'No worries' people, we managed to avoid both cyclones and are safe and sound. However, you are going to have to endure something even worse. An extra long blog because we haven't had Internet for 2 weeks and we have done lots in that time. Brace yourselves.
After checking out of Gilligans on Saturday Steph and I headed to pick up our accommodation/kitchen/transport for the next two weeks. It's a Spaceship - a converted bright orange Toyota people carrier which includes bed, TV, fridge, gas stoves and kitchen sink (almost). The boot opens and a canvas attachment can be applied to add extra bed space and air circulation. It's basically a poor-man's Winnebago but it's great for us.
Once we had signed on the dotted line at the rental place we picked up Lauren and Sam, went for breakfast and dropped them off at the airport. Bad times. Then we set off south bound in our new wheels. Good times!
It felt good to be driving ourselves for the first time since leaving the UK, but our first stint didn't last long. About 20mins outside of Cairns we came to a halt. We could see that just 9 cars ahead of us a tree had fallen down and taken out some live power lines. It was still raining hard at this point so it wasn't an ideal situation. 1hr30mins later we were on our way after a man with a big chainsaw dissected the obstruction. Thank you man with big chainsaw!
Our first stop was Mission Beach. A one horse town with very little to do except relax or sky dive. We did the former. Which wasn't a problem because we needed to work out how to use Steve-O (the van is actually called Hawking but we named it Steve-O after Stephen Hawking). So we set up the kitchen - which is basically a sliding table attached to the outside of the van and a portable gas hob - and cooked the backpackers staple of pasta and sauce.
The next day we walked through the town (which took all of 20mins) and checked out the beach. Not much going on so we went back to our campsite swimming pool and stayed there for the rest of the day. Luckily we near enough had the place to ourselves so it was like being on a good old fashioned holiday. Most campsites are pretty empty because tourism has taken a big hit since news spread that the whole of Queensland is underwater. This is not the case - in fact Steph and I haven't seen much damage from the floods at all and a lot of the local businesses in areas that haven't been effected seem to be annoyed at the way the media have blown it out of proportion. Bloody journalists!
The next day we had an early morning and got back on the road to Townsville. It took around 6hrs. It's quite an easy drive we have over the two weeks. All we have to do is stay on the stereotypically Aussie named 'Bruce Highway' and fork off whenever we like the look of somewhere. We stayed in a nice campsite looking across at magnetic island. Again, we had the pitch to ourselves - although some people where staying in cabins - so we utilised the pool area.
Early the next morning we set off for Airlie Beach, and found another great campsite which was swarmed with exotic birds. We headed into town and as if by magic we bumped into the Belgian couple from the Rock Tour and Cairns. We also spotted Fabi, a guy we knew from Adelaide on the same street. I'm starting to worry that Steph and I are the subjects of a covert operation. Nearly everywhere we go we see someone that we know or recognise.
Airlie has a nice little town, but it is defined by the natural beauty that surrounds it. The sea is turquoise, the hills are lush green and luckily the sky was blue whilst we were there (this obviously makes everything look better). However, Airlie was trumped just a day later when we went on a Whitsunday Island cruise. We were on a vessel named 'Thrilla', and after 20mins out at sea it was easy to see why. The company were called Ocean Rafting and that is the best way of describing it. It's basically a white water raft with serious horsepower. We had the option of upping the stakes by sitting on the edge and holding on for dear life. I spent most of the day on there having my arms pulled out of their sockets as the boat took flight over the swell. It was a great adrenalin rush but my hair looked like Albert Einstein's when we arrived on dry land.
Our first stop was for a quick snorkel on a section of reef near dumbbell island. Much the same as the other parts of the G.B.R we'd seen previously, but still impressive. After that we sped on towards the next island where we started a 30min bush walk to a viewing point over Whitehaven bay - named best beach in the world several times by numerous sources. It was absolutely stunning. The pure white sand drifts into the crystal clear sea, forming waves of bluey, green swirls. The sea is so clear and shallow that we could see stingrays swimming around from our viewing point which was pretty high. I could go on all day trying to describe this sight but I think Steph put it best when we were peering from the cliff: "Best view ever". Simple.
