February 2017
  • Day67

    Day 67 - K'Gari Part 2

    April 15, 2017 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 77 °F

    We were awoken for day 2 by the sound of the didgeridoo playing outside the tent and were compensated by breakfast of egg in toast (bread with a hole cut out of the middle the put on a hot plate and an egg cracked into the hole). We hit the road early to go to Eli Creek, a place apparently popular with Australian 'Bogans' (Dave's description, not mine) who will build their gazebos in the water of the creek and sit in chairs in there to cut off territory from other people using it. He was not wrong but luckily we arrived before too much of that was going on. The accessible part of the creek is maybe about 100m of shallow-ish moving water. After giving us some story time about the plants around the creek and their meaning to the Butchulla people we were introduced to the Crocodile Game. 7 people were crocodiles and positioned themselves down the creek whilst everyone else made their way down the creek trying not to get caught i.e. pushed, pulled or grabbed into the water. If you got caught then you became a crocodile so it's pretty much impossible to make it down. I got pulled in at the first hurdle. It was good fun though and we made it to the end of the creek just before the crowds increased. I tried very hard to get a person-less creek picture but sadly the children on oversized inflatables had other ideas. Matt played volleyball with some of the group whilst I generally wandered and chatted - ball sports are not my thing at the best of times let alone in the Australian sun.

    After the creek we passed by the Moheno shipwreck. In the 1930s a posh cruise ship was retired but the only buyers they could get for it was a Japanese company who wanted it for scrap. Sadly whilst being towed they hit a storm and the tow line broke. The Moheno hit the island and when they tried to rescue it a few mistakes were made leading to it being dragged further up the beach and properly stuck. The Japanese company hired a security guard to look after it as it still had a lot of the fixtures and fittings on board however the locals realised he could be persuaded to look the other way for a bottle of rum and cleaned the place out. The grandad of the owner of Drop Bear, the company that we travelled with, managed to floor his whole house using floorboards he got from it! The company cut their losses when they realised what had happened and that the ship had lost more value than it'd cost to rescue it and 'donated' it to the island where it's been ever since.

    From the shipwreck we had the chance to go on a 15 minute scenic flight over the island which we jumped at. You take off from the beach and fly over the sea to try and spot creatures then over the island to look at the lakes and forests. It was great fun to see the places we'd been like Lake Wabby and some of the lakes look like things like butterflies or footprints. The pilots also wear knee high white socks which I liked. Matt even got to sit in the copilot seat, but only if he promised not to touch anything.

    Next stop of the day was Cathedral Beach which is like the town centre of the island in that it has a shop and flushing toilets (unlike all the other toilet which are more of the drop variety). We ate lunch in the camp area and spotted a couple of lizards even bigger than the big lizard that I saw in 1770. They were just strolling around someone's caravan/camp site and eating scraps they found. We also saw a kookaburra sitting in a tree which was cool for a twitcher like me.

    The afternoon involved a couple of long drives. We attempted Champagne Pools and Indian Head before deciding they were both too busy so stopped on the beach for an extended Story Time. Dave told us the story of the Butchulla people and the wider story of the indigenous people of Australia. It was pretty harrowing. To give a short version Captain Fraser and his wife rocked up to Fraser Island short of food and suppliers and were looked after very well by the Butchulla people though sadly Captain Fraser was too unwell to survive. His much younger wife then married his cousin and got back to England wanting to make more money by selling her story. No one believed it the way it was as they didn't believe the indigenous people would be kind so she changed it to them being savages. Then everyone wanted to listen and she made a lot of money telling anyone who would listen. By the time loggers arrived at the island in the following years they also brought guns to kill anyone they found as by Mrs Fraser's account they were evil. Once they'd killed most of the men they rounded up the women and child and pushed them off Indian Head. One of the reasons there's a campaign to rename the island to K'Gari. Dave also told us he was actually becoming a Butchulla person after being invited to join the people. He was already good friends with some of the remaining Butchulla people and loves K'Gari though what sealed it was that he want to Amsterdam and had some strange acid trip where he saw the whole story of the islands creation but knew details that he'd never been told so when he recounted it to his friends they decided he had the Butchulla spirit in him and should join. Make of that what you will. He was clearly very passionate so good luck to him.

