Wednesday, July 31, 2013


31 July 2013

We both enjoyed our day of no travel yesterday - but headed out again this morning, going north.  We got as far as Innisfail, a small town with a Scottish name but a lot of Italian delis and restaurants.  A cute little town, which was wiped out by a cyclone in the 1920s, and then rebuilt - so most of the buildings in the central business district are lovely Art Deco style.  And a town with a river running through it, and various crocodile defenses.  Our campground has a steep, obviously man-made bank along the length of the riverfront area, hopefully too steep for crocs to climb up.

Anyway, we decided to stop here, figure out which direction we want to head for a week, go from there.

So we had a relaxing day, explored the town, ate some good food, walked a bit, and we'll decide where we're going tomorrow.

And we're having trouble with our internet service, since we're in the FAR NORTH, as people say in somewhat hushed and awed tones - the FAR NORTH, a strange and mysterious and possibly dangerous and uncharted area.  With little internet service, apparently.

So - more when we can, and hopefully some photos.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Wongaling Beach

29 July 2013

We decided we'd head to Mission Beach from Cardwell - it turned out to be a fairly short drive.  The morning started out cold and drizzly, but the weather improved so that we had a lovely sunny and warm afternoon - yay for warm weather!

Anyway - Mission Beach is actually a series of towns along one long long beach - there's Tully, South Mission, Wongaling (pronounced WONG-ah-ling - keep the ng soft, no harsh G sound in there), and then Mission.  And maybe North Mission.

We drove around and looked at several campgrounds, and finally chose the Dunk Island View Holiday Park - situated on Wongaling Beach, with (obviously) a nice view of Dunk Island.   

And the town park and info center had various beautiful posts creating an artistic gate - I loved the mosaic made of colored and fused glass, it was just so gorgeous - all the colors of the sea and sky and islands!  

So, as you can tell, I took a lot of photos.

After settling in and all that (and believe me, it takes a while - we have to plug in the cord for electricity, maybe top up the water tank, then move the folding table and chairs from the living area to the cab of the van, as well as Richard's large piece of luggage - and that's just the basic stuff!) we decided to take a walk on the beach.

There are various paths through the dunes, as we've seen throughout the country, as well as in New Zealand.  Years of not protecting the dunes has led to loss of the plants that help stabilize the dunes - so now, hindsight always being best, there are new laws and plans to protect the dunes and thus prevent the erosion and all the environmental impact that is caused when the dunes disappear.  

We arrived at the beach - a rather narrow strip of soft golden sand, not powder soft but pretty nice - with fabulous views of the various islands - some of the Whitsundays in the distance, and Dunk Island close by.  Blue blue sky, so welcome after the past several days of grey drizzle.  And blue to turquoise water, with waves making lacy patterns of foam against the shore.  

There were people walking their dogs - this is a dog-friendly beach - so I'm guessing there aren't any nesting turtles or birds or anything endangered on this beach.

And the usual collection of people just walking, or fishing, or flying kites.  As the shadows grew longer and the light more golden, more and more people gathered on the beach, waiting for the reflection of sunset (since we're facing mostly east here on the east coast), or hoping the fish were biting.  Didn't see anyone getting more than a nibble - but I'm always hopeful.

The kite was really interesting - it was almost like a series of parachutes, or the curved rectangular parachutes of paragliders.  And each one had its own little tail.  They seemed to be attached with line, so from a distance they looked like a series of paratroopers coming in to land on the beach.  Took me a few minutes to realize what they were.

We'll stay here for at least two days, maybe get in some sailing or snorkeling - though we both think the water is a bit cold.  But the Outer Reef beckons, and the shallow water is, in theory, warmer.

Then we'll bypass Cairns (pronounced CANS, like a person from Long Island asking for a CAN of soup) and head north to Daintree National Park, Cape Tribulation, maybe even Cooktown.  Off the beaten path.  The more adventurous side of Far North Queensland.

But we have to return the camper van to Cairns on August 6, so we have just about 8 days left.  Then we'll go back to the hostel/hotel/motel route, and stay in Cairns and see what we think of that town.

And then, August 14, off to Samoa.  No idea what we'll find, except big people - 
there are more Samoans in the US National Football League than any other non-USA ethnic group.  BIG people.  With a very interesting culture.

Should be fun!   


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Like a Rolling Stone

28 July 2013

We spent yesterday afternoon and night at Rollingstone Beach, not far from the Rollingstone Hotel, Rollingstone Street, and the teeny tiny blink-and-it's-gone town of Rollingstone, Queensland, Australia.  And we stayed at Rollingstone Beach Holiday Park.

You'd think, with all those Rollingstone locations, I'd have found a souvenir.  With the name Rollingstone on it.  

Nope - my choices were a stubby beer coozie (you know, those neoprene beer or cup cooler things), a small sticker, or a cap.  Oh, and a postcard of a kookaburra, not looking at the camera.  A kookaburra's back.

Ah well, I took some photos and that'll have to be it.  

