K2inCanada's Blog

January 22, 2011

Australia 2009 Report – QLD Part 2

Filed under: Australia, Travel — K2 in Canada @ 8:43 PM

Day 6/47 (Nov 17, 2009): We were up before 5AM this morning and quickly broke camp to have enough time to do a little hike along Rainbow Beach (after too much driving all day yesterday). Just a bit to the south of the town’s swimming beach is the start of Cooloola NP – also called Great Sandy National Park up here. Luckily the beach wasn’t closed due to the bushfire (by now I think it was pretty much contained).

Rainbow Beach, Cooloola NP

Soaring White-breated Eagle

Covered in black dust

The walk had us climb above Mulgo Rocks – the only obstacle for 4×4’s at high tide, back onto the endless beach along the “Coloured Sands” cliffs. We slowly wandered along for about 45min to 1hr watching a white-breasted sea eagle soar high above the ragged cliff. On the way back the tide was still too high to get around the rocks but at least we could climb over them rather than through the sliding sands of the cliff. Only problem – those rocks were volcanic – and I don’t know how Jeff managed to get away without any black on himself but I was covered in it from head to toe. I looked like being covered in soot. Good thing it was early still and nobody around when we got back to the car. Before leaving town we had a look at Carlos’s Sandblow.

Carlos' Sandblow

It was only a short walk through red and white barked eucalyptus forest but Jeff didn’t stay long to explore the sandblow itself. The sign at the parking area warned about “High Theft Area” and obviously we had EVERYTHING in the car. I walked across it to look at where the sand slowly swallows the vegetation along it. Nice views towards the ocean on the one side and the rainforest to the other. On the way back to the main highway we made one last stop in Cooloola NP at Seary Creek – a little freshwater creek meandering through the low bush. We cooled off our legs in the water (and I washed off the black soot) but didn’t have time to stick around.

Rum Country - near Bundaberg

Back on the road we were following some paved backcountry roads to Maryborough before hitting the main HWY to Bundaberg where we stocked up on groceries. The drive was scenic through tree plantations, eucalyptus forests and sugar cane fields – the dirt was very dark red in stark contrast to the green sugar cane growing in some fields – rum country. Smoke billowed up in the distance on and off – constant signs of wild fires all over the place. We arrived at our final destination at 2:30PM – Agnes Water, a small community and the gateway to the southern Great Barrier Reef. We originally planned to stay a night on one of the Coral Islands but the only way to get there this time of the year would have been by taking a day cruise. Nothing wrong with that except that we would have to pay for the trip twice even though we would only go half the distance each time. So we skipped that plan (to regret it later as we would have had a whole island to ourselves + the local wild life) and only booked on a day cruise on one of those large catamarans which go out to the reef every day and have room for almost 200 people. There are smaller cruises as well but in the off-season they only go on the weekends. The lady at the tourist information where we booked the cruise also suggested a great campsite for the night at Workman Beach – a nice spot with lots of trees to provide shade and a little bit of privacy from other campers. It was very quiet in the afternoon except for the brush turkeys fighting for which campsites was “theirs” to look after during dinner time.

Agnes Water swimming beach

Body surfer Jeff

We drove back into town to visit the actual swimming beach watched by the local Surf Life Saving guard. We checked the conditions with the life guard first as the water was a bit rougher and this time of the year the so famous and deadly box jelly fish are know to frequent the Queensland coast. But we were “lucky” that no box jellies had been seen yet, only a few blue bottles (another type of jelly fish) and some fireweed. Both burn you like hell BUT they aren’t deadly. So off we went into the water. But the sea was too rough for me to body surf and there was a lot of stuff floating in it. I did not get stung but I was afraid of it every time something touched my body. Therefore, I didn’t last long in the water and rather enjoyed some UV light causing skin-cancer exposure out on the beach :-).