    Once Story Time was done we went to Champagne Pools which was a bit quieter. It gets its name as the pools are separated from the sea by a strip of rocks and now and again the waves go over the rocks into the pools making them appear to fizz like champagne. We didn't spend too long here but had a swim and some photos.

    Finally we went to Indian Head. We had to climb a rocky hill up to the top then got amazing views of the sun setting and the beaches. It's a sad place as it's where the women and children were killed but very peaceful.

    We were running a bit late so it was a race against time to beat the tide. It was dark for half of the drive but we made it back in one piece for our chicken stir fry and more cookies. The sky had fewer clouds tonight so the stars looked even more incredible and the moon rise was just beautiful again. Dave also showed us that if you moonwalked towards the sea in the wet sand you could see bioluminescent plankton! One of those things you'd never know without a guide who knew the island so well.

    We had a lot to drink that night. We ended up with the group of Brits now living in Aus who were all lovely and the goon was flowing. Two of the guys polished off a 2L bag in about an hour! We were the last people up after all the whipper snappers went to bed so had to 'lock up' camp to stop the dingos. I was convinced we'd not do it properly and would wake up to 10 dingos partying in there but it was all fine in the morning. Phew!
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  • Day66

    Day 66 - K'Gari Part 1

    April 14, 2017 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 77 °F

    We're back! Did you miss us? After 3 days on Fraser Island with no wifi (nice actually) it's time to write some form of bumper blog. As you can only put 6 photos on per blog entry I'll still split it by day anyway.

    Day 1 started with us watching a safety video about Fraser Island. It's a legal requirement that you watch it but turns out our tour guide think it's a load of rubbish. It was quite non-intentionally comedic. About half an hour long but split into 3 sections (driving, safety and island protection) which could also be watched in isolation so there was a lot of repetition. Basically drive slowly, don't feed dingos, don't sleep on the beach, do your seatbelt up. It was full of acting that the Weaverham Junior Theatre Group would have been proud of.

    We joined the tour at Rainbow Beach with one other guy whereas the 28 other people on the tour had started in Noosa and swung by to pick us up in a convoy of four 4 wheel drives. We ended up in the tour guide's car for the drive to the barge and to camp. Our tour guide is Dave, beard, long hair, built like a brick house and almost certainly played rugby in his day (Later in the trip we watched him dead lift 250kg and Dirty Dance lift grown men) however he does have a very eclectic iPod selection and knows the words to everything so we had a big singalong all the way.

    Fraser Island is the world's largest sand island and whilst it's officially called Fraser Island there's a push to try and get it renamed by it's indigenous name of K'Gari. The tour company are big on this push, Dave especially - more on this in day 2. The sand part explains the 4 wheel drives. It's impossible to use any other car as you're either driving on the coast around the waves or inland on soft sandy tracks. We had been told it was very important to follow exactly in Dave's tyre tracks to avoid mischief e.g. being hit by a wave and flipping over or getting stuck in the sand. If you're not driving quite correctly Dave will radio your car and tell you so. I'm glad I did not volunteer to be a driver as when you're not in Dave's car as I wasn't after the initial drive and for Day 2 it's pretty stressful even as a passenger. I found it easier to sit right in the back so I couldn't see.

    While driving to our camp site we saw our first dingo. Dingo's are wild dogs and were introduced to the island where they wiped out the other mammals. There's about 100 on the island and cause they're scavengers they're always on the hunt for scraps. At camp we were put under strict instruction not to leave anything in our tents at all food or otherwise and to only leave camp with a dingo stick and a buddy, just in case.

    We arrived at camp to eat lunch and drop our things off plus get the dingo and driving safety talk. There's 31 in our group, a mix of ages and mostly pairs of people with a few solo travellers. Lots of different nationalities, mainly European, and quite a few Brits living in Oz. We were worried it'd be all young gap year kids but there were a fair chunk of people about our age. Apparently Easter weekend is the worst weekend to come to the island as it's the busiest time. Sadly we didn't have much choice in our itinerary.