We were expecting a campground full of aging rock'n'rollers, with beards and beads and, like, peace, man.  

But no, we found the usual collection of what Aussies call "grey nomads" - the retirees who head north with their various caravans and campers, and 
 enjoy the warm weather when southern Australia is cold and wet all winter.

So we pretended we weren't going-grey-nomads and that we were the rock'n'rollers, and walked on the beach.  There wasn't much else to do - it's a beautiful campground, and we were maybe 50 ft (just over 18 meters) from the beach, so we heard the roaring waves all night.  As well as the still-wild wind, which provided the rocking to our rolling.

Anyway - I always include a beach description for my dad and my coastal/marine science friends - the beach had golden sand, a little bit coarse, with a fairly steep slope.  It had a few levels from the various tides.  And the usual sandbars just offshore, which would appear and disappear with the tides.  The most interesting - off to the west side of the beach (well, the direction the sun set) was a shingle beach, or maybe a shingle bar - just at the water's edge, and looking almost like a manmade jetty.  It seemed to be comprised of river rocks, all nicely eroded to smooth ovoid shapes - probably the rolling stones from the Rollingstone Creek, and the reason all the places are named such.  The shingle or cobble area continued on for quite a ways, with occasional trees growing out of the sand.  Weird, huh?

There were also some shells, which made for great close up photos with the new camera's macro lens.

And, that was about it for Rollingstone.  

We drove north to the town of Ingham, which seemed like a nice little town.  Most shops and cafés were closed, since it's Sunday here.  But we found a place with friendly pokies - and the Cleopatra machine gave me the minor jackpot for an early birthday present.  It was a five digit jackpot, if you include the cents, LOL!  Anyway, I of course sat at the machine screaming, bouncing up and down, and hugging the machine - with the other pokie players laughing - except Richard was screaming too!  We certainly liven up a place, I must say!

We're settled for the evening in Cardwell, at another nice campground, again by the beach.  Too far to hear the waves, or maybe it's just a quiet tide at the moment.  We're thinking we'll head to Mission Beach tomorrow for a couple of days, maybe do another sail or snorkel trip, weather permitting.  The crazy winds have died down a bit, but today is a bit drizzly so we haven't gone for our beach walk yet.  I'm sure we will.

Our time in Australia is winding down - and while it has been a wonderful six months with all kinds of sights, fun, and adventure - we're both looking forward to the tropical islands of the South Pacific.

A little more like home. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

An Alphabet of Australian Towns

26 July 2013

Airlie Beach.  Bowen.  Ayr.  Alva Beach.  In that order.  Doesn't it sound like we're going in some alphabetic order?  Just the way it turned out, though.

Bowen is a lovely little town on a cape just a bit north of Airlie Beach.  This area is still part of the Whitsunday Islands, since there are 74 islands in this grouping.  Bowen lays claim to being the oldest town in Queensland, and has celebrated that with a series of murals all over town, depicting the history and development of the area.  They also have a lovely series of mosaics at the info center, which I preferred to the painted murals.

And Bowen grows a LOT of mangoes - in fact, a horticulturist from Bowen bred the most popular mango grown in this region.  Hence the MONSTER MANGO at the info center, LOL!  I love these crazy super-sized objects, they are so pop art (without most people realizing it) - so Claes Oldenburg, so Andy Warhol. 

We wandered around this cute little town, drove out to Flagstaff Hill where there are amazing views of the Coral Sea, the islands, the town itself, the mountains in the distance (part of the Clarke Range).  And the neighboring beach, Kings Beach.  It was just lovely!  But the crazy wild wind has continued, and being on the highest point in town really wasn't the warmest spot, either.  So we hustled back to our cozy camper.

We stayed at a campground opposite the marina, along the waterfront - so the wind was apparent all night long, rocking the van in an uneven rhythm.  It actually was rather soothing.  In a weird, syncopated kind of way.

Not much else to say about Bowen - just a very cute little town with some beautiful old buildings, wide streets in the downtown section, the inevitable (and confusing) roundabouts at most intersections, and these gorgeous views of their part of the 74 Whitsundays.  Islands ranging from tiny cays to large mountainous islands with various buildings, all part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.  The colors in nearly every shade of blue, green, and all the blue-greens in between.  Lovely blue sky, little puffy clouds, and a perfectly placed lighthouse for scenic photographs.  I could get all poetic, but I think the photos speak for themselves.  (And if you don't like photos, just scroll down a bit.)

So, Friday we drove from Bowen through High Hill (really, that's the name of the town) to Ayr (another sweet little Aussie town, with an incredible European deli featuring all kinds of Mediterranean goodies) and off to Alva Beach.  We like our beaches.

Alva township is spread out, and we never quite got to the town part.  We found the campground, hooked up the van, and went off for a walk to the beach, maybe a kilometer or so off to the (um, probably east?).......

