East Coast Drive

Trip Start Nov 12, 2004
1
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Trip End Aug 28, 2005


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Flag of Australia  ,
Wednesday, June 8, 2005

So, here we are in hot and sunny Queensland.

With a couple of days in Cairns before we picked up Skippy MkII we
took the opportunity to take ourselves out on a boat to the Great
Barrier Reef. Mark was excited as it was his opportunity to get his
diving gear on and venture into the waters of possibly the most famous
diving site in the world. I however, was a little bit nervous as yet
again I'd signed myself up for another attempt at snorkelling. My
hopes were to just be able to get more than my ankles wet this
time....

Anyway, the coach picked us up at yet another ungodly hour (6.30am!)
and it started raining! We sat on our way to Port Douglas hoping that
it would clear before we got onto the boat!

The boat turned out to be pretty impressive. We found ourselves seats
and made the most of the morning tea that was on offer and then we
started out. It got pretty choppy and I was starting to feel quite
queasy when all of a sudden it became much calmer and we realised we
were then sailing over coral. Mark had his diving brief and was
hustled off leaving me growing more and more nervous about putting my
face in the water. Amy, the snorkel guide, was a great calming
influence and when I explained that the thought of putting my face
into the water and breathing, not being able to touch the bottom and
my certainty that I would sink no matter how many flotation devices I
had attached about my person, she made me feel quite relaxed and
assured me that I was in actual fact normal and not a complete retard.
After a couple of failed attempts, I eventually managed to have a
good old swim around and even thoroughly enjoyed myself! (I actually
had Mark with me dragging me through the water by the scruff of my
flotation vest, but hey! I did it!)

Mark loved the diving too and really felt like he'd achieved a long
held ambition. We met some lovely people during the day and we can
actually say to ourselves that we've "done" the Great Barrier Reef!
Pretty cool eh?!

The following day (Saturday 11th June) we picked up our new van and
set off north to Cape Tribulation for the night before heading south
down the coast on our last leg of Australia.

The north of Australia is completely different from the desert central
region and the temperate south. It's totally tropical, surrounded by
lush rainforest and loads of sugar cane plantations! To get to Cape
Trib we had to cross the Daintree river on a ferry but weren't lucky
enough to spot any crocs (yep, we're in croc country now folks). As
soon as we got to the other side it was another complete change of
scenery. The open countryside with rainforest clad mountains and huge
fields with long open roads gave way to a winding mountain track
literally through the middle of a dense rainforest, crossing bridges
made of planks with crocs below. The rainforest ran all the way down
the mountain side right the way to the white sandy beach below. The
trees were so thick they weren't letting through any daylight and the
humidy was amazing. We could almost see the water in the air and the
steam coming up from the road. We settled ourselves in a site right
on the beach and, although it was basic, it was quite amazing to be in
such a stunningly unspoilt part of the world and to have it pretty
much all to ourselves.

(Another tale of bravery - I shared the toilet with what I'm sure was
a white tail spider - one that bites. Needless to say, I didn't hang
around and I watched him the whole time. If he moved, I was runnin'!)

The next day, after a very humid night and a bit more exploring, we
headed back south and into a region known as the Atherton Tablelands.
The region was really pretty and, because it was high up, a lot cooler
than Cape Trib! We explored some of the local towns and found the
Curtain Fig Tree, a strangler fig which was a pretty impressive sight.
It's the only tree in the world that grows downwards. A bird drops
the seed onto the branches of another tree and the root grows
downwards. The tree eventually spreads and strangles the host tree
until it dies and rots away, leaving the hollow strangler fig and all
it's strange roots standing. We stopped for the night in a place
called Mareeba in a campsite next to a waterfall and went for a bit of
(unsuccessful) platypus spotting before calling it a night.

Heading out of the Tablelands, we did a circuit trip of some
waterfalls (there are loads of them in this area) which was lovely as
the carparks were right next to the waterfalls (except for one but
that was only a 5 minute clamber down some steps) so we got to indulge
our lazy bones and see some really pretty waterfalls at the same time.

We drove ourselves to a town called Innisfail and called into a croc
farm just in time for lunch. Theirs, not ours! These beasts were
enormous. Some were upto 6 metres long. The keepers would quite
happily walk into the enclosures with them with nothing but a plastic
rake for protection. Nutters. The guy that owned the place sneaked
up behind Mark while we were watching one of the crocs and scratched
his leg with the rake, sending him jumping 6 ft into the air. He said
"you've got good reflexes - want a job!?" Mark declined!!