    After lunch we headed over to Lake Wabby. Matt took over driving one of the cars and did a great job considering it wasn't an easy drive. Once you park up it's a 3km walk up and down sand so quite tough going but worth it to see the incredible sand bank and Lake Wabby, green from the tea tree trees which surround it. It looks like a desert. We went for a swim in the lake which was full of fish which nibbled your feet if you sat in the shallows. I thought I'd hate that but I quite liked it. At all our stops Dave gave us 'Story Time' about where we were. The indigenous group who's land Fraser Island/K'Gari is are called the Butchulla people. Science reckons they've been on the Island for more than 40000 years. We learnt about the story they believe about how the island was created and about how Lake Wabby was a men's place where they held the ceremony of boys becoming men. (As women we'd done an acknowledgement ceremony before we left the car park so we wouldn't bring bad spirits to the lake). After we swam and got nibbled for a while Dave took us to a track he'd made up a bigger sand bank where there were panoramic island views. It was tough and steep, definitely not an official track but the views were indeed superb.

    Once we'd scrambled back down and walked the 3km back to the cars we drove back to camp. As so much of the driving is on the beach it's important to drive when it's low tide and light out so we needed to get back before the sun set. Dinner was steak which was pretty good considering it was mass BBQ catering for 40 people. Every one on the tour ranges from really nice and fun to quite nice and fun, there's some characters but no annoying idiots - always a bonus. Dave gave us a didgeridoo lesson though only one of us even got close to doing it well. Plus they end up full of spit so you don't want to practise too much....

    Our campsite is right next to the beach and as there's little light pollution you can see so many stars and part of the Milky Way. It's incredible. We also watched the moon rise which I never really thought about as being a thing. I think I preferred it to any sun rise I've seen, plus it's at a social hour. We spent the rest of the evening drinking goon (box wine), eating cookies and doing camp singalong with Dave and his ranger pal before retiring to our tents ready for a 6am start tomorrow. As it's so busy here on the island we have to work ahead of the usual schedule to try and beat the crowds.
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  • Day65

    Day 65 - Rum-mmmmmmmm

    April 13, 2017 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 82 °F

    We said goodbye to the beautiful Town of 1770 today. I definitely could have stayed a couple of days longer here. I loved the forests and the beach. The wildlife was amazing. Yesterday we saw the biggest lizard I've seen (a good few feet long) the wild just strolling across the beach and big groups of soldier crabs all together on the sand. And everyone has been so friendly here - even in the weird pub everyone was nice.

    To break up our long drive to Rainbow Beach we stopped in at the Bundaberg Rum Distillery. Bundy Rum wasn't something I'd heard of before coming to Oz this time around but it's apparently kind of a big deal. The distillery started in 1880 when a group of sugar cane growers got together in the pub for crisis talks on what to do with all the molasses that was the waste product of refining their sugar. There's not really an easy way to dispose of tons of sticky sugar syrup. They came up with distilling if into booze and the distillery was born. This meets two of my big personal values in life - not wasting things and alcohol. We walked around the museum which is housed in old maturation casks. I love Aussie museums, the exhibitions are always really informal in tone. Lots of 'whatever that means' and stories of major disasters like the distillery burning down in the 1930s having an angle of the locals eating rum marinated fish for dinner rather than losing everything and having to start again. The museum was followed by a tour of the distillery with Angus and Paula AKA Macca. They has their patter down to a fine art, bouncing off each other and encouraging cries of 'Huzzah' when they told us something good and 'Poppycock' when their jokes were lame. The non-English native speakers, and some of the native speakers, looked a bit confused by these odd terms.

    We started looking at the huge molasses storage tanks. Each is the size of two Olympic swimming pools and smelt amazing. Sadly due to the spark risk of batteries and that not being a good idea with alcohol fumes around we couldn't take any photos so you'll have to take my word for them being something to behold. Next up we walked through fermentation and learnt about how they picked the single strain of yeast they still use. It's so important to them that they keep a back up sample in Norfolk in case of disaster. Then we headed distillation and got a whiff of the less appealing 78% alcohol stage - it smelt like Tesco Value Vodka. Finally we saw the storage casks. They're all made from a particular American oak and each costs 100000AUD to make. They hold between 6-7million AUD worth of rum each which explains why the site has an electric fence around it.

    The final part of the tour was tasting. As Matt was driving I had to step up and take the lion's share of the samples. If you want to know how quickly someone can get drunk it's pretty much after 4 generous measures of rum in 15 minutes. One of the samples was their 2015 special blend which was crowned World's Best Rum. To be honest, I couldn't really tell the difference between that and most other rums I've sampled in my time. And I had to add ginger beer to help it go down. But what do I know?

