K2inCanada's Blog

March 13, 2011

Australia 2009 Report – QLD/NSW Part 4

Filed under: Australia, Travel — K2 in Canada @ 7:51 PM

Tried to get this finished off before our next trip to Hawaii on Monday. So this is for now the last post about Australia. For a LOT more pictures click the links below:

https://AustraliaQueenslandPartI12Nov2Dec2009

https://AustraliaQLDPartII12Nov2Dec2009

Day 17/58 (Nov 28, 2009): Only 2.5 more days left in Queensland and so many things still on the list. Today was another snorkeling day on the Great Barrier Reef leaving from Port Douglas – the most trips leave from here. We drove into town and looked at all the different tour companies – most of the smaller boat tours were infrequent and needed to be booked in advance. Of course we didn’t have anything booked in advance. Lucky for us once more, the big tour operators in Port Douglas seem to start early and answered our call before 7AM already. So we ended up booking a day trip on one of those 100+ people fitting big catamarans.

Calypso – bit bigger boat than the last trip

Again we had to wait for a bit before boarding but no nice palm tree lined beach in sight this time. So we walked through the still sleeping shopping mall – I had to stock up on under water cameras and memory cards for which we paid through the nose in a little kiosk type store, the only thing just opening at that time. After we boarded the boat I decided last minute that I wanted to go diving one last time. They offered 3 dives all together for the same price. It took almost 2hrs to get to the reef (as mentioned before) and we were using most of the time for a dive briefing and to gear up because as soon as we hit the reef – Agincourt Ribbon Reefs, just outside of Cape Tribulation but on the outer reef – we jumped off the boat as soon as it anchored. The dive was down to a depth of 18.5m, not too much to see down there except for a spotted ray but as we worked our way up the coral became more plenty and colourful. Lots of damaged coral though compared to Mackey Reef. I had a bit of buoyancy problems when we were diving shallow but another piece of lead fixed that. We stayed down for 45min in total. The next dive was a drift dive and we only had 25min to get ready. The sea was a bit rougher as the boat moved to the next spot and I could feel my stomach turning squeezy. I used to get sea sick VERY easily but haven’t had a problem so far. No time to worry about it and soon enough we were jumping off the moving boat with no air in the BCD to drop to the sandy bottom right away to not getting caught in the current too early before we could assemble as a group. We started out slow at lower depth but finally made it up to 9m for the drift. It was hard to take pictures while drifting and also the movement reminded my body about being sea sick again. I was okay though as long as we kept moving along and had stuff to look at. Things like meeting Morty – a big Moari Wrasse which was very diver and picture friendly (they had a professional photographer on board who took pictures of every single diver (3 groups of 6-8) with Morty. Morty didn’t seem to tire of the attention at all. Nevertheless the safety stop was a pain in the butt – well stomach – and I felt really sick. They always tell you that you can throw up through your regulator but I really wasn’t interested in finding out now. I just made it up to the surface and pulled the reg out before breakfast came back up. Oh well, all sudden I was very popular with the reef fish surrounding the boat – nothing get’s wasted out here – and all the evidence was gone in seconds and my stomach was empty. I went up from the lower diving deck to the upper snorkeling deck – Jeff had a good time snorkeling although he also noticed the coral being more damaged. He saw a reef shark and me diving below him – not at the same time mind you. It was lunch time and the crew brought out a great variety of food but I wasn’t too much interested in food and only had a few bites. I rather popped one of the anti sea sickness pills they offered on board. It helped but I still skipped the next dive as it was supposed to be a drift dive again. I tried snorkeling instead which actually provided some better coral viewing than the diving as there is more light in the shallows. But it was also worse for getting sick as you are bobbing up and down in the waves. So I got rid of the little bit of lunch I ate, once more being rewarded by a huge number of tropical fish all sudden surrounding me. I didn’t last long mind you and headed back to the boat long before Jeff.

Morty and I

A dead whale’s jaw is being recovered…

… attracting a whole bunch of sharks

Shark supper is served

Would you stick your hands into the water to get this shot?