After that, we headed for Mission Beach and had a cup of tea on the
sand before heading to Lucinda, a tiny port with a 6km jetty. We were
a bit flabbergasted on arrival at the campsite. We were expecting it
to be really quiet what with it being so out of the way but it was
heaving. Full of retirees and their caravans having driven up from
the cooler south to spend the winter months in a warmer climate. The
first sight we were allocated was right next to an "enthusiastic" lady
bashing out "When the Saints Go Marching In" on her keyboard at full
volume, so we politely (after killing ourselves laughing) asked to be
allocated another site which was, thankfully, quieter. We were still
the talking point of the entire site though, due to being
"campervanners" and considerably under the age of 50 and lots of
people came over for a chat. We were both exhausted after such a long
day, and that coupled with the considerable amount of wine I'd
consumed, I fell asleep outside in the chair (I may as well tell you
because I know for sure that Mr Marky is going to put the photographic
evidence on the website - I will have my revenge!)

The next day we headed further south and took ourselves on an exciting
drive up a mountain to the Wallaman Falls, the tallest single drop
waterfall in the country. The road was steep, the bends were tight
and some sections were bumpy gravel road, but it was really worth it
when we got to the top as the view was spectacular.

Afterwards we continued exploring the area and came across the Paluma
National Park. We found a really pretty mountain drive and came
across a river and waterfall called "Little Creek". We then headed
further up the mountain to the town of Paluma and the Macellan
Lookout. We could see much though as we were right up in the clouds!

The rest of the day was spent driving into Townsville, the 3rd largest
city in Queensland where we just crashed for the night ready for a
trip over to Magnetic Island in the morning.

After so much continuous driving we both felt we needed a day off, so
we ditched the van in Townsville for the day, donned our swimmers and
packed the sunscreen and headed over to Magnetic Island for a day on
the beach. We took the passenger ferry then the bus to Horseshoe bay
and set ourselves down on the sand, treating ourselves to a morning
snack of a cuppa and a pie (we're turning into a pair of pie fiends.
That well known footie chant regarding pies will soon be aimed at us!)
It was lovely just sitting and chilling out in the sunshine without
having to worry about getting anywhere by a certain time. We had a
superb fish and chip lunch and then disappointingly discovered that we
had to head back to the mainland to get back to the van before our
carpark ticket expired as the ferries only ran every 2 hours! So,
with our day cut short we headed to our next campsite which was just
outside Townsville (and right opposite the Koala sanctuary where we'd
be heading in the morning!). That evening while we were sat outside
enjoying a beer and some crisps, Mark spotted something moving in the
tree above us so he fetched the torch and we spotted a possum! It
wasn't long before another, more confident one appeared and came right
up close to us - so close we thought it was going to pounce! We were
also lucky enough to have hundreds of fruit bats soaring and circle in
the sky above us! Quite an eventful evening!

The next morning I was up bright and early, ready for the moment I'd
been looking forward to for weeks! Koala cuddles! The sanctuary was
just over the road from the campsite and we were there as soon as the
gates opened. The first koala session wasn't for a couple of hours so
we made the most of having the park to ourselves for a while and
wandered round feeding the kangaroos and the birds, seeing the wombats
and dingoes and taking some photos of the very odd looking Cassowary
bird. Then it was koala time! They really are the cutest, cuddliest,
sweetest looking creatures. The keeper gave a little talk about
koalas and their habits and the best way of handling them. A few
minutes later and I had Lucy, a 15 month old baby, in my arms. She
had been born in captivity and was used to human contact so was quite
happy having a cuddle. I was over the moon as the huge grin on my
face in the photo shows. All too soon I had to give her back (I did
consider making a dash for it with her, but as we can't get eucalypt
leaves at home, I thought better of it), but I got to spend some time
with another koala who loves humans but was considered too likely to
scratch (accidentally!) to be held. I got to look right in her eyes
and I really felt like we'd bonded! Much as I'd have loved to take a
real one home, I couldn't, so Mark bought me a cuddly one to take home
instead.

After that it was back in the van and further down the coast to Airlie
Beach, gateway to the Whitsundays, ready for the next part of our
adventure.

The next day we left the van behind again and set out on another boat
to take in the beautiful Whitsunday Islands. First stop was
Whitehaven beach, considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches
in the world. It was stunning. The sand was pure white and so soft
it squeaked under foot. It looked more like snow than sand! The
water was crystal clear and a brilliant turquoise blue. The best
thing about it was how unspoilt it was. No shops, no resorts - not
even a toilet! Just an island with a rainforest centre surrounded by
pristine beach.

