Wednesday, July 28, 2010

On a Mission to reach Babinda’s Boulders

(17 July 2010)

Mission Beach – possibly what Byron Bay was before it was raided by cashed up merchant bankers from Sydney thinking they could be hippies for a week each year – is a pleasant detour off the Bruce Highway. While there is an abundance of boutique lodgings and caravan parks, the place seems to hold onto enough chillin’ rustic charm to make it one of the more attractive beach holiday destinations.

Soraya has one of her ‘scared of death’ moments as she is fearful of being anywhere remotely near a coconut tree in case a coconut falls on your head. Anyway, after a picnic lunch, we walk on the sand away from the countless coconut trees that fringe the beach.

Along the beach, we come across a palm frond hut someone had made so the tribe relives a ‘Man vs Wild’ moment. Later on, we come across an abandoned lilo, stranded by the surf, its adventure at its end, or perhaps yet to begin?

On our drive to and from Mission Beach, there are again many signs warning of cassowaries, yet alas, we luck out on seeing one – the closest we get are the models and murals of cassowaries that profligate the townships.

Our stop for the night is the rest area in Babinda, about an hour’s drive short of Cairns. The place already has many other travellers settling in for the evening and with the recent rainfall, there is little choice in finding a ‘dry’ spot as most available and reasonably safe spots are slowly being reduced to mud.

The next day, in the drizzle, we seek the famed Boulders just a short drive west of town – the boulders are a collection of house-sized granite slabs that populate Babinda Creek, which in company with the falls, offer a dangerous place for a swim as many warning signs attest. The local aboriginal story on the creation of the Boulders makes for a poignant reminder of the dangers.

Getting high

(14-16 July 2010)

Ingham . . . famous for the pub with no beer and its Italian Festival (in May), yet strangely, the tribe actually favour the large playground. Well, it’s the best playground since the huge climbing pyramid they played on in Yeppoon!

We stop here as Kate and Giles suggested we visit Wallaman Falls – only Australia’s highest at 268m. And they are impressive! Especially since the drive through the forests of Girringun NP offer us our first opportunity of spotting a cassowary or two. Initially, the tribe weren’t sold on seeing the falls, however, upon seeing the site, they all said one thing: ‘Wow!’. Returning to Ingham, we again keep a look out for the cassowary, yet all we see are the countless road signs warning us of the bird.

The Tyto Wetlands on the edge of the commercial district offer other twitching opportunities. The place is huge (120 hectares) and is home to countless local and migratory birds. We need to walk pass grass fields and shrubs before actually hitting the wetlands, passing hoards of agile wallabies dining on the abundant grass.

There is a family of crimson finch getting their evening feed as well as some other water bird, either an egret or heron. As we near the waters so that we can sit in a hide, there are signs warning that it is a crocodile area too – and the thickets of reeds that have been shaped by the resident fauna suggest that there could be a croc not far from where we trample – yikes!

The kids from casting central.

(12-13 July 2010)

Continuing our journey up the Bruce Highway, we look for another ‘free’ campsite, thanks to the great guide book that is Camps 5. Firstly, we try Balgal Beach just south-east of Rollingstone (yep, in a word a town, not a band), which proved to be full, so onto Rollingstone itself. ‘Bushy’ Parker* Park is our home for the next couple of nights – a very large free camp site. The nearby creek is a picturesque bonus.

We take a trip up to the hamlet of Paluma in the mountains – the day, misty and drizzly – another opportunity for the tribe to don boots and raincoats. This is our first walk in a rain – forest! There is a short 500m loop track we take – with the fairly typical flora of many rainforests: birds nest ferns, creepers, and trees with high canopies – the drip, drip, dripping of water a reminder of why these forests are named so.

As we finish our walk, I discover a couple of leeches on my hand which I quickly brush off – they had only just ‘landed’ on me, so hadn’t sunk their suckers in. Immediately, I check Zak, who also had one, and we all head to the toilets to do a complete check. Leeches were the closest to wildlife we encountered on this walk.