Back at the campsite I walked along Workman beach and climbed up into the cliffs surrounding it. Beautiful beach lined by eucalyptus and palm trees. For the first time we managed to have dinner before the sun set and crawled into our sleeping bags around 7:30PM. But sleep didn’t come easy as the campsite was noisier than I was hoping for. Since it was relatively early a couple Aussies set up camp next door. And a family two sites over seemed to be chatting all night long. We learned all about their several month long trip – you can imagine how long those stories were if you were following my report so far. Anyhow, everyone finally shut up and I fell asleep. Only to be woken up by lightning and thunder a short while later. Ever since the rainstorm in Bunya Mountain we had been setting up our tent without the rain fly again. I was up in two seconds to throw it on just before the rain started. Luckily it didn’t rain hard but it took some time listening to the light rain before I fell asleep again.

Day 7/48: Our natural alarm clock went off at 4AM this morning – the Kookaburra started laughing in the trees above our heads a long time before we had to be at the marina to board our cruise at 7:15AM.

Alarm clock - laughing Kookaburra

Since I felt like I had just fallen asleep I rolled over again and dosed off till 5:30AM. Besides the “late” start we had plenty of time to pack up our snorkeling gear and still made it to “The Town of 1770” with plenty of time to board the “Spirit of 1770”.  Enough time so that I talked myself into doing one of the dives as well. I used to do a lot of diving but haven’t been for over 5 years. But the dive guide, Tine from Germany, convinced me that I should go onto the lagoon dive which is easy and good to get back into the diving routine. So we forked out another bunch of dollars besides the already not cheap fare for the trip – did I mention already that Queensland is so much more expensive :-). As a bonus, we got prime seating for our money – right with the captain in the wheelhouse. Skipper Brett was like THE typical Australian guy even though he was a bit older – blond, tall, fit looking, great accent and full of fun stories. The 1.5hr crossing to Lady Musgrave Island went by very quickly in calm seas.

Lady Musgrave Island is one of the few real coral cays in the Great Barrier Reef and it looks like paradise. A big lagoon surrounds the island with a small opening for boats like ours to enter the protected lagoon. Water was wonderful clear with colours ranging from light green to deep blue and everything in between depending on depth. Just WOOAAH! The boat was anchored at a small platform just off the island. Jeff and I were in the first group to go onto the cay – it’s pretty small (200m across) and to limit the impact they split the tour guests up into several groups. And even though we were eager to hit the water we could not say no to walking onto a real coral cay. The beach was white with dead coral, the centre was covered with Pisonia trees which were surrounded by She-Oak. And EVERY branch was covered with Black Noddies – a bird which comes here to nest, besides Terns (nesting on the edge of the forest in the grass), Shearwater (nesting in holes in the ground) and Seagulls. It was Noddies’s breeding time when we visited the island. The birds help build and fertilize the island. Pisonia Tree seeds are kinda sticky and get stuck to the birds that fly from island to island and get dropped there. Some birds actually get caught up in the seeds while on the ground and die – an important part of the islands growth as they fertilize the soil, together with all that bird poop. I was lucky to wear my hat – not everyone had one :-). Pisonia trees are fast growing tree and their root system prevents the dirt from being washed of the island again – and so the island grows.  VERY impressive and well worth the trip. We also saw the campsite on our walk across the island – deserted, not a soul. Okay there are a lot of day tourists but we would have had it all to ourselves for the night, well us and the millions of birds. Back at the boat we grabbed some lunch (good selection) and finally hit the water with our snorkeling gear wearing full body suits to protect us against jelly fish – just in case.  Water was nice, 24C, the corals were beautiful and fish plentiful. As I had my dive come up shortly as well I was out of the water after about 40min. I was a bit nervous about going diving again and it took me a little bit to play with my buoyancy. But soon enough I was back into it and it was an enjoyable, easy dive around the” Brommies” – coral mounts within the lagoon. Jeff saw a stingray on his second snorkel trip.

