered by bugs continuously.
As we were doing the dinosaur stampede tracks and it was an hour and a half each way down the road we were on we were in two minds about whether to stay another night but ended up packing up and doing a lap of the town before heading out. The Lark Quarry Conservation Park has fossilised tracks of over 300 dinosaurs. The tracks were all made within a few minutes and show two species of small dinosaur trying to escape from one large dinosaur. Incredible to see these tracks from a moment in time some 95 million years before. Had a swim in a dam on the way back then camped by the road between Winton and Longreach. The night bugs there were the little green bugs from last night and a larger grey beetle kind of thing. They were everywhere. You couldn't even use the toilet the next day because they were everywhere in there. They were all over the bowl and where the water flushes into the urinal they were caked 2 cm deep on top of each other in a 15cm triangle. It was gross.
Into Longreach and we were wondering what all the chairs were doing lined up outside the railway station as we drove to the Qantas Founders Museum. Inside we had a latte as we decided what level of tour we would do. Deciding on the guided tour of the 707 (which was their first 707 and once ferried Michael Jackson) and the 747 that they have parked there as well as the self-guided museum tour. Going through the planes actually turned out to be really interesting and informative and I think next time we fly will be a bit more clued up about the aircraft and even know what arm and cross check the doors actually means. We also found out why the chairs were out - after 100 years of operation they were finally officially opening the railway station. Also that afternoon at 3 they were having a street parade and a market. After lunch we lined up with the 80 or so people lining the main street to watch half a dozen groups walk or drive down the street. Some were throwing lollies to the people. Far more lollies than people. Not much at the markets either. Spent the night at the Lions Park free camp near town and spent most of the next day at the pool swimming, catching up on some writing and had a hot shower before placing a few bets for tomorrow's Melbourne Cup and setting out for Barcaldine and the Tree of Knowledge. Sadly we hit a roo at dusk. Broke a blinker on the bullbar but the roo died instantly.
Barcaldine, or Barky as the locals know it, has a monument to the shearers and The Tree of Knowledge and The Australian Workers Heritage Centre. The Tree of Knowledge was where Shearers formed a union and after a big strike were the union leaders were gaoled the Labor Party was formed. The actual tree was poisoned in 1992 - how stupid are some people, probably the same type of idiot that had removed the names of the politicians from a brass plaque at a rest area commemorating the tarring of the road over the mountains near there. Lot of work to try to remove raised brass letters and you could still work out it was Joh's name anyway. The tree monument is now far more moving than a single old tree and extensively visited so it's probably exactly the opposite effect from that intended by the moron who poisoned it.
The monument consists of the remains of the trunk and above is a sculpture made up of thousands of pieces of wood that leave a negative space where the tree once was. So worth a visit at night to get the full effect.
Barcaldine also earns our respect as a town with the most pubs in the shortest distance, excluding The Rocks. In just 300m there were 5 pubs. Not bad with a population of under 1000 from the looks of it. Set up as the rain started at a free camp and checked out the weather. Thunderstorms lasting 3 days over the outback dirt roads we intended to travel on. We had to change our route as we had experienced what a little rain can do to outback roads and it may have been foolish to travel the roads with the amount of rain we saw on the radar and forecasts of plenty more of the same.
Bright sunshine and dry canvas the next day but the weather app was still predicting bad weather over our route. We went into Barky only to find it was a local public holiday and not even the Visitor Information Centre was open. With almost 2 hours to kill until the Australian Workers Heritage Centre opened we decided to cut our losses and head to our new destination of Emerald.
Lobbed at the Emerald Hotel in time for the running of the 2016 Melbourne Cup - the race for the trophy we held during our visit to Croydon. Obviously holding the cup gave us no insight as we didn't have a single win or place. Eli's ticket came closest with his Mystery Trifecta having the first and third horses correct but being 13 instead of 12 for the second place horse. Would have been worth about $15 so it wasn't a cry into your beer moment. The Emerald Botanic Gardens is that town's free camp. The tracks through here are extensive and would take a few hours to explore even on a bike. Wonderful asset.