    Luckily we had a couple of hours drive to go so I could sleep the rum off. We did make our Macca's wi-fry stop and I had a hot cross bun which had no fruit in it. WTF?! I recovered from the shock by the time we made it to Rainbow Beach. We have a camping spot with views of the sea which is nice. We walked down there but the tide was coming in - don't worry, there's a road between the sea and the campsite so no worries of the Sweat Box floating away at high tide.

    We grabbed a couple of drinks at the local hotel and some average food at a backpacker's place (I miss the 1770 roast dinner) before retiring to the Box to listen to the sea and pack.

    We head to Fraser Island tomorrow for a 3 day trip. I'm not sure we'll have any wifi access so if we've gone quiet don't worry. We'll be back with the blog in a few days.
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  • Day64

    Day 64 - Riding The Waves

    April 12, 2017 in Australia ⋅ 🌙 61 °F

    It's Matt as scribe again today. Just to put Jill's mind at rest this isn't because I lost Helen on the kayaking tour.

    After driving the sweat box nearly 1000km in two days it's nice to have it parked up and be able to enjoy a beer or two again. Town of 1770 is possibly the most beautiful place we've been so far. We didn't know much about it before we got here but it's really scenic and picturesque.

    The sweat box should probably be renamed the box as it's noticeably cooler in there on a night now and after a good nights sleep we had a leisurely breakfast of bree and avos on toast (living the dream!) before deciding to do a couple of walks we'd read about. When I say we read I mean Helen and these walks may or may not have been linked to the three geocaches we just happened to come across. To be fair both walks were really good. The first was a short one (400m) called Paperbark Boardwalk which was a boarded path through a forest. The forest was like something out of Narnia and had some stepping stones to navigate which were fun. The land is owned by some local residents (more likely holiday home owners, more of that below) who've donated the area for conservation.
    We then headed to the Joseph Banks nature reserve. For the many of you thinking is that the same Joseph Banks who was Captain Cooks botanist you'd be right. Cook landed here in 1770 funnily enough and him and Banks was/are kind of a big deal. Apparently Cook stayed here for 24hrs before sailing on but the locals have a three day party to celebrate the anniversary anyway. Fast forward 247 years and the nature reserve is very nice, you walk along the cliffs to a couple of viewing points above the town before heading down through another forest in to the centre of town.

    We'd built up an appetite by this point so we went to The Tree, the main/only restaurant in town. It was ok but pricey and they forgot the cheese in my cheese burger (cheese was eventually provided after a request was made to the puzzled waitress).

    After lunch we had a walk down the beach and looked at some crabs then it was time for a sunset kayak tour we'd booked. Ran by a really nice bloke called Simon there was two other couples, both Aussies, and us. As noted in previous blogs us working in tandem and in kayaks in particular hasn't always gone so well. We didn't capsize or drown but it did get a bit hairy at one point. Basically you start with paddle down the bay and stop on a sandbank for some local knowledge from
    Simon. Before we got to the sandbank we stopped near a boat that is inhabited by a cat called Snickers. Simon said the cat was previously on another boat (they scare off the birds so they don't crap on the boats) but wasn't being fed so he took it back to his place but it hated being on dry land. It was therefore put on the current boat where the owner isn't there much but Simon feeds it and it has the run of the place. Was quite cute as it came running on to the deck as soon as he shouted Snickers.

    It was interesting hearing about the property prices in 1770. 90% of homes are worth over $1m Aus but over 90% aren't occupied all year round as they're holiday homes. This is because it's so nice and the views over the bay and at sunset are amazing but also all the trees in the town (it's very foresty) can't be cut down as it's a conservation area so building land is at a premium and means when a house is up for sale there's a lot of demand. I asked Simon how many people live in 1770 and he said 30-60 permanently, I thought he meant thousands which did seem a lot and I was about to ask where they all lived but thankfully had kept my mouth shut before he said that Agnes Water, the town next to 1770, has much more at 2,000 residents. A subsequent google has confirmed there are actually only around 70 permanent residents in 1770.