Shortly after everyone was back on board we had to leave the reef. I started feeling better as we started moving and the highlight of the trip was yet to come. The skipper picked up a radio transmission of someone who found a dead sperm whale floating in the water nearby. So we actually headed for it to have a look. They were cutting of the sperm whale’s lower jaw to take it back to the mainland for some reason. But the interesting part was the guy with the gun pointing into the water while his two mates were cutting the jaw. The water surrounding the whale carcass was loaded which sharks – mostly tiger and bull sharks, both of them known to snack on humans if they are available – hence the gun. When the other boat left after successfully retrieving the jaw, we went close to the drifting carcass and watched the sharks tearing the leftovers apart. SOOOO COOOL. Even the skipper in his over 30 years on the ocean hasn’t seen anything like this. From the top of the ship I could see the sharks swimming all around us. The professional photographer even stuck his camera and hands into the water to get an underwater shot. Not sure if I would have done it as the sharks were obviously in a feeding frenzy and likely would not distinguish between dead whale or human hands. Well he lived to talk about it and since I purchased my picture with Morty I also got one of his underwater shark shots for “free”. When we were about to leave Jeff and I looked around us and noticed that the reef we had been snorkeling at wasn’t actually that far away from all this activity. I was thankful that the dead whale must have smelled worse than my regurgitated lunch so I didn’t attract the sharks.

We made it back into port 30min late. Jeff and I still had to find a campsite for the night and decided in a rush to go up into the Atherton Tablelands near Kuranda. But ah – going up in height after diving isn’t the smartest thing to do and I did feel quite exhausted and tired. Just past Kuranda, we found some signs towards a NP campground called Speewah (never mentioned in any of my travel guides) and since I didn’t know how much further the spot I had planned for was we followed those instead as it was getting dark. Turned out the site was pretty small – only 3 small sites all together – but we managed to get the last one. It was located on a open grassy area surrounded by forest and most importantly it allowed you to self register without having to call someone!!!! And it was quiet – only sounds were some animals rustling through the grass behind our tent. No matter how much we tried, we never caught a glimpse of them.

Day 18/59: The birds woke us up early again – 5AM and I was up. Today’s agenda – explore the Atherton Tablelands ala Japanese Tourists – rush from one attraction to the next. After breakfast we first did a hike that started just outside this little campsite, called the Douglas Trail to Glacier Rock. Almost 10km return through a mix of rain forest and eucalyptus forest up to a lookout overlooking the plains below and the ocean. Even though it wasn’t a strenuous hike it took some time as we had to watch out for death adders hiding in the leaves on the trail.

We made it back to the car by 10am and returned to Kuranda to visit the local fruit bat colony in Jum Rum Creek.  We searched the creek up and down, only to find a sign at the end saying the colony has moved on. Oh well,  next! The next stop was the Barron Falls Lookout – beautiful big falls with several pools. On the way back from the viewing platform we rescued a stick bug from being killed by green ants – maybe he survived but he had lost at least one leg. We continued on to Wright Lookout overlooking the Barron River gorge – an easy drive in lookout, check. We bought some lunch take out and continued on to Davies Creek, the place I meant to camp at last night. What a nice place. A little creek flowing through open dry eucalyptus forest with a couple pools to lie in and cool down. It for sure was hot today.

Barron Falls

Barron Gorge

Tropical Rainforest, Barron Gorge NP

Fern trees

Davies Creek

We chilled out for an hour and didn’t get back on track until 2pm, being well short of the program I had laid out for the day. So we skipped the Curtain Fig Tree (I had seen it before and Jeff said he had seen enough fig trees anyways) and visited Mount Hypipamee NP instead. The main attraction a huge vertical diatreme (volcanic pipe) formed when a vent exploded violently. The resulting hole, a short walk in from the parking lot, is 70m in diameter and 82m deep and nowadays 1/3 of the depth is filled with water covered completely by a green water algae. It looked really spooky especially as it had clouded over when we arrived which created low lighting conditions. On the way back we took a detour to have a look at Dinner Falls – again part of the Barron River but hardly more than a stream here compared to the big river we saw earlier. While I hung out at the small falls to look for rainforest frogs and snakes Jeff sprinted back to the car looking for a washroom. Not too long I heard him try to shout-whisper. I first couldn’t really hear what he was trying to say but eventually I got it: “Tree Kangaroo”. I also started to sprint up the trail (for a little bit then walked) and finally caught up with him watching the tree kangaroo climb up into the tree canopy 50m off the ground settling in for a nap. By the time I got there most of the animal was hidden from sight and the lighting was too little to take pictures (well I tried anyways) but both of us felt really special about taking a glimpse of this very shy and elusive animal. Lumholtz’s tree kangaroo’s are quite common in the tablelands but you may get lucky and see one at night. This was real special!! They are the prettiest kangaroos yet with their dark faces and yellow tummies. Jeff even saw it on the ground before it headed up onto the tree. Damn him for getting ahead of me :-).