Afterwards, we head back down towards the coast and repair to the Frosty Mango for some ice cream treats. As we enter, there is a TV crew filming the ice cream range, and the tribe are instantly asked to be part of the picture – ‘the kids from casting central’ supposedly ended up on Queensland Weekender, not that we’d see it. Despite the variety of tropical fruit ice cream, the tribe go for their favourites: strawberry, chocolate and vanilla; while M chose chocolate (of course) and I go for the jackfruit (yum!). Other tropical flavours on offer include pawpaw, black sapote, soursop, rambutan, dragon fruit and lychee.

(* Lt ‘Bushy’ Parker was a former local resident who was incarcerated at Colditz during WWII after being shot down in his Spitfire, who made many attempts to escape, though never succeeding).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hanging with the family at Airlie

(7-10 July 2010)

Given that it was the school winter break, my brother Toby with family (Ju, Oliver and Otto) and our mum fly up to Airlie Beach for a holiday. It was wonderful to see family again and hang out together.

The extended tribe has a ball at the Airlie lagoon – a pool complex complete with playground, sand and of course, lifeguards, that has the one simple guarantee: no stingers! Anyway, stingers are scarce this time of year and the pool is a welcome relief.

We do a three-island cruise (note to Gilligan’s Island fans: not a three-hour cruise) venturing to Hook, Whitsunday and Daydream Islands. This is the first boat trip for the tribe and they are so excited!

As we arrive at our first stop (Hook Island), poor Saffiya was sick – strangely, it was after we docked. She was so distraught but recovered well enough to take in a short cruise upon a glass bottom boat to view coral and those colourful tropical fish (ie Nemo’s friends). After about 45 minutes, we return to the island for a spot of snorkeling in front of the Hook Island Resort while the tribe cavort on the beach – the fish are plentiful and colourful, the resort looking like it’s seen better days.

Onto Whitsunday Island and the famed Whitehaven Beach – the beautiful pure white silica sand is an experience – and also this is where all tour boat operators bring their customers – so boat after boat unload their passengers onto what is now a Bondi in the tropics. The extended tribe get into playing in the sand and splashing in the water, as M, Toby, mum and I all take turns swimming with the kids.

Lastly, we visit Daydream Island where the tribe each feed a stingray in the open-air aquarium – plus see sharks, coral and even more of Nemo’s friends. We roam about part of the island and the tribe pose with the mermaid statues, with Zak taking a particular liking to the breasts of one mermaid!

We drive out to Dingo Beach where the tide was way out (man!) again. Another opportunity for the tribe to play on the beach and spot crabs, starfish and their ilk.

After four days in Airlie, we leave family and the Whitsundays to carry on or journey up the coast. We stop in Bowenland for a picnic lunch – yes for those who didn’t see Baz Luhrman’s “Australia” (includes us!), Bowen was 1930s Darwin in the film.

Our stop for the night is the rest area at Home Hill, next to the railway and parallel to the highway, along with countless other free campers. The facilities here are the best of any free camp we have experienced – hot showers and kitchen area with sinks and free BBQs; but of course, you have to contend with the trains throughout the night as well as the long distance buses who stop halfway along the camping strip.

A hippy, his rainforest haven and the elusive platypus

(4-6 July 2010)

Just before hitting Mackay, we travel inland towards Eungella NP past endless fields of cane. Driving through Mirani, there is the heavy scent of molasses that permeates the air creating a sickly sweet sensation – though probably not as heavy as trying to breathe with your head in a vat of honey.

Our destination is the Platypus Bush camp in the Finch Hatton Gorge section of the park. All I know is that there is the promise of the tribe sighting a platypus sometime over the next few days so this is a kind of special diversion from the beaches and the coastline as we end up some 70km inland from Mackay.

Wazza is the owner of the Platypus Bush Camp, and he is one of those characters who make the trip worthwhile. A former surfie/hippy drop out, he skipped Sydney (or more precisely, West Pymble) at the age of 15 and headed to Brunswick Heads. Now, an aging hippy in his early 60s, with salt water in his veins, he still tries to get to the sea for a bit of sailing, however, the Playtpus Bush Camp is his pet eco-venture.

It is quite simply the best unadulterated bush retreat with no mod-cons – you can either camp or rent one of his log cabins (ie cabin on stilts, with no door and tarp as window covers – very rustic). And the best part is the bush showers – a wonderful stone shelter with three sides, the fourth open onto the rainforest gardens, with the water heated by woodfire. And then even better is that you are surrounded by the rainforest – and serenaded by the gurgling creek with crystal clear fresh drinking water.