Still hot and dry with none of the forecast rain so we headed up the Gregory Development Road and across the Bowen Development Road where we camped the night with the bugs. Rain around but none on us. Continuing on through Collinsville and past the coal mine we arrived at the coast at Bowen. Firstly Queens Beach then snorkelled at Greys Bay and Horseshoe Bay. Well Glen snorkelled and saw lots of large, colourful fish, Julie set up the inflatable lounge on the beach and read. Moving on we stayed at Miowera - $5 per head per night and for an extra $5 you get dinner. Pretty good set up really for a small slashed paddock with the highway on one side and the railway line on the other. Some of the backpackers were mowing, setting up the fire or helping to cook. There's only one toilet and it's in the same room as the shower but it all seems friendly and relaxed. There's even a dope plant in the vegie patch. We can't decide if we'll move on in the morning or use this as a base.
After being rained off The Creb Track the next day was sunny so we again packed up dry, watched over by a large goanna, and left The Lions Den. We paused at a bridge over the Annan River nearby as the water crashes through a narrow gorge. Julie wasn't feeling well so she didn't climb down as she usually would.
We were all driving to Mareeba and Ringer's Rest but we had a few things to get in town and needed to pop in to the mechanic. The plan was the car would go into the auto electrician on Tuesday and the mechanic Wednesday. The front tyre was wearing a bit uneven so we also made arrangements to have the wheel alignment done on Monday. Phil at Mareeba Auto Electrics was going to align our airconditioner (the fan belt driving it was at least a centimetre out and had been since it was put in shortly after we bought it) and fix it too. Sep, the mechanic, was going to find out why we had no auto adjustment on the rear shoes and consequently no hand brake and minimal stopping power.
At Ringer's Rest we set up in the paddock where the horses couldn't get in, Sandy and Simone had set up in the horse paddock. We hand fed the horses and cows (from our side of the fence) then cooked dinner on the hotplate at the communal firepit and met our fellow campers.
Next morning we were woken by Ted as Julie had expressed interest in seeing the hot air balloons that sometimes land in the horse paddock. There were 7 balloons in the air and 2 were landing.
After such an early start we decided that a trip to Coffee Works for coffee, chocolate and liqueur tasting and a visit to their coffee museum which was very interesting but even though we tried all the coffees, chocolates and liqueurs we couldn't get through all the pieces in the museum. As amazing as it was there was just too much to see in one go. No wonder they offer a free return visit! While we were in town we picked up some carrots for the horses who were very grateful.
Each morning at Ringer's we were greeted by balloons and horses. At least we weren't greeted while still in bed like Sandy and Simone with a skewbald mare peering in their door. Today is Saturday and we all went to the Mareeba Markets then the Mareeba Wetlands Reserve and finally to Golden Drop (mango) Winery. Incredible that the wetland was man made. The white liped tree frog from the toilet door was a favourite with the girls. They are actually reintroducing Gouldian finches into the wild with a good chance of success since they control such a large buffer zone. That evening we had a visit from a bandicoot and a betong.
On Sunday Sandy, Simone and the kids left Mareeba and we went for a drive towards Atherton and visited Galo's Dairy for cheese tasting and a latte (best tasting fetta!), the Curtain Fig, a number of waterfalls and Lake Escham. Amazing how less than 50km down the road it's lush and green but Mareeba is dry and brown. We also washed the car so it would be nice and cleanish for all the people working on it over the next few days. That night we were able to get a stand-by ticket on a hot air balloon ride for the next day. Dave, the owner of Ringer's Rest can get cheap flights for his guests so we need to be at the Info Centre in town by 4:30am.
We arrived in plenty of time and checked in. Julie got the passenger seat and Glen piled into the back of the Troopy with a number of other guys. Soon we were standing in a paddock in the dark as they sent up a helium balloon with a red led attached to test the wind. It was all good so we were walked to a safe place as the balloon was unloaded and the large fan inflator was started. Glen was glad he had jeans and a warm jumper as it was a bit cold, something we aren't used to. Once there was enough air inside the burners were used to warm the air and we were able to move around to take photos. The three balloons glowed in the pre-dawn light and petty much as they stood upright the coaches from Cairns, filled predonimantly with Asian tourists, arrived. They missed a pretty special part of the experience. There was just the two of us with our balloon but another 18 arrived making 20 plus the pilot for our flight. We were first into the air. It wasn't in the least frightening as the balloon was very stable. We flew over the horse paddock and could see our camper and a lady from a van near us but she didn't see us. We landed in the paddock across the road and all of us got to help pack the balloon into the bag ready for tomorrow. Our trip back into town was in the coach and once there we got a couple of lattes from the coffee van and headed back to the camper for breakfast.