Diatreme – Mt Hypipamee NP

The crater in it’s whole covered by green algae

Lumholz Tree Kangaroo

Atherton Tablelands with Mt Bartle Frere in the background

Millaa Millaa Falls – waterfall circuit

We continued our journey through the southern part of the Atherton Tablelands – a mix of rolling green hills interspersed with pockets of rainforest here and there and Mt Bartle Frere looming in the background. Very pretty – the sun even come out to paint everything in a fresh bright green! Last on the list of things to see was the waterfall circuit near Millaa Millaa – 3 falls on a 15km stretch of road that leads mostly through fields and hits now and then a pocket of rain forest with a waterfall in it. The falls were all different in shape but mostly small to medium in size. Nothing compared to Wallaman Falls or Barron Falls. Nevertheless the falls give you a hint at what this area must have looked like before farmers discovered the good soil and cut down most of the rainforest. Remaining task for the day was to find a campsite for our last night in Queensland. The only NP camping in the area was at Henrietta Creek – a big open grassy area with a cooking shelter in the middle just off the highway in Palmerston NP. The few campsites hidden in the trees were already occupied. Good enough for us and we hitched our tent near the edge of the rainforest. The site also offers a short walk to Henrietta Creek itself and pools in which one may see platypus hunting in the evening. We didn’t see one and managed to leave the flashlight at the tent so we had to return before it was too dark through thick, dark rainforest with stingy plants all over the trail. We decided to have dinner under the shelter as there were some really dark clouds moving in. Lucky for us as it started raining and then pouring on us for almost an hour with lightning and thunder all around us. It stopped again when we finished dinner and the cicadas started chirping so loud it almost hurt my ears which lasted until complete darkness. That concert was followed by a lightshow in the bush – fire flies at work all around us. What a great way of spending the last night in Queensland.

I woke up in the middle of the night really having to take a leak but was afraid to get up. The tent was surrounded my ankle deep grass which snakes love to hide in and I am blind at night without my contacts. Eventually I had to get up though but obviously I lived to tell the tale – no last minute snake encounter in the dark.

Day 19/60: Packing day!! The camp was damp with heavy fog and it was difficult to dry off the tent fly before packing it into the packs. Our neighbours happily accepted some of our leftovers we could not take with us. Nevertheless we managed to pack everything in less than 1.5hrs and headed towards Cairns Airport – a 111km drive. The sun came out and everything looked fresh and beautiful along the Bruce Highway – also called the Great Green Way. Last time we came through here the mountains to the west – the Bellenden Ker Range – were hidden in dark black clouds. An enjoyable and easy drive and we made it in plenty of time for our mid day flight to Sydney. The flight itself was also spectacular with great views over the coast and some of the inner parts of the Great Barrier Reef below us.

Last Camp in QLD – Henrietta Creek, Palmerston NP

Great Green Way (Bruce Hwy) – Mt Bartle Frere & sugar cane

Great Green Way (Bruce Hwy) – Rainforest covered mountains of Bellenden Ker NP

Last meal in QLD – not the most scenic

Arriving to rain in Sydney

We got into Sydney on time and there was Darren to pick us up – all the way from Minnamurra. And guess what after Sydney went through a heat wave and drought for the past 6 weeks with huge wild fires threatening the National Parks in the area, it rained when we landed and temperatures were in the mid teens. Darren couldn’t stop laughing at us calling us the bad weather tourists. He didn’t quite believe us when we said we had mostly good weather on our travels through Western Australia and Queensland. The drive back to Minnamurra was slow due to traffic – poor Darren – and we went straight to Rob’s and Margaret’s place in Wollongong for dinner. It was so great to see all our friends again and they welcomed us as if we had known each other for many years and not just 2 weeks. And remember, we haven’t seen a hot shower for some time (Mossman was the last) but at least I did dig out some fresh clothes from my backpack this morning. Nobody said anything :-).