    After the property and population chat it was back in the kayaks to paddle further out in the hope of seeing some dolphins and turtles that live in the bay. This meant kayaking over waves in the open sea which we've not done before. The trick is to paddle fast straight towards them and meet them head on and your momentum takes you safely over. We were doing ok but then met one side on and I couldn't turn us quick enough so we came very close to a full capsize. Think I enjoyed it a bit more than Helen, we were soaked but ok in the end. Unfortunately we didn't see any of the afore mentioned creatures (Easter holiday season means more boats which might have scared them off) but we did see an osprey swoop down and catch a fish which was impressive. We had one more stop on a sandbank for wine and homemade fruitcake then it was a no big waves involved paddle back. Simon was a really good guide and seemed genuinely gutted he couldn't find the dolphins and turtles for us.

    It was then back in the box and a short drive back to base camp. We ate at the campsite restaurant again. As Helen mentioned their restaurant only opened yesterday. Not sure why but I ordered another burger (chicken this time) and Helen ordered the roast of the day. The food is served in polystyrene boxes and it's just a takeaway place really but when it turned up the burger was good and the lamb roast was a excellent, tons of it and really nice plus cheap by Aus standards. Helen popped back in and told them how nice it was and they were so pleased! The people that run this site are all so nice and friendly. We'll leave them a good review without being told too.

    We then got the local taxi shuttle mini bus for a few drinks in town. There is no pub in 1770 (see population discussion as to why) so Peggy who drives the shuttle round town for $5 per person took us to the Agnes Water tavern. Bit of an odd place and at least two mullets were spotted (hair cuts not the fish). After we'd had a couple of drinks Peggy popped in to give us a lift home. She'd waited for us as she didn't want us to have to walk the 5k back to the campsite!

    I'd forgotten how much I like Australia. The people are great and parts of it so spectacular. Shame it's so far away. Another longish road trip tomorrow as we work away towards Fraser Island for Easter weekend.
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  • Day63

    Day 63 - Roadtrippin' 2 - Bruce Is Back

    April 11, 2017 in Australia ⋅ 🌬 64 °F

    Today was another driving heavy day - about 564 km mostly on the Bruce highway which has been the road we've spent most of our time on. Our classy motel did breakfast of a choice of eggs and a pile of bacon served lovingly by Mrs No-Nonsense. When we checked out we got no 'have a safe trip' or 'enjoy your holiday'. Just a 'leave us a good review'. I would as the stay was good value and fine but manners cost nothing so I might save my 5*s for someone who is polite.

    The drive was still nice today but very samey. Just trees and road. Now and again, well twice in the whole 6 hours, there was a fun trivia question to help you stay awake. The two questions we had were exactly the same 'what's the highest mountain in Queensland?'. Fun.... Though Matt did manage to stay awake so many it worked. We made a couple of stops. One in Marlborough which felt like a ghost town. I went on a swing and there was a small lizard in the loo roll dispenser. Then Rockhampton where we had open sandwiches as a restaurant on a retail park. That was pretty much all there was of note.

    Finally we reached 1770 just in time for sunset at the marina. I'm looking forward to more exploration tomorrow but for now we headed to the camp side via a liquor store for a goon (box) of wine and some beers. The camp site launched their new restaurant today and we ate fish and chips/nachos outside whilst watching the Shaun The Sheep movie on a big projector. Happy times.
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  • Day63

    Day 62 - Talk With The Animals

    April 11, 2017 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 77 °F

    We're not in the same place for very long on the Australia leg of our trip so it was time to move on again from lovely Townsville and travel the 388km to Mackay, and really we're only heading to Mackay as a stopping point to our next proper stop of 1770. The town, we've not discovered the Sweat Box is actually a Delorean.

    Before we left Townsville though we went to the Billabong Wildlife Sanctuary. Mainly because after all the signs warning us of Cassowaries and the disappointment of not seeing one in Daintree we wanted to set our eyes on the world's 3rd biggest flightless bird. It's a small sanctuary/zoo and only has animals that are native to Oz. The animals are here for a mix of reasons, some were born in captivity at other zoos, or rescued from injury or poaching and not fit to go back in the wild. We bought a bag of seed which you could feed the kangaroos and geese/ducks with. Boy were there a lot of ducks and geese and they were savvy. As soon as they saw the bag they'd waddle after you. I felt like the pigeon lady from Home Alone!

    Then we found the kangaroos . They let them roam around the paths (under supervision) and you can hand feed them. Some of them had joeys in their pouches. They looked very uncomfortable with legs and arms sticking out akimbo but so cute, and I'm sure it works for them! We loved feeding them.

