Trip Start Sep 03, 2007
Trip End Jun 17, 2009

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Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Sunday, July 20, 2008

We left Brisbane in the warm and bright sunshine and drove through the quite steady city traffic northwards.

Through the extensive city suburbs until we continued on the 'Bruce Hwy M1', a mostly two lane road that was busy with Sunday travelers.

The wide coastal plain had several small forests along it and hills in the inland distance. The hwy ran inland from the coast and there were hardly any glimpses of the sea but at least the fields weren't quite as brown as we had seen further down south, even so there wasn't a lot of livestock around.

We turned off the M1 and headed towards the coast on the hwy 70. At the busy coastal resort of 'Mooloolaba' we decided to stop and found a holiday  apartment in a block overlooking the sea just out of town.

We booked in for a week, as apart from wanting to look round this part of the 'Sunshine Coast', we had arranged to return to see Nina, our travel agent in Brisbane, later in the week to finalise our next phase of the trip. Unlike New Zealand, where most motels have kitchen facilities, the Aussie motels are basic and have none at all, only the apartments have self contained facilities.

Distance  driven      116  km                 72 miles

Monday 21st July

The Sunshine Coast - it was pouring down and you could hardly see the sea for the heavy mist that hung over it!

Still, today was to be a working day, as we finished our choices for the next phase of travel.

We had internet access, which was useful for sending Nina our route and location choices. We worked all day but at least the weather had brightened by the afternoon and it was warm and sunny. The sea cleared and we could see dolphins swimming out in the bay.

After all the brain work we were going to have an early night, which was confirmed as there was a power failure and all the lights in the area went out.
Tuesday 22nd July

A slightly cloudy but warm and dry morning. Twenty miles away was 'Beerwah' and the 'Australia Zoo', a big park that had been set up by Steve Irwin, the 'Crocodile Hunter' of TV fame to show people the need for animal conservation.

It was very well laid out and all the animals seemed to have plenty of space and were well looked after. There were demonstrations of elephants, camels, wild birds, crocodiles and snakes and most of the indigenous Aussie animals on view. It was interesting to see roos, wallabies and koalas close up but there somehow wasn't the same excitement as coming across them in the wild.

It was going dark as we drove back to Mooloolaba and the clouds were gathering. A storm was forecast to hit the coast in the next couple of days.

Wednesday 23rd July

It had started raining during the night and as we got up it was absolutely lashing it down. The high winds were driving big surf onto the nearby beach, which was initially only just visible in the thick, low cloud. As the cloud lifted slightly we could see two or three surfers out bouncing around in the rough see. Ye gods, these guys are keen!

We used the day to complete the detailed planning of the next phase of our trip. This was helped by being able to contact our agent Nina in Brisbane.

The rain stopped very briefly in the early afternoon before starting again in a heavy downpour. So much for the Sunshine Coast but at least the water was welcome even if it didn't seem much of a drought area today.

Thursday 24th July

We had arranged to return to Brisbane to see Nina today and it was still very wet and stormy out. As an alternative to the seventy mile drive into the busy city and finding somewhere to park when we got there, we decided to go by train.

Our nearest station was at 'Nambour', a half an hour drive away where we caught the ten o'clock train, after buying our tickets from the not very helpful rail staff. All the countryside was wet through and there was definitely water in the creeks and rivers now. In the low cloud we could not see much of the reasonably flat countryside, except for one or two eroded volcano 'bumps' in the 'Glass Mountains' area.

The train was less than half full and as we rattled on in the pouring rain there were regular bangs from the roof mounted switchgear and all the lights would go out until the electrics reset.

Meeting with Nina in the city, we completed visa forms for the intended countries, something we couldn't do before we left the UK as you cannot apply for a visa more than twelve months  prior to visiting a country. These would be processed and we would collect them from Cairns, to where they will have been couriered.

Final trip details were checked and it was sadly now confirmed that a trip to Japan could not be fitted in with the other tour itinerary dates, so Japan was dropped.

In the late afternoon we caught the full train for the two hour trip back to Nambour, most of the journey being in the very wet and dark night.

After driving back along the dark and wet country roads from Nambour, we returned to Mooloolaba, where we had supper at the 'Surf Life Saving Club'. Just like the 'Retired Servicemens League' and the 'Bowling Clubs', this is a well established organization, each local branch with its own substantial premises, where you can sign in as a temporary member and buy a (very) good meal at reasonable prices. Our delicious grilled Barramundi (fish) and roasted lamb completed a busy day and we drove the short distance in the (still) pouring rain back to the apartment.

Friday 25th July

A cloudy, windy but dry start to the day. We wanted to have a look round the 'Hinterland Area' inland from the coast but as we set off it started to shower with rain. After thirty minutes travelling west on Hwy 10, we passed 'The Big Pineapple', another symbol of the growing capability of this region, although there are hardly any pineapples grown now.

We detoured off Hwy 10 to look at 'Woombye', which was an old 'Cobh Station', named after the guy who set up staging posts for people and mail all over Australia in the early days. Many of the town buildings were painted in murals depicting those settler days. It was good to see that the local Scout hall had a similar mural depicting Scouting in the region.

Back and on through 'Nambour' and then a very steep, twisty climb to 'Mapleton', a tiny village with great views over the surrounding countryside. It was still cloudy and the rain came in intermittent bursts.

Turning south we stopped at 'Mapleton Falls', where the stream from the hills fell over a cliff edge in a big cascade. Although the water was now falling we could see great piles of leaves and twigs on the stream banks, showing how high the water level had been following the recent days of rain.