Oh, and did I mention there is a platypus pond down a short track from the back of the campsite? So there we went on our first evening, with most of our fellow campers to espy the elusive platypus.

Did we see one? Well I think I saw one flit through the water – and photographed it – an indistinguishable blur in the fading light.

Well there’s always tomorrow morning . . . although we lucked out again – we think the platypus here are early risers.

We spend a day up in the upland rainforest at Broken River, just past Eungella town that is reached after a winding and steep drive (12º ascent!); but the views from the road are breathtaking – as would be stepping off the side of the road!

Broken River actually offers another platypus spotting opportunity – one that is almost guaranteed – and I did see one from the path, half way to the viewing platform where the tribe were already waiting patiently and quietly, however, the angle of the sun, combined with the shade from the trees prevented their view. We wait for some awhile longer, but keeping the tribe engaged to spot a creature that could appear anywhere and anytime is a challenge beyond their level of patience, which is perfectly reasonable.

The forest walks at Broken River are well signposted and also provide plenty of information with many signs along the tracks describing the rainforest, its ecosystem, as well as identifying key flora.

We tried spotting the platypus again at the bush camp, both on the final evening and on the morning we reluctantly leave, vowing to return.

As Wazza said, if he can impart just some of his philosophy on campers, then it’s all worthwhile – ‘tread softly’ folks!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Dude, the tide is out, like way out

(3 July 2010)

Ahh, another beach for the tribe to attack with their shovels, spades and other sandcastle building gear – well not this time. This time round, it was a walk on the beach that went forever: not in the north-south sense, just the east-west sense. And this was Carmila Beach, some 70km south of Mackay.

You see, when the tide is out, it’s really out.

However, we did spot some little crabs that did a fine job of popping out of the sand from all directions like in those arcade games – they also frightened Soraya as she feared being nipped by one (or ten).

The place itself was stunning and provided a great subject as a photographic backdrop.

Kinka Beach and the Singing Ship

(30 June – 3 July 2010)

Now officially in the tropics as we pass the Tropic Marker (23º 26’ 30”), we flit through Rockhampton en route to the coast – our destination for the next few days.

Kinka Beach is one of the many beaches to the south of Yeppoon, with Zilzie Bay the south-most – all just a leisurely 45-60min drive from Rockhampton. The coastline is picturesque with the Keppel Islands and others offshore. The holiday park we stay at is like God’s waiting room as we must be just one of two or three families here – all other residents are retired, mostly from the south (NSW, Victoria, SA) escaping the colder winter for 2-3months in their superannuated 4WDs and flash caravans with all mod-cons (Foxtel anyone?).

We venture north into Byfield with the state forest on the left and the national park on the right – a superb place for forest walks and bush camping – alas for us, it’s just a leisurely afternoon drive. On return we stop in Yeppoon for a sugar refuel – ice cream for the tribe and coffee and cake for M and me.

The Singing Ship sculpture-tribute-monument to Captain James Cook is an interesting piece of work – iron pipes, musically tuned play wistful tunes as the seabreeze breathes through – unfortunately, in filming the sculpture, I had no windsock to make a clean recording of the music so all I got was the hiss of the wind on the mike.

My birthday – and nothing better than a birthday on holiday. We celebrate with a damn fine cooked brekkie, adorned with candles. The cake comes later. We spend a leisurely day pottering about in overcast conditions – Saffiya wants to buy me a hat as a pressie so we head to the shops. We find a hat that Saffiya approves of and I like, but alas they do not have my size. The promise that there will be a hat bought in another town.

Heading off from the Cap Coast, we stop at the Capricorn Caves – and discover that while impressive as a ‘dry-cave’ system, it pales in comparison with the likes of Jenolan, Buchan or Yarrangobilly Caves – all southern ‘wet-cave’ systems. One of the fascinating things about the Capricorn Caves is the apparent amount of guano that had been excavated from the caves and estimated amount left (something like 30 metres deep!) – which make the floor upon we walk.

1770 and all that

(28-30 June 2010)

So, onto 1770, or officially, The Town of 1770 or The Town of Seventeen Seventy.