Lady Musgrave Island

White coral beach, green She-Oak and Pisonia, blue Ocean

... and lots of Black Noddies

Our transportation, the "Spirit of 1770"

Too soon we had to leave the paradise behind and were heading back to the mainland. After we left the lagoon, we saw a few manta rays swimming next to the boat – pretty cool. Later on I even saw a manta ray jumping out of the water. I would not have believe my eyes if the skipper hadn’t seen the same thing. To top it all off we saw a few dolphins in the distance. When we got to the harbor the tide was still too low and the big catamaran could not get back to the dock. So they had a barge come out to transport the passengers of the boat – about 20 or so at a time and there were 118 of us on the boat. Since Jeff and I were in no hurry and found some nice people to chat with we were the last group to go. By then the tide was up and we actually didn’t have to go onto the barge any more. A great day and we never really felt like the boat or water was too crowded – they did a great job splitting us up into groups for the island walk, lunch and snorkeling activities. By the time we got back to the car it was nearly 6:30PM. The drive back to Workman Beach was short but dinner and dishes were happening in the dark again. The chatty family from last night was still at it. Tonight they were fixing a flat tire. A neighbor offered to help and pulled his diesel truck up providing light and the air compressor was going the whole time – not sure why it takes so long to blow up a f… tire. Luckily we were still at dinner so it didn’t bother us too to much but when they kept at it after the tire was fixed I walked over and asked if they could keep it down a bit. They apologized and went pretty quite right away. It was 9PM (very late for us) until we crawled into our tent (fly on this time) and I thought I would fall asleep ASAP. But no – a horde of German’s came in an hour later and they managed to make even more noise setting up camp than last nights Aussies – !$$@$%%^$ – never minding that at 10PM it would be past a lot of people’s bedtime as the rest of the campsite was dead quiet. After 45min Jeff finally had enough yelled across for them to “Bloody Hell SHUT UP!”. They giggled and turned it down a bit but not for long. This was the 2nd time we encountered German tourists not at all respecting that people who camp like it quiet (okay I was born in Germany too but I am sure I never had to let the whole world know when I arrived at a camp spot) . I for sure had enough of camping near popular tourist places and was looking forward to leave the coast behind the next morning.

Day 8/49: We got up at our usual time at 5PM – making sure the German’s next door knew we were up!! We had a long day of driving ahead of us to Carnarvon Nation Park via Miriam Vale, Biloea and Rollerston. Carnarvon NP is part of the Great Dividing Range and is known for its deep gorges sculpted by running water over a period of over 25 million years as well as its creeks and river pools that are frequented by Platypus.

Bottle Tree

Floppy Ear bull

Floppy Ear cow

Going inland the landscape became much dryer. Mostly grasslands, some large eucalyptus trees here and there and some so called “Bottle trees” that look like Baobab trees as well as some huge cacti some even in flower. Traffic was much less than along the coast. Around Rollerston we saw a whole bunch of Emus in the fields. The Australian cattle are also worth mentioning –they have long hanging ears like a Beagle and we called them floppy-ear cows. As we were getting closer to Carnarvon NP the grassland turned more into wooded areas with eucalyptus as well as palm trees and more and more kangaroos showed up along the road – hadn’t seen any in a couple days. We drove to the headquarters and they looked deserted. The air looked all foggy from smoke. We looked for a ranger but a sign said they were all out on fire patrol as there was a big fire in the western part of the park. The trails up the gorge were only open maybe half the way up. We tried to find a campsite but there only seemed to be a walk-in one in the area that was closed to tourist some 10km up the gorge. We finally phoned the Queensland Park Reservation Line and they told us that the campsite at the headquarters was closed since it was off-season but luckily there was a private campground, Takarakka Bush Resort, just a few couple kilometers outside the park. It was quite a bit more expensive than the NP campsites but quiet, had a nice cooking shelter and was located along some pools where the owner told us we could catch a glimpse of the local platypus family. They even had a small store and we treated ourselves to some fancy Australian beer and wine for later. But first off we headed back into the park and did a short hike to “Rock Pool” – a deep “swimming” pool in the mostly shallow Carnarvon Creek. It was quite hot in the park even though you couldn’t see the sun as it was hidden behind all the smoke blown in from the wild fires. But the water was just right. After we dried off on the beach long the pool we drove to the start of another shorter hike – Mickey’s Gorge.