    There were lots of shows on through the morning hosted by Peo, a friendly and knowledgable ranger who took all the kids interrupting comments and questions kindly and in his stride (like 'My Uncle's called Terry too!' after finding out a croc was called Terry). We started with the cassowaries. I'd never heard of them until I got here. They're huge! There's only around 1000 left in the wild which could became a huge problem as they're important in spreading seeds via their...erm...digestive process. One of the ones here was poached as a chick by locals as a pet but when it was fully grown they realised cassowaries are not really great pets and tried to sell it to a tourist who reported it. What were they thinking?? We got to feed them grapes by hand which was fun, they love grapes. Lots of the little kids ate the grapes though before they made it to the birds.

    Next up was feeding the turtles. We fed them fish skins but their eye sight is poor you had to hold the fish by the tip away from their teeth as they just wildly bite towards it. It was very funny and very sweet. They'd tend to take a few goes and all try and jostle for the same one standing on each other's shells. Once one grabbed one it'd scuttle back to the water as fast as it could. I was far more into it than the kids and wanted to make sure they all got one.

    We wandered around for a while after that checking out the koalas and crocodiles. There were a lot of warning signs next to the crocodiles cages about fingers through bars and dangling arms over the edges. I hope that's a precaution rather than learnt from a poor previous tourist. We also watched a mini show about Wombats starring Wanda who was rescued from the pouch when her poor mum was hit by a car. Final show for us was the reptiles. There were some huge snakes which Ranger Chris showed to us, and he told us how to treat snake bites which hopefully never becomes useful advice. We got the chance to hold some of the snakes and lizards. Now I'm terrified of many things as covered by this blog and beyond - deep water, falling down stairs, crossing busy roads, being trapped in a confined space etc. Matt on the other hand isn't scared of much but he is petrified of snakes and lizards so had to act as photographer. The ranger called him a 'sook' which roughly translates as a wuss much to my cruel amusement seeing as he's always nice about my fears. It's not often I'm the brave one but I love snakes and lizards so embraced holding both with gusto.

    Sadly it was then time to leave and hit the road. The journey was fairly uneventful. Beautiful but nothing of too much note. We found out Macca's serve chips and gravy here which would be a nice addition to the UK menu but that was about it. We made it to our motel in Mackay where a no nonsense woman checked us in - I've not met many non-uber-friendly Aussies yet nor have I stayed in a motel so that was vaguely exciting. We headed over the road to a bar/hotel/restaurant/bookies/casino called Shamrock for a surprisingly good value and delicious steak and a few drinks but tiredness and the lure of actual air con kicked in and we headed back to the motel in prep for another long drive tomorrow.
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  • Day61

    Day 61 - Magnetic Island

    April 9, 2017 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 84 °F

    Today marked an Oz landmark. No rain. Not a jot. We even slept well, it was cool in the sweat box and it didn't rain. Whoop whoop.

    So what better way to spend a sunny day than a visit to Magnetic Island? (So called because when Captain Cook sailed past he reckoned the ship's compass when a bit funny - no explanation for this has been found). It's a pleasant 25 minute boat ride from Townsville and from our arrival point at Nelly Bay we caught a bus to go on a walking route called The Forts, named after the WWII army base which was there serving as a look out. The walk was about 4km and moderately easy. We were told there was a potential for koala sightings on the route which meant balancing looking down at the uneven terrain to avoid falling over with looking up into the trees. (I did manage to slip over later in the walk but luckily no ankle injury). Eventually we spotted a couple taking pictures up in to a tree and sure enough there was a koala in a tree right by the path. It was amazing to see one in the wild and in truth I would have been a bit gutted if we hadn't after all the promises on the trail and in the island propaganda leaflets. We took a ton of pictures and a video of it (I'm not advanced enough yet in my animal knowledge to determine koala gender) rubbing its face with eucalyptus. Very cute but not difficult to forget they can claw your face off if they fancy. We tore ourselves away before that happened to look at slabs of concrete with signs next to them of what would have been there when it was a fort e.g. The Ladies Latrine where they dreamt of lipstick and dancing with American army men...It was then time to climb a bit higher for the gun points and signalling and look out towers. The guns mysteriously disappeared quickly after the war to no one knows where and the ammo huts now are home to bats. And plenty of bat droppings. The views however from the top were astounding over the rest of the island and back over to Townsville. Very blue sky and sea with so much green from the forests. Worth the walk up in the heat but the hunger kicked in and we made our way back down and said hello again to the koala plus spotted another (well again spotted some other spotters) a little further off the path. All very exciting, though I still get excited about seeing a robin in the garden at home.

