Arriving at Finch Hatton township we turned off toward the gorge not really knowing what to expect. When we got there we had to turn the camper in the bus turn area and park well down the road with about an 800m walk to the end of the road where the walking track begins. There were quite a few cars. We found from the information board that the walk in to the Araluen Cascades was a few km and the track to the Wheel of Fire was even longer - and we were in thongs expecting a stroll. All the people we passed in the first 400m were in shoes or walking boots. Luckily even though parts were a bit steep and had Julie puffing it was a well formed track and easily done in thongs. At the track junction we decided to visit Araluen Cascades first. We found lots of people there but it wasn't crowded. Many were jumping from the rocks into the water. Impressively one guy even did one of those lay out 360 degree flips to land feet first from a tree branch about 15m above the water. The water was cooler than we've been used to but still quite comfortable. A few locals thought it was cold. After a while we left but didn't go on to the Wheel of Fire.
Driving further down the coast we decided to camp near Ilbilbie at a place called Notch Point. It had been recommended to us by Larry, a guy we met at Mareeba. On driving in Julie chatted to a couple of guys who had been there for weeks and got the lay of the land. They were looking at a tawny frogmouth on a nest. The nest was in a horizontal fork about 2m above the ground. The mother was sitting in the nest surrounded by 3 chicks of varying ages. The male was sitting on a nearby branch. All the birds including the chicks were pretending to be sticks and you could get close without appearing to disturb them. Over the next couple of days Julie got some great shots. We set up camp next to where the water would be because at low tide the water was miles away. The guys assured Julie the area was croc free, but the midgies were an issue and we were visited by the cows at sunset. What they said about the midgies turned out to be true but the croc part was refuted by a guy who'd been there for months and had been going there for years. Apparently a 14 footer used to raid crab pots at the mangroves 50m from us. He said it lived at the other boat ramp a km or so up but he hadn't seen it, only heard it. We explored the point, going to where the ocean meets the point and saw birds that fly in flocks around the rocks where they were perched en mass. Even though we got a good photo of the birds identification has eluded us. That night was the "super moon" and the clouds parted long enough to enable us to get a photo with the iPhone through the binoculars.
The next day we moved on to Rockhampton and found out that the air con pulley that fell of, being the harmonic balancer, was apparently a big deal. Luckily a place just across the road from the shopping centre we were at could do it that afternoon at just over $900. Picked up the Fun Truck and they told us that they had trouble lining the belts up again. We drove out of town, getting water and having a shower on the way, and free camped near the Byfield State Forest turn off. The next day we drove to Upper Stoney Creek and were disappointed so we didn't swim there and drove further. We were heading to 5 Rocks and the track became sandy. We took the opportunity to park the trailer on the side of the track when we aired down with the sign warning us to radio on channel 40 that we were heading up Big Sandy. We had no idea what Big Sandy was but soon discovered it was about a 1km climb up a sand hill. We had to air down further because the sand was soft. There was no way we would have gotten the trailer up there but without it we got up without too much trouble. In some sections of the track after Big Sandy the track had wooden slats chained together to stabilise the dune and allow easier access. At the track junction we went to Stockyard Point instead of 5 Rocks Campground and were rewarded with a spectacular view. There were probably 40 houses in the town of Stockyard Point and their only road access is 4wd through some beautiful forest. As time was getting away from us we skipped 5 Rocks and Nine Mile Beach entirely and went back down Big Sandy to pick up the trailer and head out to camp. Just before dusk we decided to stop and Water Park Creek Campground (no, not really a water park, the creek goes out to Water Park Point at the far end of Nine Mile Beach and there's no water park there either). There we saw Wompoo Fruit doves and spent a peaceful night under the stars and the super moon and spotted a brush tailed phascogale.
We weren't happy with the alignment of the AC fanbelt so we went back to Highway Auto to get it done properly. The owner wasn't happy and tried to put us off several times but after spending over $900 we weren't being fobbed off. In the end the guy we dealt with first put it the way Glen wanted and it lined up pretty close to perfect, much better than the 15mm out of alignment they had it. That done we explored the quay area for lunch before getting the gas leak we recently discovered on the camper repaired and leaving town. Around dusk we arrived at Agnes Waters and had a look at the beach before going to the cheap camp nearby at Workmens Beach. It was full but we were approached by the ranger who allowed us to camp in the day use area overnight. The following day we went for a drive and turned down a track which lead us to a car park and a walk to Springs Beach where the surf was terrible and all the surf schools were just sitting on the beach waiting. Good for a swim though. After a rinse off in the carpark we drove back out to the road and wandered along the Reedy Creek Reserve Paperbark Forest Walk. Highlights were the raised stepping stones and a climbing maidenhair fern. Our next stop was 1770 - the only town name with no letters in it - for lunch and a swim before driving towards Bundaberg where we stopped at a free camp at Sharon Gorge near Gin Gin for the night.
