We decided to trawl through all the adverts on gumtree to find a private buyer instead and were so glad we did, as it was there that we found our beloved Bumble. He was owned by a German couple who named him the big banana, but we felt Bumble was more suitable due to the black interior and bright yellow colour! We loved him immediately and thankfully when I test drove him he went like a dream and was relatively easy to steer despite having no power steering. Some of the other vans we had viewed were just horrible so when we saw the sparkling clean interior and realised that it was really well looked after we felt safe in the knowledge that we were buying a relatively good vehicle. Unfortunately we had to get the van registered in Queensland as the original rego was from South Australia and all the states differ with regards to what you need and what checks must be done. I won't go into the details of this but let's just say frustrating doesn't even remotely cover it! $1200 and a whole new suspension later we finally had a roadworthy van in Queensland, something we hadn't expected but were assured was not due to neglect of the van but just its age and our bad luck! Grateful that we were now legal to drive we were finally able to continue on our way to Airlie Beach where we were due to begin a three month house sit.
A couple of days before we bought the van we took a trip to Mareeba, a town north of Cairns and near the Atherton Tablelands. It was really to pass the time before we had to give the van up but we ended up having an awesome day completely by accident! We started off by dropping into a Mango Winery, more for the hell of it really and we didn't expect to enjoy the wine, however we were pleasantly surprised. The wine was really good and we ended up tasting everything they had despite the early hour of 11am! 6 bottles of wine later (bought, not drunk) we were on our way again, and to sober us up a little we stopped off at a Coffee Works and decided to do a coffee and chocolate tasting. There were 18 coffees, 6 teas and 10 different types of chocolate to try, and we happily got stuck in. After about an hour we were both spinning out and constantly running to the loo as the coffee fully integrated itself in our systems! Tom doesn't usually drink coffee and hilariously the caffeine kick totally messed him up and it was as if he was drunk for the next couple of hours. We had a great time but decided to move on before the caffeine could cause any permanent damage.
We had heard of a place called Granite Gorge a few kilometres out of Mareeba that was privately owned and was like a national park with beautiful walking trails and swimming lagoons
. The reason we wanted to go there however was due to the rare rock wallabies that live in the parkland and can be hand fed by visitors, something I was particularly excited about! We turned up around 4pm and so only had an hour to visit and used our time wisely by heading straight to the rock platform and into the wallaby den. Straight away we were surrounded by very friendly, although not tame, wallabies in search of the food we had purchased for them on arrival. We were surprised at how forceful they were as they clambered all over us and eagerly ate from our hands while their little claws lightly held onto our palms to keep themselves balanced. It was one of the best moments of our trip in Oz and I was absolutely delighted the whole time. At one point a very eager mummy wallaby kept coming back for more food and her teeny joey peeped its head out to see what we had to offer which was just so amazing. We left the park very happy after having a memorable and hilarious day and headed back to Cairns once more.
Our trip from Cairns to Airlie was a bit more rushed than we had hoped as we only had a few days before our house sitting appointment, but as the journey technically only takes 8 hours we were able to take it easy and stop off at some scenic spots along the way. Mission beach was our first main stop and we headed to the beach to soak up some sun and take in our surroundings
. It is a typical backpacker destination but seemed unspoilt compared to some of the other places we had visited and if we had more time we would have liked to stay longer. We stayed at a free camp not far from the area and spent some time getting used to our new van. It was an experience to go from having head room to stand up to crouching in our little van, but our bed was lovely and comfortable and we planned ways of creating storage solutions and prettying up the inside to make it more homely. It was while I was busy sewing us some curtains outside in the sun that I heard someone creeping around in the bushes behind me. I was a little concerned as twigs cracked and leaves rustled so I turned to see who might be trying to come and kidnap me! What I saw instead was a MASSIVE birdlike creature with a blue head and dinosaur like feet heading straight towards me. Tom was in the van and had just noticed the cassowary (for that was what it was) coming near us and warned me to get in the van. A knowledgeable Australian man came over to explain that the cassowaries were an endangered species and that there were only 150 left in the region, so we were actually very priveleged to see one in the flesh. They are also known to be fairly dangerous and have killed pets and astonishingly humans too, their huge claw feet are capable of extreme force. We were therefore pretty wary of this creature and it proceeded to hound us all day long! Every time it went back in the bushes we would head back outside and carry on with our domestics and then it would creep back out again and be on top of you before you heard it. Thankfully when the sun went down we didn't see it again, but we have some pretty good pictures to show for it.