Dinner in Wollongong

Dinner was fantastic with several types of appetizers (salmon & prawns on avocado, cheeses and crackers) followed by steak with fresh veggies for the main meal and fresh fruit for desert. We were in heaven after 6 weeks of one pot meals (with the one exception of our night at Mission Beach). Somehow we managed to stay awake and chat till 10pm and still had a 30min drive till bed in Minnamurra. Darren, Michelle and the kids had since we left moved into the empty townhouse we stayed in at our fist visit while they are renovating the big house. Pretty cramped but Mitchell and Brandon had surrendered their bedroom to us, Mitchell sleeping at a friend’s place and Brandon sleeping on the sofa. We felt bad about Brandon’s sleeping arrangements but he assured us that he spends most nights on the sofa anyways falling asleep in front of the TV. I was too tired to protest any further and both of us fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow.

Day 20/61: We woke up before everyone else in the house but late for us – 6:30AM. To not make too much noise we went for a walk along the Minnamurra River – again what a place to live. The sun was up and it was relatively warm – much better than the day before!! The mansions along the river were quite spectacular. And one of those is supposed to be Darren’s and Michelle’s soon. After our return everyone was up and we had breakfast together. We went for a quick trip with Darren into Kiama to see the blowhole. It was Michelle day off and we picked her up and went for a drive up North to have a look at the spectacular Sea Cliff Bridge stopping in on some of the beaches like the “Farm” and Mount Keira Lookout along the way. We had lunch at Mount Keira which offers a great view over the escarpments and the ocean.

Minnamurra’s waterfront

Kiama Blowhole

Mt Keira lookout – looking north over the escarpment and the coast

Darren & Michelle – the best hosts in the world

Jeff and I – do we really need to leave?

In the afternoon we went for one last paddle in Downunder – Darren in his K1, I am in the ocean ski and Jeff in the spec ski. It was also training day on the Minnamurra and we met Darren’s coach Terry and about 10-12 younger athletes out there in their K1’s in what I call quite choppy conditions! I didn’t feel good being back in a boat – didn’t miss it at all over the last 6 weeks. The guys kept paddling away from me and I got too frustrated trying to keep up. It wasn’t until I decided to just enjoy the paddling and scenery as I used to do that I relaxed and felt good again being on the water.

The last paddle in Australia for Jeff, not for Darren

Back at the house I finally had my hot shower. We had a nice and uncomplicated dinner at home with tons of prawns and roasted chicken –eating with our fingers again, yummy. Jeff and I had bought pies for desert on the drive earlier. Perfect last evening in Australia! Thank you, thank you Michelle & Darren!!! We spent some time packing that night but didn’t finish it all before falling asleep.

Day 21/62 (Dec 2, 2009): We got up early again since we still had to finish packing. Our plane wasn’t to leave Sydney till noon but the drive into town is a good 1.5-2hrs. Darren, the angel, insisted on driving us to the airport one last time even though Jeff and I offered to take the train. He would have none of that. I so hope we’ll see him again in Vancouver one day to return at least some of all those favours!! We made it to the airport in good time and had to say our good byes. It was weird – even after over 2 month away from home I still wasn’t ready to go back (home?). Usually after a couple weeks in a tent one feels like it’s time but the vast Australian landscapes and even more so it’s wonderful people really made leaving a sad thing. I felt at home here.

Good bye Australia – sigh!!!

Checking in all our baggage took a long time but finally we made it onto the plane back to Vancouver ready or not for another almost 15hrs non-stop flight. Between the two of us we watched a lot of movies on our personal entertainment centres (Up, the new Bond, 9, rabbit-proof-fence, Perfect Getaway, Gran Torino, Happy Guys…) and got very little sleep. We watched a great sunrise although it was still the same day we left which was kinda weird.

We landed the same day, 5 hours before we left Sydney NSW, back in Vancouver BC. To our surprise, home didn’t greet us with the usually temperate winter rains but with a sunny and really cold day (-1 which was more than 20 degrees below what we were used to). We didn’t do much that day – went shopping for food, started unpacking and laundry, watched more TV, napped, folded clothes, ate, had dinner, checked email, started downloading pictures, played Wii… and managed to stay up till 11pm. Same old , same old. Welcome home.

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