Thursday, March 10, 2016

queensland: eungella national park, finch hatton gorge, pioneer valley

It was good to get out of the busy-ness that Airlie was, back on the road to explore.

We now had a deadline to be in Noosa in October as we'd booked accommodation with my grandparents and they were driving from Narooma on the Far South Coast of NSW to meet us. While I won't give away their ages it's safe to say that my grandmother and her husband are quite remarkable - making that trip - though she wouldn't say that. They like driving and really wanted to meet us on our trip. We knew we had time to visit some more parts of Queensland but we'd need to stick to the coast and we were pushing it if we wanted to get over to Fraser Island too.

It was a picturesque, if not windy, drive to Eungella on a back road through cane country. When we left Airlie we weren't quite sure where we were headed but as we drove on and came to the turnoff on the highway we decided we'd head inland to Eungella National Park. It was a noticeably drier outlook than the northern cane farms and the road sporadically merged to a one lane road but we only passed one other car.

From the quaint township of Finch Hatton it's a windy, windy drive up the mountain to Eungella. The road is windier than that of (the familiar) Brown Mountain on the NSW far south coast and at times narrower than must be legal. The scenery and view is magnificent - narrow waterfalls through rainforest on the bends and farmland stretching out below the mountain. 

Eungella seems to just appear at the top of the mountain when you begin to think it couldn't get any steeper. Beyond the town is Eungella National Park and Broken River Bush Camp, known for its habitation of platypus and the (now extinct) gastro brooding frog endemic to the park. Coincidentally B had only been reading about the frog a few days prior.   

As the name suggests the camp is situated on the edge of the river and from the banks the platypus can be spotted in the early morning and late afternoon. Of the light is right (which it was for us) you can see the creatures when they stir up the silt at the bottom searching for food.  

One lunchtime, conquering some school work, we headed down the mountain and just beyond Finch Hatton to Finch Hatton Gorge. It was surprisingly busy. 

A 2.5km (return) walk in to the gorge was beautiful as it wound through the rainforest, towering ferns and by the creek, the home to the tinker frog. 

Once at the top the bravest of us jumped in the cold water. I'm guessing it somewhere between 12°c and 15°c. 

A friendly kookaburra used Js handlebars as a vantage point in the carpark. 

Sometimes we happen upon some interesting food stops in our travels. Whalesong Cafe at Middle Lagoon springs to mind. Ulysses Cafe is on the road in to Finch Hatton Gorge and we're so pleased we stopped to sample the organic natural mango ice creams. J had a date and banana smoothie with cacao and I enjoyed my raw strawberry cheesecake and homemade chai. 

The 8.2 kilometre walk from Broken River to Sky Window was amazing. While J and the kids packed the caravan I ran the track, meeting them at the Window. I wasn't quick enough to get a photo of the juvenile python (or death adder) I was centimetres from stepping on. And you know how you're taught to calmy walk backwards away from a snake? Well I screamed and then ran and keep screaming until I realised it wouldn't have chased me. As I was screaming and running I ran straight in to a spider web. The spider fell INTO mouth and bit the inside of my lip! For the next 4 kilometres I was on high alert for snakes and spiders. Gosh it was beautiful though!!!

A creek crossing

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queensland: airlie beach

Our stay at Airlie Beach coincided with friends from the NSW North Coast. It was such a good couple of days hanging out - at the lagoon on the foreshore, on the aqua park at at their hotel. We'd planned to take the kids snorkelling on the outer Barrier Reef but decided to postpone it until they're older and the six hour return boat trip won't be such a chore. 

Our animal loving boy feeding the birds at the Island Gateway Caravan Park where we stayed in the expansive grassy unpowered site. 

Airlie Beach Aqua Park. The kids (& big kids had a ball out there). Airlie was what we'd expected - social and activity oriented. The caravan park was quite nice and we enjoyed our stay. Being school holidays and being on the coast there were a lot of people about. 
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queensland: mission beach, townsville, bowen, horsehoe bay

Breaking the rhythm of travel can be a good and a bad thing. It's nice to just relax for a bit, soak in the surroundings, have a few days where everyone isn't racing around packing up, planning meals, doing the grocery shopping, filling the water tanks, emptying the toilet, refuelling the car, packing up the car and the caravan and shutting every last thing away before driving for hours with the kids in the car arriving at a new place and starting over.

Breaking the rhythm can be good.