There were big bluffs and dunes, so we decided not to walk down to the beach, it was late afternoon and sunset was approaching.  But the beach seemed to have the series of sand bars creating various lagoons that we've seen elsewhere along the coast.  The sand seemed darker than other places, but that could just have been the lighting at that time of day.   There were all kinds of sea birds wheeling through the air and screeching and squawking as they ate their dinner and headed home for the night.

We headed back, and met up with a woman who was walking home, in the same direction.  We walked along a side road down to a dive shop - there's a famous wreck off this coast, and we wanted to check out the possibility of diving.  (They're booked solid on Saturday, we aren't prepared to stay til Sunday.) 

Anyway, as we walked back we saw what we first thought was the sunset - but then it spread out, instead of getting smaller.  Then flames began to leap up into the darkening sky!  We watched, fascinated, as this turned into a huge conflagration lighting up the entire area off to the west.  And, knowing that bush fires are frequent, we hurried back to our campground and reported the fire to our manager.

Turns out this is a cane fire.  After harvesting the sugar-filled stalks, the leaves are left to dry and then are burned, in a controlled burn.  As the manager said, "The firies [firemen] are there to help out."

This is a frequent, usual practice.  The only way to make the sugar cane grow back again.  To light a huge fire, and try to keep it to the sugar cane field, despite the fact that the wind was about 25-30 knots, and that this part of Queensland hasn't had rain in months.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sailing the Whitsundays - or - We're Too Cold to Snorkel

24 July 2013

We went out on our sail and snorkel trip today.  We went on the trip with the Derwent Hunter, a gorgeous wood sailing ship built in 1946.  (Check them out at

It was a wonderful trip, and some of the worst weather we've encountered in Australia.  And, the trip was great fun despite the horrible weather.

The wind came up last night, out of the southeast - and southerly winds in this part of the world mean from the Antarctic.  So this was a COLD wind blowing some 30 to 40 knots, according to our skipper.  COLD wind!  Whipping the normally calm and placid Coral Sea into an aqua and white froth.  The whitecaps had whitecaps, the water was that agitated.  Seriously, as we sailed (not motored, sailed - this is a beautiful old sailing vessel) we were heeled way over, with wind and spray and major water hitting our faces.  The crew passed out foul weather jackets to help us stay dry and warm - but when we were in a trough between the waves, the crests were about even with the gunwales on our side of the boat - and we were the side heeling UP! 

It was a roller coaster sea today, a wild and crazy sail from Airlie Beach on the mainland out and over to Hook Island, where we anchored in a somewhat sheltered bay.  The skipper said that he's been sailing these waters for over 20 years, and that this was some of the worst sailing conditions he's seen in that time.  I asked him later how tall he thought some of those waves were, trough to crest - he said probably about 3 meters, or maybe 10 feet.  (I thought they were about 6 feet, but I trust the skipper's judgement more than my own.)  So, 10 foot waves.  Thirty to 40 knot winds.  Yes, a wild and crazy carnival ride of a sail!

We moored at the bay, and people suited up to snorkel.  Richard and I looked at each other, soaking wet and shivering in the wind.  SO cold we couldn't stop shivering.  What can I say, our blood has gotten so used to the tropics, we can't seem to acclimate to cold weather.  We opted to stay on the boat, along with some other people who were chilled.  Turned out the winds churned up the sediment and visibility was minimal, people kept saying the water was murky.  So we didn't miss much.  (In fact, both of us sat in the sun and napped.  How is that for proof that we qualify for senior rates, LOL?)

The crew was wonderful, very helpful and solicitous, and they fed us like royalty!  Morning tea (also known as second brekkie, but for us it was first brekkie) was fruit, chocolate cake, cookies, and hot drinks to warm up before the snorkel.  Lunch was a huge spread of salads, vegs, breads, cold cuts, etc.  There was enough for everyone to have multiple sandwiches!  Afternoon tea wasn't tea as much as snacks - crackers, dips, and fruit.  Lots of water, soda, juice available.   

 The wind died down by the time we sailed back to Airlie Beach, so it was a much much much smoother trip heading home.  Still chilly, but warmer.  And less wet, since the waves were much smaller and calmer.  

Best part of the day for me – we saw a humpback whale!!  No idea how far away, it looked like a giant log floating on the water, just swimming and diving and blowing spray into the air.  Amazing!!!!!  Just a giant whale in the distance, come to mate and have her baby in the warm Coral Sea, just hanging out, ignoring the boatload of people all standing and staring at her.
All in all, it was a wonderful day!  The only discomfort was due to the weather, and that actually made it more exciting!  Well, and had we known the sail would be this rough, we’d have dressed more warmly – so we definitely were naïve and trusting about the weather.  The crew and one man in a wool sweater were warm – the rest of us were freezing because we didn’t wear a wooly sweater or fleece.  

I’d recommend the Derwent Hunter trip any time – just dress warmly and don’t let the tropical feel of Airlie Beach fool you – that water is cold out there!

And thank you, crew – Lisa, Dan, Sarah (?) you were great!!!