We chose to stay at a caravan park at Burnett Heads while in Bundaberg and after setting up the camper we went to the Bundaberg Rum Distillery to do the tour. Glen was richer but felt poorer when he was given tickets at the seniors discount price without even being asked. The tour was interesting and the tasting at the end was excellent - Glen fairing a little better than Julie as she was driving and gave him three quarters of her tasting vouchers. Of course we came away with a couple of bottles (not any cheaper but you can't buy the liqueurs in a bottle shop) but there are no photos inside the tour as phones and cameras and even hearing aids and pacemakers are apparently a fire risk.
During the next day we went to the beach and explored the coastal area down to Elliott Heads. After dinner we went to the Mon Repos Turtle Discovery where we had to arrive at 6:45pm for a 7pm start. After an intro talk we were assigned our groups and we set about the task of waiting. After a bit of a shop for souvenirs and coffee and a short video and more of a wait we were called to the boardwalk where we expected to go to the beach but the turtle turned tail and returned to the sea. We went back to sit down and wait. At about 10 we were called to the boardwalk again and got lucky as we were taken onto the beach. Without any lights and with the moon not risen it was very dark and we were worried we'd walk right past the turtle but soon we could see two lines running across the beach. It was plain as day so we needn't have been worried about missing it. These tracks were the false start turtle who came up and went back to the water. Further up the beach we were lead into the dune to where a flat back turtle was just completing her egg chamber. Once she started to lay torches were allowed and we could see the eggs dropping about 15 seconds apart. The volunteers and rangers scanned her for a tag and replaced her flipper tags which had been lost. The old fashioned metal tags are still required in case she comes up on a beach without a ranger with a scanner or is found dead somewhere. From the tag information we learnt that this turtle lives nearby in Morton Bay and laid here 2 years ago. Turtles that live close by breed more often as they don't need massive recovery times like a turtle that travels 4 months to their breeding ground. This was the first time she laid this season. She finished laying and started covering the egg chamber then attempted to make her way back to the water. She had chosen the top of the first dune and it was quite steep to get up. She was having trouble getting back down. The ranger guided the turtle with a light to help her find her way. We escorted her to the water and watched as she swam off.
Since flat backs are fairly rare here with only 6 females last year the nest was dug up and the eggs were counted (64) and 10 were weighed. We got to touch an egg to see how soft the shell is. Since it was a good nesting site they just put the eggs back in the same hole and reburied them. They should hatch in 2 months.
The next morning we packed up and left the caravan park but what trip to Bundaberg would be complete without a tour of the Bundaberg Ginger Beer Factory? Ok it's a virtual tour but interesting and the tastings at the end are real. It's also much cheaper as it only cost us $12.50 for the both of us. Of course we ended up buying a few bottles.
For lunch we went to the park near the free zoo and then visited the zoo. The council has done an excellent job in providing this facility free of charge to everyone.
Our next stop was past Gin Gin at Boolboonda Tunnel. Constructed in 1883-4 this 192m of unsupported tunnel through granite was all dug by hand, both ends at the same time and they met in the middle! The tunnel is home to a colony of bent wing bats who took to the air as we drove through on our way to Mount Perry, a really nice little town with a great view of the valley from the lookout. We went back the tarred road to the free camp outside Gin Gin where Glen lowered the cane toad population by 7 or 8. This has been the worse place for cane toads in Queensland which in spite of being ground zero has less cane toads than the Kimberly.
On the road the next morning we stopped for a coffee in Childers on our way out to Hervey Bay where we visited a few beaches along the way. Incredibly low prices for houses. For under $400,000 you can have a nice house next to the beach or a 4 bedroom place with a pool just a short walk or drive to the beach. We took a long walk on the shortened Urangang Pier and camped in the state forest near Poona. It rained overnight.
The following day we packed up wet for only the second time this trip. We were on the road early because we were going to Tin Can Bay to see the Australian Humpback Dolphin feeding. Australian Humpbacks are down to a population of only 80-120 animals. They live and feed in the estuary around Tin Can Bay. For $5 you can watch or for $10 you can feed the dolphins. Glen chose the former and Julie the latter. After the feeding of the dolphins it was the feeding of the humans and we had coffee and a bite to eat at the café there before going on a walk.
We drove towards Rainbow Beach and Inskip Point where we decided to camp for a day - or 3 as it turned out. We camped at MV Beagle Campground which last year made the news as a large sink hole opened up and swallowed a 4wd, caravan and camper trailer. Apparently they are still down there somewhere but the hole has filled in. We camped next to the beach with a view across to Fraser Island which is just 3km across the channel. All at $6.15 per person per night! We had a swim and set up the camper and the shower bag and that night after a relaxing hot shower we sat around the fire. Yep, it was good!
Over the next couple of days we swam, read, relaxed, went for drives and walks and rescued a sea snake. One morning Glen even paddled over to Fraser Island and brought Julie a hand full of sand.