When we went for the wheel alignment we learnt that when the Fun Truck was lifted by the previous owner they hadn't put in castor correction bushes and the tyres were wearing badly because our shock absorbers are too light for our larger tyres. We discovered that without the correct bushes the vehicle could tend to wander - yep it does, can he fit them? No they are in stock but he couldn't do it for a couple of weeks. A call to Sep and we arranged for him to fit the bushes. Later we went to the Skybury Coffee Plantaton where we saw a short film and saw nothing of the actual plantation because a couple of years ago they planted bananas and because of some disease nobody is allowed onto the farms in case they bring in the disease. Total waste of money going there.
On the way 'home' we detoured to Emerald Creek Falls. We didn't see the falls but had a lovely swim in the river. Julie even saw a snake in an adjoining pool but didn't freak out.
We spent a quiet day waiting for the car from the auto electrician but when we picked it up he found we have very little air flow and probably our evaporator was blocked. Never mind he'd work in with Sep.
The next day we'd arranged to hire a car and drive to Port Douglas. After it was already arranged Dave organised for us to have his sister's car for the following day. Although only $5 cheaper we had no worries about a $2500 excess and liability for any tyre or windscreen damage which is really no fault of the driver. Luckily we got neither in either car BUT driving out of Charters Towers we got a large chip in the Fun Truck windscreen from a council mower. We have unlimited free windscreen claims on our insurance policy. I would have been very annoyed if I'd had to pay for one in a hire car.
Port Douglas was OK but a bit too Gold Coasty/pretencious for us. We swam at the beach in our Top 101 Beaches but really it was just like Thailand with their little hired deck chairs in rows. The water was murky and of course there were no waves. It's better in a pool. On the way back (we went in a loop) we stopped in at Ellis Beach for a latte and the road and carpark were covered in fallen mangoes. Further down the coast we came to Palm Cove at sunset. This place we liked, at least at night. It seemed nice and everyone has an ocean view.
Returned the hire car the next day and drove to Tolga and Lake Tinaroo. Lovely coffee shop in Tolga (Sweet Moments) but the lake was almost dry and not worth the drive really. Pretty much just waited around for the Fun Truck to be ready and wasted all the next day as we didn't get it until after 5. All the stuff we wanted done was done and we are pretty confident it was done properly. The Fun Truck drives so much better with the new castor correction bushes its amazing.
Friday night we went to the drive in again but didn't stay the night this time.
Saturday we were booked on the Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyway. Of course it was raining there, they even got a bit in Mareeba while we were gone. Enjoyed the improved handling through the mountains to the railway station just north of Cairns.
We bought our tickets and waited for the train looking through the museum and trying to download the app on the free wifi. Couldn't do it so used our data to do it. On the train we found that they tell you everything the app does over the public address system so that was a waste. The train carriges are all old but have been refurbished. Ours was just done by the look of it as the seats were pristine. There were a number of sights along the way (if you want to find out more download the free app!) but the highlights would be just being in the rainforest and high above the plains to the coast and where the train turns on a trestle bridge with views along the train one side and waterfall the other. The train stops at Barron Falls Station for 10 minutes so you can see the falls then continues onto Kurandra.
Once there you basically walk up the couple of streets of shops - irony would be the aboriginal art gallery in a building shaped like the sailing ships that brought the British to invade their country, or visit the Rainforest Markets or the attractions like the Butterfly Farm, Bird Enclosure and wildlife park, of course at additional cost. Aboriginal kids were street performing traditional dances. Just mild drizzle all this time. We lunched at the French Patissire in the markets and decided to head down on the Skyway cable car earlier than our booked ticket.