But it can also be bad because once you lose the rhythm everyone finds it harder on those pack up and driving days. It was a while back when we drove from Mission Beach to Townsville but I seem to remember it being a long day on the road. It was over three hours driving (which we usually break in to two stints) but the roads were long and there was a huge increase in traffic. For months we might have seen twenty other cars on the road and a few road trains and suddenly there seemed to be hundreds, in a hurry and doing dangerous stuff.

I was hugely disappointed as we left Mission Beach because I knew we'd run out of time to visit Paluma and the National Park out of Ingham. I knew we couldn't go to Hinchinbrook. We were running out of time and we also knew the limits of the kids and their ability to keep up with us walking. The kids had definitely covered some kilometres and some of the walks we'd taken them on were demanding on their little legs but Hinchinbrook would have been pushing it. Another one for the next list!

When we pulled in to Townsville it was hot and dry and dusty. It was an instantly charming town. We stayed the night on the oval of a Seventh Day Adventist Church. It was cheap and comfortable and our friend Rachel came over for beers once the kids were in bed. That was fun!

From Townsville we drove to Bowen so we could stay at Horseshoe Bay. Famed for it's mangoes we arrived at the beginning of the season and didn't get one! The weather was pretty crazy with strong winds which blew out the beach but we did get in the water a couple of times. We had two nights in Horseshoe Bay. J quite liked the place but it wasn't my favourite spot.

A little run up from the caravan park to the lookout gave a great view of the coast and out to the jetty off-shore.

P freaked out a few tourists with this specimen that she found in the caravan park. Imagine - a young woman hops out of the shower block and sees this smiling assassin in her tutu frufru and wanders over "Hello," she says and then all you hear is this shriek across the caravan park as she sees what's in P's hand. You've got to hand it to P. She's a crack up!

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queensland: mission beach

From Babinda Boulders we headed south. We'd really wanted to see western Queensland and it was difficult to decide whether to stay on the coast or head inland. We had to carefully consider what we wanted to do. We were meeting friends a few days later in Airlie so it would have been impractical to head west only to turn around and go back to the coast.

Western Queensland is a trip we will do sometime though. We were surprised that we enjoyed visiting little inland towns so much. There are always things to see too- not just the towns themselves. I believe we've really seen so much diversity on the trip. When I here politics on the radio I o think about all these little communities being represented. After all this country is so much more than Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and the people who inhabit the cities.

A family we met at Rocky Creek Memorial Park between Atherton and Mareeba recommended a stay at Mission Beach on our way south. 

The council run caravan park charges $21 a night for an unpowered site and $24 for powered. We chose the unpowered option and had a site a stone's throw from the beach (only slightly further away than our site at Wonga Beach). We've found that generally unpowered sites are better if you can power yourselves. Sometimes they'll have water but our two 95 litre water tanks were plenty. Powered sites are often closer to the water or tucked in to a bit of bush whereas the powered ones have to be up close to power supply and you'll be crammed in with other caravanners.

Our two night stay didn't feel long enough so we extended by another night. It was on the third night that we met a family from the United States travelling with two of their three children. We got chatting and realised we all knew another travelling family from the U.S. We really enjoyed the company of Phil and Amanda and so we loosely planned to catch up with them further down the road - as in - we agreed that it would be great to hang out again and we were heading in the same direction and we might go to the same places but maybe at different times but if we saw each other again that would be great and we might keep in contact. That's what it's like on the road! 

Each morning (once even before breakfast) we'd go straight out on to the beach which looks out towards Dunk Island. The kids would play in the ocean. Though the coast's economy is dependant on tourism it doesn't have that crowded feeling that other popular places have. 
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queensland: wooroonooran national park, babinda, the boulders

The drive from Cairns to Babinda is gorgeous - through the sugar cane fields with lush greenery. We had an overnight stop at the Babinda Rotary Park so we could get in to The Boulders early. 

Babinda holds the record for the highest rainfall in the country which is not surprising given its lushness!

The Boulders has about ten campsites and we were lucky that a couple were leaving their shady spot as we arrived. It's just a couple of hundred metres from the freecamp to the Boulders picnic area and swimming hole. The camp has a shower/toilet block (cold showers) and it's a really magic place but I can't imagine it staying a free camp forever. 

Legend has it that an aboriginal couple fell in love but the woman was betrothed to another man. She threw herself in to the waters where she lures young men in to their deaths.