Mark went on another dive and saw some blue spotted rays and some
amazing coral and I ventured back in with a snorkel (which
unfortunately had a hole in it, so after consuming a large amount of
salt water I called it a day). Yet another lovely day on the
Australian coast.

After spending a couple of nights in a very touristy area and a
touristy park, we decided to get off the beaten track a bit and stay
somewhere that's a bit more the way nature intended. We found a place
called the Capricorn Caves, a national park with limestone caves,
forest and a campsite in the grounds. We went on a tour of the caves
with a very enthusiastic guide and then settled down for the evening
surrounded by the sounds of the forest and not much else! The
following morning, we were approached by a very inquisitive and
friendly kangaroo with a joey in her pouch so I held out a small
handful of muesli which she seemed pretty impressed with! How to make
friends!

Fraser Island was our next stop of importance. It's the largest sand
island in the world and the whole island is world heritage listed.
It's a pretty stunning place. There are no roads so we couldn't take
the van over - instead we went on a 4 wheel drive bus which was really
good fun, yet quite odd looking. We drove through the rainforest
until we got to 75 Mile Beach which is not only a huge beach, but the
main highway on the island. All 4x4's use it as well as fishermen,
families and aeroplanes! Yes, small scenic flight planes use it as a
runway! We saw the Cathedrals (sand sculptures) and the Maheno ship
wreck before taking a walk in the rainforest and sitting by a pristine
freshwater lake and polishing our rings in the really fine sand.

The next day it was a long old drive to Brisbane where we stopped over
for one night to allow us to arrange our flights out of Australia (sad
day!) to Fiji and from Fiji to LA. It has to be said that I am really
looking forward to a few days of R&R just chilling out on the beach!
Flights all sorted for the 5th July to Fiji and 10th July to LA, so we
just relaxed for the evening with a bottle of wine.

The sun was out and the sky was blue the following morning, so we had
a lovely drive along the Gold Coast, through all the high rise
developments of Surfers Paradise and the like. It was really built
up, but somehow not ugly like Benidorm or other big beach resorts.
The buildings were all very art-deco and modern and the beaches were
lovely. Soft white sand and clear blue sea. Really lovely. We
eventually made it down to Byron Bay, hippy capital of the East Coast.
After doing a bit of VW Kombi spotting and mavelling at the number of
places in the town where you could buy crystals, have your chakras
aligned and your aura cleansed we eventually came across a lovely
campsite, just out of town, which was in the middle of a nature
reserve and right on the beach. We had a stroll along the sand and
did a bit of whale spotting before heading back into town to do a bit
of internetting.

The next day, we did the highly recommended Cape Byron walk. It was
hard work but really worth it. After a walk along the beach we headed
up a steep slope along the Cape taking in the views over the sea and
watching the Humpback whales playing in the distance. It was a
gorgeous sunny morning and the sea was really calm so we could see
them clearly even though they were a long way out. We then set about
heading up the climb to the lighthouse. The path along the way was
dotted with modern art from some local artists and students. Some of
it blended in really well, some of it stood out like a sore thumb but
it was all really interesting to look at! We were lucky enough to be
stood just in the right place when a large pod of dolphins came up
close to the cliffs to play in the surf. We were high up so they
looked small from a distance, but it was lovely to see them.

After the walk, we headed into town and bought ourselves some lunch
and then went and sat by the beach for a couple of hours. Mark wrote
his diary and we both just chilled out and rested our weary legs until
it was time to head further on down the coast.

We decided to head to a tiny place called Brooms Head. It was already
getting dark by the time we got there but it was a pretty place and
again the campsite was right on the beach. The wind was picking up
and the waves were getting quite rough, so we sat in the van and ate
our dinner with the sound of the waves in the background. Lovely!

The following day we reached our most southern point on the east coast
- Nambucca Heads. We took a walk along the jetty reading the messages
that locals and visitors had painted on the rock wall. It would have
been nice to leave one of our own but with no paint to hand it would
have been tricky. We made friends with two labradors in the park -
Amy and Topsie. Both youngsters and both adorable. It really made us
miss our dogs at home!

Since then we've been heading back up towards Brisbane, stopping in
small, unspoilt places along the way and taking ourselves off the main
highway every now and again just because we can. Tomorrow (Tuesday)
we'll be dropping the van off and preparing ourselves for our last
week in Australia.

The campervan has been great fun and a real adventure that we've both
loved. Maybe if we come back to Australia to see all the bits we've
missed we'll do it again?!
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