Unlike the town in far north Queensland named Cooktown, the bright sparks here decided to name the place after the year Captain Cook landed nearby – the first place he set foot in Queensland.

Imagine every place he landed was named after the year – there would be many 1770s doted along the coastline. Or conversely, many Cooktowns for that matter.

I suppose, you need to use the longer version of the place name so as not to confuse Australia Post with 1770 and postcode placed side by side.

Enough of this quibble as it is a very picturesque place.

We walk the track through the bush from back of the campgrounds to the surf beach to find a beach festooned with shells, the sand gritty with the fragments of broken shell. But as usual, nothing deters the tribe from the beach, as water and sand are plentiful. As usual, there is the sandcastle building and shell collecting, plus the added bonus of attempting to bury M in sand as she read.

Driving around the inland bay, looking west from the point and savour the view, deciding that in another life, we will have to return to places like this with boat and fishing rods and join others on the water – it must be a good thing as there are many boat trailers left in the carpark.

No Gin at Gin Gin

(27 June 2010)

We leave Hervey Bay with heavy hearts as we leave Gen, Ash, Max and Bella (plus the chooks) – the tribe enjoyed playing with Max and Bella, and feeding the chooks, as well as checking how many eggs were laid each day.

Zak had a perpetual smile fixed to his face the whole time – it was such a special time for him, being able to spend these days with Gen, his fairy godmother. This is not to say, the other tribal rugrats were ignored – they all enjoyed the attention from both Gen and Ash.

I believe Zak was on the verge of calling Boutique Bush ‘home’ he liked it so much. We will have to return.

Our aim for the drive today was to reach 1770, however due to our late start, and the need to stock up on provisions before leaving the Bay, we get as far as Gin Gin and spend the night at the Gin Gin rest area, joining countless other caravaners, motorhomers, backpackers and the like.

As we didn’t visit the local, we never did discover how good the Gin was – after all, if you use the NY/NY excuse, the locals must have liked the Gin so much they named it twice.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hanging out at Boutique Bush

(24-26 June 2010)

Princess Gen and Prince Ash offer a corner of their 5 acre block for us to set up camp – actually it’s a corner close to their home rather than far flung part of their nature haven – a forest of naturally regenerated melaleuca plus a large dam with lilies surrounded by reeds. It is a little peace of heaven away from the tourist town that is Hervey Bay.

We meet up with Gen walking Bella and Max on the beach near the Urangan Fisheries – a wonderful backdrop with the tide being out, Fraser Island in the background, a dark cloud looming towards us across the strait and a double rainbow.

The tribe quickly befriends Bella and Max – and conversely, Bella and Max quickly befriend the tribe. Cousins in the making!

By quirk of coincidence, another friend, Charley is visiting her parents in nearby Maryborough* as she takes a break between jobs in Singapore, so we have a BBQ dinner party to celebrate our reunion. Dare I say we had a damn great BBQ-ed snapper!

Earlier, we ventured down to The Pines overlooking Hervey Bay and picnic, followed by beachcombing for shells and tramping over the rockpools, until Soraya unfortunately cut her foot – so we make good use of our first aid kit. After a clean-up, antiseptic swab and bandage, Soraya is right as rain.

On Saturday, after a wander around the property, we head to the water park where the tribe has ridiculous fun in the plethora of fountains shooting jets of water every which way. It was better than the beach!

(* trivia for those not in the know – the originator of Mary Poppins comes from Maryborough and named Mary Poppins after the Mary River!)

A bit less rain in ‘rainbow’ please

(21-24 June 2010)

Rainbow Beach . . . the name conjures images of a beautiful beach, great surf, exotic palms, sunrises and sunsets to die for . . . if only! Isolated showers are the name of the game during our stay so on our first day, we take a walk about town with the tribe donning their raincoats and boots, attacking every puddle we walk past . . . oops, make that, walk through.

Carlo (the) Sand blow remained unvisited throughout our stay due to the weather and when it didn’t rain, we ventured to the beach so the tribe could get their fill of sand and water – building sandcastles, collecting shells and pebbles.

The water was a comfortable 18C despite the weather, and our girls enjoyed playing in the gentle surf. The boys kept to their cycle of building and destroying their sandcastles – discovering their latest joy of jumping on any sand creation.