It's easy to see how a young man could meet a grizzly end when the water is streaming through the Boulders. It's a visually captivating place but the council warning signs suggest that the currents and slippery rocks can be deadly. 

I was lucky enough to tack on to the back of an informal botanic tour of the area where I was introduced to some endemic species of the area. And we had a swim in the clear, crisp waters. 

The world's largest moth, the Hercules moth. This moth was on the grass before it awkwardly fluttered about. It looked on its last legs - they only live for two days. 

Our tree nymph 

We caught up with our friend Richard who camped overnight with us. 

My morning walk was 4km along the Goldfield Walking Trail with creek crossings, a few bridges across flowing waters and lush rainforest. We both would have loved to do this whole walk. 

This was as close as I got to a cassowary on my morning run. 

More roadside stalls with honesty boxes just outside of Babinda. These ones sold quail eggs and bananas. The quail eggs topped our Gado Gado dinner. The kids were fascinated by the tiny eggs. 

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queensland: fitzroy island

After months and months living in the confines of the caravan with a family of five it's hardly surprising that everyone needs a little space. J was obliging and I took the opportunity to have TWO NIGHTS ON MY OWN on the stunning Fitzroy Island while he had the kids.

I took the ferry across one afternoon after finding a good last minute deal for accommodation. There's only one resort on the island but there's also camping facilities. I'd love to do that with the kids and J one day. Once I'd dumped my bags (with few clothes, swimmers and books!) I walked the coastal walk through the rainforest and up to the lighthouse. What a beautiful awe-inspiring view it was. As you come out of the rainforest the views out to the extensive sea remind you of your small significance on earth. I took a detour up to the highest point of the island - scrambling through enormous boulders. From the lookout I could see right out in to the ocean and back to the coastline. It was spectacular and I'd love to go back!

I hardly took any photos. I just wanted to BE.

Anyone who has been to Fitzroy would understand what an understated place it is. The last thing I wanted on a mini-break was to be crowded in a space and paying mega-bucks to stay on an island decimated by tourists. Fitzroy Island is eco-conscious. Sadly you can still the devastation to the coral off the island but I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a place so close to shore that hasn't been. 

Two days was enough time to read, snorkel, finish a meal uninterrupted and even get in the water for two SCUBA dives. I didn't see a lot but I was so pleased to dive again after over a year hiatus. 

Returning to the mainland was a delight as the kids were wrapped their arms around me. I did miss them all but I was so pleased to have some quiet time. 

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queensland: cairns, holloway beach

HMAS Stuart happened to be in town in Cairns and J and the kids went aboard to visit our friend Kiwi! It was a great reunion as J and Kiwi had worked together for years in Sydney. The kids just love Kiwi!

A friend lives at Holloway Beach - just north of Cairns and we were happy to have a few nights in her drive way. We all loved being so close to the beach. Cathy did as best she could to convince us to stay long-term. Cairns has always had a question mark over the top of it - as to whether we could live there but we were sweating like crazy before 11am and we hadn't yet his the build-up. As much as I liked the big town/small city feel I just don't think we could have stayed. 

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queensland: cairns, kuranda

J lived in Cairns years ago during his first years in the navy. The hotel where he lived for the year is still there, looking weathered. He was excited about showing us around.

We stayed with some dear friends - whom we met at mothers group when our eldest boys were babies. It was so fun for us to hang out with the adults and listen to the kids and their elaborate games - like they'd never been apart. They'd also just welcomed the most gentle boxer dog in to their family and we enjoyed getting to know him too.

We also managed to catch up with a few other friends too and we had babysitters (thanks Lisa) so we had another night out! Was that 2 nights in 11 months?

Cairns was a social time with two dinners out with friends and lots of catching up with friends. It was good fun!

When their boy left for school it was the first time we'd heard B eager to go back to school. 

From Cairns we had a day trip to Kuranda and Din Din, Barron Falls. The walk from the carpark through the forest was beautiful - and suitable for kids. 

Apparently Kuranda used to be a lot less touristy but we enjoyed a stroll through the markets all the same. We enjoyed our visit to the Butterfly Sanctuary. It was pretty special seeing the butterfly nursery and the butterfly larvae in various stages - each a day older. B had a particularly friendly butterfly land on his head and stay on even while he danced. Our boy, who is obsessed with animals, was thrilled. It wasn't long before his sister had a turn.  

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