We passed through Bowen and Proserpine before heading to Airlie Beach and to the beautiful house we were to call home for the next 3 months
. We signed up as house sitters when we arrived in Australia and this would be our first experience in the country. We couldn't wait to live in a proper house with a kitchen and toilet after over a month on the road in our van, and this house was as luxurious as we could imagine. We drove up the winding driveway to the house on the hill and were greeted by Debbi and Simon, the owners, and their 2 boxer dogs Jet and Star. The house itself was built by them and was just beautiful. It was all on one level and had a pool and barbeque area, huge kitchen and lounge and even a gym. Debbi and Simon gave us their bedroom with its en suite bathroom and double shower and spa bath. We were in paradise! As soon as we were offered our first glass of wine we knew we would get on well with them and we ended up having a few drinks to get to know each other a little better, which was handy as they were going to be staying in the house a little longer with us! Their plan was to go sailing for 3 months around the northern coast of Australia, but they were still working on their 47 foot sailing boat and still needed to do a fair amount before they could leave. We decided to give them a hand as we were there and willing and with no jobs to go to, so our friendship blossomed from that point. We got into a routine of getting up at 6am every day and heading to the boat, only coming home when the sun went down, and in that time we worked harder than we have in the last 4 months! We both really enjoyed the chance to get stuck in and Tom found himself doing all sorts of carpentry and other jobs while Debbi and I painted the interior of the boat. By the end of the week we were fully entrenched in the house and the boat, and had taken Jet and Star on as our own dogs. Seeing them in their doggy lifejackets and booties was just hilarious, but a necessity for them if they were to settle in on the boat properly.
After we had all worked so hard the boat was finally ready, and Debbi and Simon invited us to stay with them for a few days while they tweaked any last minute problems
. We set off on a beautiful sunny day and got our first taste of what it was like to live on a boat. Despite my aversion to fish, Simon taught us both to fish with a rod and reel in the middle of the ocean, and it was one of the most exciting and memorable experiences of our trip. Neither me or Tom had ever caught a fish before, and on my second day I managed to catch a coral trout that we ate for our lunch! It was actually delicious, even more so because it was so fresh. Tom caught a smaller fish that we used as bait but then our luck just ran out and we didn't catch any more. Debbi and Simon both caught a huge catfish each but as Simon was reeling his in he felt a big tug and then when he pulled the fish up it had been chomped in half by a shark, with only its head remaining on the rod! Sharks were pretty common in these waters and we looked on in horror as we saw other boats with tourists snorkelling nearby! We visited the famous Whitehaven Beach with its squeaky sand, and Hill Inlet, an inlet of tiny sand islands that get gobbled by the tide every day. We went out in the tender (small motorised dinghy to the uninitiated) to try and find a spot to fish but the tide kept coming in and washing the sand islands away, so we ended up stopping at a huge rock to try and catch some crabs. As I clambered out of the boat with my typically unsteady gait, my flip-flopped foot managed to slip on the rock and under the boat, and I felt my foot get sliced up on the ragged oyster shells that stick to that area like glue. The blood was incredible and the most bizarre colour, like a child's poster paint! I had to endure Simon picking out bits of shell with a sterilized pin before I was patched up properly enough to walk, which was a bit of a sad ending to our trip and bloody painful too!
Thankfully my foot is making a good recovery now and we are back in the house while Debbi and Simon have embarked on their adventure. We feel like we have truly arrived in Australia now and our next step is to get a job. All in good time though...
So there we were, stranded in the middle of Cairns with a Travellers Autobarn van we were due to return in a couple of days, and no alternative mode of transport once that was gone. After checking out some Wicked vans (I'm not trying to be cool, they are actually called Wicked) we decided against spending any money on them as the vans all seemed to be a bit knackered. They are typical chubby vans, meaning there is just enough room for a bed and an esky, and the Wicked message is pretty clear - they don't care what anyone thinks of them! All of their vans are 'decorated' with graffiti and funny/risque slogans, think "if my wife was as good a ride as this van...", and having catered for hundreds of backpackers they all sport interior adornment in the form of scribbled messages in marker pen of dubious content. We viewed a purple van with cartoon cats drawn all over and the words Pussywagon in massive letters on the back, but in the end I just couldn't cope with the idea of turning up at the airport to pick up my parents in it