    We continued our walk across the island to Horseshoe Bay and had some delicious open sandwiches and smoothies at the Early Bird cafe before lazing on the beach for a while - well beach adjacent under a tree, we still haven't mastered this heat malarkey. We caught the bus to Geoffrey Bay. We had the bay almost completely to ourselves and had a paddle before the stinger fear kicked in a little and we headed back to the marina to get the boat back to Townsville.

    Townsville has a great waterfront road called The Strand. There were lots of keen Australians running or cycling down it or doing a yoga class. The less active were having BBQs on the communal gas BBQs. You just couldn't have that in the UK, they'd be vandalised or left filthy. Maybe not a complete argument for moving to Oz but it'd go on the Pro list. We walked along about half way before the food call hit us again and we went for a Brazilian Churrasco (all you can eat meat, well we had walked 15K today). The meat was amazing, and they did us some special grilled cheese so we were two happy bunnies by the time our red meat clogged arteries made it back to the camper van park. We also got to witness a drunken family relay race going on which was entertaining. A long drive tomorrow so we've treated ourselves to a motel tomorrow night - whoop!
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  • Day60

    Day 60 - Roadtrippin'

    April 8, 2017 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 79 °F

    Today was all about covering the 413km from Port Douglas to Townsville and hoping the Sweat Box did us proud.

    We hit the road after an early breakfast. I'm now eating the previously mentioned bran cereal that Matt's rejected in favour of Australian brand shredded wheat which he prefers. (It's a slow news day).

    We hit the road about 8.30 with the aim of getting to Mission Beach as our main stop. The scenery is beautiful. Lots of mountains and sugar cane and banana fields. It was even sunny for a lot of the trip! We binged on S Town on the way and stopped at a McDonalds or Macca's as it's know here for a snack and to us the 'Wi-Fry' before carrying on to Mission Beach. Where it promptly rained of course. We had a mega sized meal and a man with a tinnie in hand that we assumed was a local 'character' kept coming over to ask if we liked the food and our opinions on the music. He definitely didn't work there. He also danced with some children which was a bit odd.

    The rain eased a little for our walk on the beach. It was more moody than tropical beach paradise but nice all the same. From there it was back on the road for a couple of hours with a brief stop at Frozen Mango. Partly to stretch our legs and partly because I wanted a picture with the giant mango man outside.

    The camp site we're at is fairly standard. We couldn't be bothered to go into town tonight so it was student cuisine of pasta with a stir in sauce and chopped ham slices. Maybe back to restaurants tomorrow....
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  • Day59

    Day 59 - Putting The Rain In Rain Forest

    April 7, 2017 in Australia ⋅ 🌬 82 °F

    It's still raining. If you're getting sick of hearing about the rain imagine how we feel. In fairness it has generally switched to showers rather than a constant drenching which has its own fun of switching rapidly between putting on the unbreathable but waterproof layer of the 'North Face' and whipping it off again as soon as humanly possible but does give gaps where you can run to the toilet without an umbrella.

    We weren't really sure where to head today but with some helpful advise from cheerful Lynn at the campsite we headed out to Mossman Gorge. It's an area of rainforest which unsurprisingly is also is home to a gorge. We shuttle bused up and set off on the '45 minute' walk. Even without the photo and geocache stops I'm not entirely sure how anyone, except maybe one of the those mountain goat-esque hill runners, could manage it in that time. It was a very enjoyable walk but it took us an hour plus. I am on high ankle alert on these walks which probably makes me even slower but no one wants to rescue me, covered in mud, from the middle of a rainforest path. I'm also becoming a rainforest pro now and stopping to notice leaf shapes and growth patterns which I narrate to an enthralled Matt (at least I like to pretend he's fascinated). Ok so maybe you could do it in 45 if you're not me. This section of forest had some insane ancient trees growing stably at near 45° angles. The vertical panorama tips Mr Smarty gave m us as Angkor Wat have come into their own in the rainforest.

