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...