Through the small settler villages of 'Montville' and 'Daleny', we reached 'McCarthy's Lookout', where we had a great view of the inland plain and the 'Glass Mountains', peaked remnants of old volcanoes. The rain could be seen as a passing squall, falling from the low clouds as they blew over the plain.

Heading back to the coast through 'Landsborough', another settler village that has become an arts and tourist centre, we reached the coastal town of 'Caloundra'. Here we walked to the beach and passing an estuary we saw tufted terns and a gorgeously coloured sacred kingfisher. The waves were still dumping on the beach as the recent storm was blowing itself out.

From Caloundra it was northward back along the coastal road to Mooloolaba, where we called into the dive centre. I had booked a dive for Saturday but the forecast was too rough to go out yet. The option was to wait and see what Sunday's weather forecast brought.

The sky cleared later in the evening and we went up to the roof terrace to watch a great display of stars, not staying long as it was quite cold.

Saturday 26th July

At last - a bright and sunny morning. After breakfast we drove north to look at the 'Eumundi Market', a big collection of stalls selling local produce, arts, crafts and clothing. The parking field was still squelchy after the recent rains but the paved market area was well set up. Wandering round the market for a couple of hours and visiting the large array of stalls was interesting, especially a music stall where a guy was sat playing a guitar to backing tapes. At one point the sound of "Shadow's" tunes, my favourite UK group from years ago, wafted across the market ground and made me feel very nostalgic.

Driving west to the coast at 'Noosa Heads', we passed through a busy seaside resort, packed with people in the weekend sunshine. Here we hit one of the holiday coast's biggest problems - nowhere to park. We had noticed this in many other towns but especially on the coast. There are attractive towns with many shops, cafes and restaurants (and of course, beaches) and there is nowhere to park.

Moving on south down the coast and pass large beaches, where there was occasionally somewhere to park, people were swimming (a brave few), surfing or relaxing on the clean sands - not bad for a winter weekend!

Arriving back at Mooloolaba, we stoped at the dive centre and ......yes, we were go for tomorrow.

It was a short drive to look at the marina and harbour, something we had intended to do mid week before the storm arrived. Guess what - nowhere to park and this is winter. How do they cope in the busy summer months?

Driving out of town we rounded the estuary and up to 'Point Cartwright', across from the harbour. Parking space and we walked along the estuary path and out to the harbour light point. Here people were sitting on the large breakwater relaxing or fishing and surfers, including canoes were playing in the waves. Occasionally a large wave would crash into the rocky sided breakwater and shower any poor unfortuneates walking past (or the kids that were stood there waiting for it!)

One sad sight was a prawn trawler stranded and rolling around on the opposite beach, being battered by the waves. She had been out fishing midweek when the storms hit. As she was returning to the harbour during the night, presumably on auto steering, two hands were asleep below and one on deck. Somehow in the storm he had been washed overboard and the first the others knew of it was when she ran into the beach. The search for the missing deckhand was called off yesterday, presumed lost at sea. A sad side of this life on the Sunshine Coast.

As we walked back along the estuary path we spotted an osprey carrying a fish. We circled round the area and then landed on an artificial platform where we could just see a chick in the jumble of twigs that formed the nest. Fascinating.

We were then treated to a gorgeous red sunset, which lit up the clouds and silhouetted the boats and fishermen on the opposite breakwater.

Sunday 27th July

Up at 6am (yes, really!), leaving Rip Van Winkle sound asleep. I was down at the dive shop, gear collected and on the fast catamaran heading out to sea by 7.30. Our dive site was the 'HMAS Brisbane', a 133 metre long guided missile destroyer, that had finished her active service and been sunk here to provide an artificial reef.

After the past week's storms the sea was calm but the underwater visibility was not so good, less than five metres.
Descending down the shot line in the gloom, the wreck was suddenly below us. My buddy and I followed the dive leader over the side of the ship, downwards towards the stern. I was two metres from the ship on one side, two metres from my buddy on the other and could just about see them both!

The white sandy bottom suddenly appeared as we crossed behind the great ship and rose up her other side until we reached the deck level. Floating over the rail we passed the missile platform and then glided over the big rear gun. There were very few fish about, they were obviously not comfortable with the gloom and still unsettled after the storm.

In a few minutes we had crossed the deck and were back at the shot line to the surface, having been underwater for (a very short) twenty five minutes. An impressive dive.

We surfaced and as we were stowing our gear, a couple of dolphins were swimming behind the boat. It seems they have learned to catch large crustaceans and bring them to the destroyer, where they bash them on the steelwork to break them open. Clever huh?

For our second dive we entered the water and waited at the shot line to descend. A shout came from our dive leader, who was floating about 100 metres away in the water, to join him and we grouped up. "Stay close, it's bad vis and I don't want anyone to get lost" quite focused the mind. We  sank and were immediately on top of a funnel. The tidal surge swung us about until we managed to descend down inside the funnel and pop out at the bottom of the ship in the engine room - now that was different! Here, amidst the cramped space with pipes and valves, we started to see fish silhouetted in the blue light coming from the panels cut in the side of the ship.

We moved along passageways and through gaps in the great ship's interior, the big shoals of fish sheltering in the rooms and corridors as we passed. Emerging briefly on deck before re-entering the upper superstructure, the ship was certainly proving her capability as an artificial reef, as more fish were sheltering inside her.

We emerged for a final time and surfaced, a fabulous experience behind us.

Returning to the apartment, Rip Van had also surfaced and had had a therapeutic morning doing the washing. We spent a lazy afternoon before going for another good supper at the surf club.
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