Rock Pool (without the smoke)

Mickey's Gorge - Warrumbah Creek

Sharing the campsite - Pretty face Whiptail Wallabies

The trail through open eucalyptus forest interspersed with palm trees split into two after about 1km and we chose to follow the Warrumbah Creek. The official trail seemed to end after about 200m but a narrow path continued deep into the canyon. The walls got closer and closer together and near the end we could touch both sides with our hands. Very cool!!! We followed the narrow canyon until a big rock sealed it off.

We headed back to the campsite to look for the platypus in the nearby pool – they usually come out when the sun is setting. So we sat along the pool for over an hour until it got pitch black but didn’t see one. Saw some freshwater turtles though and lots of fish and birds. Maybe tomorrow! Back at the camp we cooked dinner in the lit shelter on a big propane stove – in much more comfort than we were used to lately – before hitting the tent. We weren’t the only people at the campground but most of the sites were empty and therefore it was REAL quiet.

Finally a restful night once again.

Apostel Bird - eying our food

Day 9/50: The Kookaburra woke us up at 4AM and we got up at 4:45AM to look for the Platypus. We may have seen a glimpse of one but it could have been anything. We sat around till 6AM while the bush around us started to wake up – Kookaburra, Pied Currawong, and cockatoos as well as a Black-footed Rock Wallaby. We decided to stay an additional night at Takarakka to have another chance at seeing the platypus – and it was such a nice and quiet spot. Back in camp we finally had breakfast – joining us were a Kookaburra, 3 Magpies as well as 10-15 Apostle Birds, all of them wanted a piece of our sandwiches. The Kookaburra almost succeeded in his first attack on Jeff. It was almost 7AM before we drove to the start of today’s hike – Carnarvon Gorge.

Due to the wild fires the trails were only partially open but still enough for a 14km return hike along the bottom of the gorge. It was an easy stroll along/across the creek with offshoots into the surrounding cliffs every so often to have a look at the parks attractions. The sky was blue and no trace of smoke in the air today – the wind must have changed directions since yesterday. And it was HOT. We saw quite a few western grey kangaroos and pretty-face whiptail wallabies mostly near the parks headquarters and the start of the trail. We visited the “Moss Gardens” where ancient rain water is being filter through the sandstone and resurfaces again once it hits the watertight shale after thousands of years in this little canyon to keep it lush and green.  We had a look at Aboriginal paintings and carvings at the “Art Gallery” – over 2000 engravings, ochre stencils and free-hand paintings adorn a 62m long sandstone wall, a significant Aboriginal site. Most of the stencil paintings were of boomerangs and hands and most of the carvings were of vulvas. Next stop was “Ward Canyon”, another one of those narrow, shady canyons and one of the few places left where one can find the rare “King Fern” – the dinosaur of ferns. And last but not least the “Amphitheater”.  It looks like one would be walking right into the canyon wall – 50-70m in height – until last minute a small crack opens up. Hidden in the wall of the gorge is a 60m deep chamber gouged from the rock by running water about 20-30m across. Very impressive! Along the way we saw several geckos and lizards as well as parrots and other birds. We finished the hike around 1pm.

Carnarvon Gorge

Moss Garden

Art Gallery - stencils & carvings

Ward's Canyon - ancient King Fern

Entrance to the Amphitheater

By now it was unbelievable hot and we drove back to “Rock Pool” for a dip in the cool water. Once we had cooled off enough we went to finish our hike in “Mickey’s Gorge” – the trails split into 2 sections and we had only done the one yesterday. We again ended up in a narrow gorge scrambling over and under huge boulder until an old rockslide area stopped us once more. On the way back I was attacked by a palm leaf – actually my toe did. There is a reason why one should not hike in sandals even if it is only a short walk but when it is 30+C it’s hard to put on the heavy hiking boots. Back to my battle with the palm leaf – did you know that those palm leaves stems have pretty tough thorns? Anyways they ripped open my toe as the palm leave got caught between my toe and sole of my sandal. First I only felt a little sting that hurt like hell but I wasn’t thinking anything off it. Not until I felt myself sliding around in my sandals and looked down to see the one was soaked in blood. Obviously we didn’t bring any first aid kit on a 30min easy walk but I had an old tissue in my pocket. So we wrapped that around my toe and we made it back to the car without any other attacks.