    With muddy legs we made it back to the van (now more known affectionately as the Sweat Box - or 😅 📦 Dad, I know you mainly speak Emoji now). I whipped up sandwiches in the back before we headed across the Daintree river on the ferry (the only way to pass). Ferry is a loose term. It's a floating platform on a rope winch which crossed from bank to bank in a matter of minutes. No sea sickness tablets required. From there we drove the roads to Daintree Discovery Centre via a viewpoint where the only view was a misty mountain.

    The Discovery Centre was fantastic. Lots of boardwalks and towers have been built in a section of the rainforest so you can wander around easily. And there's an audio tour! And a roaming guide to ask geeky questions to! Even Matt's getting into it and spotted a huge butterfly and some brightly coloured birds. It did however pour down for the duration and although the rainforest provides pretty decent protection the jackets had to remain firmly on. I'm still desperately hoping to see a Cassowary but no joy yet. We did however see a (captive) snake drinking from a water bowl which was cool. Less cool was the big dinosaur models they've put in which move on a sensor when you walked past making me jump out of my skin more than once.

    By the time we were done there there was little time for much else so we headed back to Port Douglas and had dinner at a superb fish restaurant at the marina and a quick drink. We have a 6 hour drive tomorrow so we called it a fairly early night.
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  • Day59

    Day 58 - The Reef

    April 7, 2017 in Australia ⋅ 🌬 82 °F

    Today is Great Barrier Reef Snorkelling Day! We met the Wavelength and its crew at 8am ready to head out to the Opal Reef about 90 minutes from the marina. Luckily after we enquired about the weather a couple of days ago they had advised us to take sea sickness tablets in advance and I'm so glad that we did. It was a very choppy ride and a lot of people had to stand outside and make 'paper piñatas' as Steve, the guy who ran through the emergency procedures, described them. Grim, but apparently good for the fish.....

    As we managed to stay inside we got to listen to Paul, a marine biologist, talk about the reef and the creatures which live in it, especially the importance of making eye contact, or not making eye contact. If you want to get close to a turtle you need to approach side on and not look it straight in the eye - an important life lesson. We learnt that sharks are actually not dangerous and very risk adverse so won't attack a human unless you're on a surf board looking like a seal or if you're spear fishing and have a load of bleeding fish tied to your waist band - we didn't fit into either category thankfully.

    Once we arrived at the Opal Reef we got kitted up in wet suits and snorkels and got into the water. It took a bit of coaxing to get my calm snorkel mode on again but once I got going it was fine though the current is a lot stronger here than where we did it in Thailand (though not that strong due to the protection of the reef) so the swimming around was more tiring. At this stop we just swam around left to our own devices for about 45 minutes. The reef is beautiful, though we later learnt the brightly coloured coral are actually under stress and at risk of full bleaching/death. Bleaching is caused when the ocean temperature gets above 31°. There's been 6 mass bleaching events in the last 25 years but they're getting closer together and the last two were over consecutive years. It's a really worry.

    After we finished at Opal Reef we had a much needed sugar injection via brownies and it wasn't long before we reached our next stop. I can't remember the name of that one but it was characterised by a wall of coral. At this stop we could go on a guide led snorkel so we went off with Paul. He showed us mushroom coral which you (well he) could pick up off the reef floor and handle without damaging it. He brought it up for us. It was very solid rather than spongy like I expected. He also brought up the head half of a large cray fish. It was an interesting tour and he showed us examples of the different health levels of coral. It could be hard to swim around as you were supposed to try very hard not to kick the reef but when it's shallow that's tricky.

    We had a buffet lunch back on the boat and listened to a talk with Paul on how important the reefs were and how they linked with the rainforest and mangrove ecosystems. And basically how humans are destroying everything.... After that we had another free snorkel at the Snow Reef. This one was shaped a bit like a fish bowl and the current was strong so by the time the hour came to an ended we were exhausted. No shark or turtle sightings but lots of colourful fish and beautiful (albeit bleached) coral.

    We had a 90 minute ride back which was even choppier than the way out but luckily we'd had more sea sick tablets. It was amazing to see how good sleepers some people are with the guy next to me sleeping upright through all the choppy conditions. The tour was amazing and my words won't do it justice. We got a ton of go pro pics but even they aren't as good as the real deal.

    By the time we got back to camp we were pooped but dragged ourselves out to go and attempt to find the Port Douglas look out point (I blame tiredness for us not being sure if we found it) and to eat dinner. An excellent but exhausting day.
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