Our view from the cable car was pretty much the cables and fog most of the way but we bet the view is stunning. Midway at Rainforest Station we got off and joined a tour along the boardwalk with a ranger. It was really interesting (and they supplied umbrellas) and we learnt a lot about the rainforest. On the cable car down we saw a little more than just fog, enough to tell that as good as it was up with the tree tops, frogs and birds a clear day would be even better. We returned home to find the camper as a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and enjoyed the music from the wedding at Ringers Rest that night. Ringers Rest is also a reception place and had 2 weddings while we were there. Great spot for it.
Sunday morning we went for a drive that Larry suggested through the rainforest and he was right it was totally worth it. Glad we didn't leave as planned. Beautiful. That afternoon we got ready to leave and the next day slowly packed up. All the stuff we took out of the car for it's week in the hospital had to go back in and really we weren't in any hurry to leave. Subconciously I think that it signified the start of us going home and we are having too much fun still. Julie made pumpkin damper from a pumpkin given to us and shared it with everyone at the campsite and Dave the owner.
Left late the next day and went to Cairns, swimming at The Lagoon then having dinner at the night markets, doing a bit of shopping and getting a massage... Yes, very Thailand like but nobody asking if we want to see a ping pong show. We then drove on to Babinda and free camped there the night. It was very late when we arrived.
Next morning we went up to Babinda Boulders and went on the Devil Pool Walk before having a swim. Lovely place, just keep the march flies from devouring you. That afternoon we drove on to Paronella Park, a must see. Jose Paronella, who built most of it in a short time, achieved amazing things.
Our entry to Paronella Park included a day tour, a night tour, a hydro electric tour and a powered campsite and a free return visit within 2 years so in reality was good value. After coming to Australia with nothing and earning his fortune by developing and selling farms Jose built the park pretty much by himself out of concrete he mixed himself. He had a ball room, picture theatre, picnic area, boating and the state's first hydro electric generator in 1933. He also planted lots of rainforest plants but died young. Super interesting story and place. Go there if you get the opportunity. We did all the tours and looked through the museum and really enjoyed our time there. One downer was that we fried the 240V battery charger on the camper. Big drama with Campomatic over that where they wanted us to pay over $400 for a charger we could get for $270. Miscommunication or something but they expected us to pay when we believed it was a warranty thing. Anyway after Glen's email we don't expect they'll want to do any more work on the camper.
Heading down the coast we stopped in at Kurrimine (Cowley Beach) and saw fig birds and a few other species then further down to Garners Beach, where we saw a large goanna on the rocks, Bingil Bay, Narragon Beach and Glen did the Bicton Hill Circuit Track with views out to Hinchinbrook Island before we eventually hit Mission Beach for an afternoon stroll at low tide and Glen went for a swim.
That night we set up camp watched over by a large cassowary at the Tully Showground. There were dozens of metallic starlings nesting in a tree near the giant gumboot where we had a shower the mext morning. Later we did the sugar cane mill tour. Glad I don't work there. Pretty hot, dusty and uncomfortable place but interesting to visit.
We visited Murray Falls on the way to Blencoe Falls - turns out it was a 2 hour drive there so we arrived at dusk :( Next morning after a visit to the falls we called National Parks to book another night and went for a 4wd explore of the campground when National parks rang us to tell us the campground had been closed due to a nearby fire. We told other campers because they hadn't registered and we drove 2 hours to Murray Falls and arrived at dusk and lit a campfire. The next day, day 300 on the road I think, after a swim and a fly of the drone we headed south and hit the spa pools (maybe if the creek was flowing) lunched at Cardwell and swam at 5 Mile Swimming Waterhole (aka creek). At Ingham we found we were close to the longest single drop waterfall in Australia so we drove out to Wallaman Falls and camped as it got dark. See a pattern here? Glen saw a firefly! In the morning Glen walked to the bottom of the falls and swam in the pool below. He was just as wet when he reached the top because it's a fair climb up! Julie took the sensible option and stayed up the top to catch up on some writing. On leaving there (after a shower at the campground) we headed to Townsville. There was a massive storm on the way and we set up in the rain. Would we keep our record of only 1 dry packup this trip? Stay tuned...