Mickey's Gorge - Jeff narrowly escapes the boulder

I lost my battle with the palm leaf

Back in camp Jeff had a hell of a time picking the soaked tissue out of the wound. It was pretty ragged and fairly deep but luckily didn’t need stitches. We added some of the antibiotic crème I got the day we left for Australia when I ramped a piece of my paddle into my pinky (see earlier report) and taped it up carefully. After some ice cream and a cold beer from the resort store I was as good as new. Ready to go hunting for the elusive platypus again! It was almost dark but finally we scored. Some other campers had spotted it in one of the lower pools and we managed to sneak a peak before there was no light left. Pretty cool. Needless to say we had to cook dinner again in the lit up shelter. While finishing up in the shelter we think we even saw one of those other animals the park is famous for – most Australian animals are active at night. What looked like a yellow-bellied glider was jumping from a tree onto the roof of the shelter. But we never saw it again. Went to bed at 9PM.

Day 10/51: We were up early again at a quarter to five to have one last look at the platypus. And it was around this time but hard to spot as the pool it was in was surrounded by trees. Jeff seemed to be more lucky than me in spotting it – so no picture exists. We also saw one of these big iguanas swim across the pool – like those in the Galapagos. After brekkie we went for one last hike in this beautiful park – I actually put on my hiking boots today despite the heat. This time we hiked up onto the canyon rim to the Boolimba Cliff lookout.

View over the Carnarvon Gorge from Boolimba Cliff

Jeff and I at Boolimba

A steep climb up in a narrow ravine with cool views of the cliff up close quickly got us to the top. The view from up there was spectacular to say the least overlooking the entrance to the big gorge and onto the plateaus surrounding it. The area is know for its spectacular multiple day hiking trips but those have to wait till another time. If you ever get to Queensland don’t skip this park only because it is so far off the beaten track and beaches – it’s well worth it – although it seem to get really busy in the main tourist season during the Australian winter. Nevertheless, Jeff and I had to move on if we wanted to make it to Cairns in time to catch our flight and see all those other million things along the way. We had one more stop in the interior – Blackdown Tablelands. If we would have had a 4×4 the drive to Blackdown would have been a relatively short one but with our Camry we had to take the main highway which had us go more west again before we could go north-east towards the coast. We came back through Rollerston, finally turned north in Springsure and east in Emerald – we did not stop to dig for precious gem stones which is THE thing to do just to the west of Emerald. The scenery was mostly open grassland and dry open eucalyptus forest. The only wildlife I remember seeing were the too cute looking Australian Floppy Ears (cows) and an Australian Bustard. There was very little traffic on the road. When we got closer to our destination for the night we again could see smoke in the distance – coming off a big plateau sticky out of the otherwise flat landscape – could that be Balckdown Tablelands? Are we finally running out of luck an this park is now closed the park due to wild fires? But when we got close we could see that the plateau was split into two sections and our destination was in the part without the smoke. While climbing up the steep road the vegetation got greener and trees became more plentiful again. We stopped at a lookout at the cliffs edge with a great view over the plains below and the second tableland across – the one the smoke was coming from it.

Blackdown Tablelands NP

Yaddamen Dhina (Horseshow Lookout)

Munall (Mimosa) Campground

The Munall (Mimosa) campsite in this park was pretty empty and nicely nestled into a tall eucalyptus tree forest. We found a spot for us and set up camp. Jeff relaxed into a camping chair with his puzzle book while I had to go for a walk and stretch my legs. I followed the Mook Mook Trail along Mimosa Creek. The creek itself was pretty much dry and the walk wound back and forth crossing the creek a couple time into open forest with eucalyptus, she-oak, cork trees and the odd palm trees. At the end the view opened up as it reached the edge of the plateau. Apparently the cliff light up in beautiful colors during sunrise but were now all in the shade – still nice walk. Back in camp we had dinner under the eucalyptus trees which were loaded with noisy lorikeets high above our heads – so I knew we won’t be sleeping in tomorrow. Nevertheless we sat around for a while watching for shooting stars when it got dark. It was pleasantly warm and we omitted the fly again. A quiet night.   

Day 11/52: The quiet night ended abruptly at 4AM when the lorikeets started screeching in the tree tops – oh well we knew that would be coming.  But the lorikeets soon got help from Kookaburras, Cockatoos, Magpies and tons of other birds I could not identify. That was the loudest bird concert in a while – it felt like our tent was in the middle of a bird cage. 🙂 

Goon Goon Dina (Culture Circuit)

By 5AM I had enough and crawled out of the tent to make breakfast. Today’s first hike was a walk through history – signs along the Goon Goon Dina Circuit explained how aboriginals and than later on early settlers made use of the plants in this park. Apparently the grass in this area has a too low phosphor content which causes bone disease in cattle and the area was abandoned early again by the white man not without leaving some fences and other garbage around (now called historic monument). I guess this special grass also prevents kangaroos from frequenting the area – we didn’t even see their droppings. The aboriginal stories were more interesting. Bark from the stringy-bark tree was being used for baskets, my beloved grass trees provided sap that was used as glue, banskia flowers provided the aboriginals with sugar while the bitter bush was used as medicine against tooth ache. I told Jeff to try some as his teeth had been bothering him for a few days – he declined graciously. Besides the plants this area also has some cool sandstone boulders formed by wind and rain as well as Aboriginal paintings. The walk was fairly short and we had enough time to have a look at the parks main attractions – Rainbow Falls. I saw a picture of them in some magazine we picked up in Emerald and knew I had to go there – it also showed a pool for us to cool down in for a bit. The walk (Gudda Gumoo – Rainbow Waters) was pretty through lush bush along the cliff top and down to the falls – except the falls were dry and the pool in front was pretty scummy looking. Not anything like the picture I saw in the magazine – darn it!

Rainbow Falls - no falls, no sun and stale pool water

Cave below the falls

Cool looking lizard

But not all was wasted effort. We saw a lot of lizards, skinks and geckos along the way. And we went a little bit past the falls along the dry creek bed and saw this enormous drop and at the bottom an opening to a huge cave. Below us was actually some water running as well and everything was lush and green – very cool sight. So we scrambled around in that area but never made it all the way down. We were back at the car before noon and started the long drive back towards the coast – actually Eungella National Park was our next stop. The place where one can easily spot platypus :-). The drive east led us mostly to cattle ranchlands through a little town called Nebo – the typical Australian outback town. Just past the town, we saw a couple emus resting below a Bottle Trees (I am still mad at Jeff for not stopping to take a picture) but otherwise only Australian Floppy Ears (cows) again. Closer to the coast the landscape became more hilly again and vegetation got greener – lots of sugar cane. Eungella is up in the mountains again surrounded by tropical rainforest 80km west of Mackay. The main attraction – at least for me – is the platypus viewing area in the Broken River section of the park. The NP campsite if walk-in only but it is only a 500m walk and we found an okay spot to set up our tent – nothing too fancy though. Dinner will have to happen after dark at the ranger station where they had benches etc set up for the day tourists.

Broken River - Engella NP

Tourist-friendly Platypus

Anyhow, first thing to do was to look for the platypus. The viewing platform was already full of people and it was only 5PM. Nevertheless, the platypus showed up right away and right in front of us – sooo cool!! First you se the bubbles and then the animal pops up. I got a few shots of before it became too dark in the trees. A second platypus showed up as well and we spend almost 2hrs watching them dive down and come up and chew on stuff. Back at the ranger station we prepared dinner. While we were eating in the dark, fireflies started to turn the bushes around us into a sparkling wall like stars in the dark sky. We walked to the tent guided by moonlight.

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