We walked down to the beach and it just got better. The sand was satisfyingly soft (apparently NASA used it to make lenses for some of their telescopes due to it's purity) and the sea was bath water temperature. We had a swim and saw more loggerhead turtles, clownfish etc. But my favourite moment of the day was when I was paddling around in my fetching stinger suit and the captain of our boat yelled 'Shark' and raised his straightened hand above his head like a dorsal fin. He was pointing over the side of the boat which I was about 50m from. I was halfway between the boat and a reef which I had been exploring and I was on my own. Apparently it was a reef shark, so guess where he was headed! I followed the direction in which everybody in the boat was pointing, but it's hard to tell when everything in front of you is water. It was only when the shark was about 2m from me that I spotted it. He headed straight for me and then glided around me, as slow and as calm as possible. It's official: I have been circled by a shark. I might even exaggerate and call it a shark attack. I am a survivor.
On the trip back we saw more of the islands. Every single one had beautiful isolated beaches. Only a few of the islands are inhabited so the rest are completely unspoilt. They all looked like Tracey Island but with slightly less marionettes. It has to be seen in the flesh to be appreciated.
The next day we hit the road early under the advice of our receptionist who was keeping her eye on a cyclone developing over Fiji. She recommended that we don't hang around any longer than we needed to, and we took her word for it. Heading south we went through Mckay and Rockhampton, which from what we saw didn't show too many signs of the devastating floods that had cut the town off from the rest of Australia only recently. We stopped in Yapoon in a campsite beside the beach. This place was a bit 'trailer-park', most of the residents seemed to be semi-permanent or even permanent. One woman had about 40 potted plants and gnomes in and around her caravan, and others seemed to have 42-inch plasma screens hanging from their trailers. We were quite content with Steve-O's 6-inch screen. Needless to say, we didn't hang around too long.
A 6hr drive got us to Hervey Bay where we stayed in.....Torquay. Another beachfront campsite, this time with a little more class. Our van opened out to the 3m path onto the beach. Waking up to the crashing waves by my head was something I could quite easily get used to. However we stayed a little longer than expected, waiting to book a trip to Fraser Island when a break in the bad forecasts came. Unfortunately we didn't realise that Aussie meteorologists have the opposite approach to their British counterparts. Over here, if there is a slight possibility of a small shower at some point in the day, the forecast will be: Rain. In the UK it seems if there is a slight possibility of sun at some point in between the clouds and rain the forecast will be: Sun. Therefore everyday we expected rain and got blistering hot sun with a couple of spits in the early morning.
When we eventually caught the ferry to Fraser Island it was actually overcast! Typical. The whole of the island is 4-by-4 territory and we were in a 4wd coach! It was a bit of a tank, and it was a bumpy ride. We stopped at Lake Mckenzie for a dip, it had pure white sands and clear water. Does anywhere not have those qualities around here? It was still as impressive though. Next we went to the 75-mile beach. This is the main highway and a landing strip for planes and it just doubles up as a beach. Not a great place to swim and make sand castles though, due to the Tiger Sharks and Dingos. Neither would mind taking a little nibble out of you. We saw the shipwreck, the pinnacles and swam in Eli Creek. But guess who we bumped into on the beach? The Belgians. This beach is long (not 75miles, more like 58) and the island is massive. They weren't on a tour, they were driving themselves in a jeep. Spies?
Our Fraser trip was good - not great. There are two reasons for this. Weather and bugs. It sounds petty but the Sandflies and Horseflies are infuriating. Your body is considered a buffet table as soon as the ferry lands. We were slowly being eaten alive and Steph was minutes from being dragged into insanity at one point. I must not taste very nice because I didn't get as many as poor Stephy.
Next stop was Noosa. Steph's favourite place in Australia and quite possibly mine too. It's a shame it was the last place we visited because we would love to have spent more time there. It's like Byron's posher, classier cousin. Great beach, good shopping, beautiful houses and the Surf Club was great to eat and drink.
We spent a lot of our time on the quiet end of the beach, drinking smoothies and reading. We shared this side with around 15 people so it was a shock (not a surprise) to bump into the Belgian agents. Again. It's always good to see them but I've started to employ counter-surveillance techniques in order to avoid being compromised by these foreign spooks. However, I'm beginning to believe that resistance maybe futile. Anyway, they told us that Nico and Wilma (the German agents) were stuck in Airlie waiting for their pre-booked Whitsundays trip to be okayed. It was postponed due to the encroaching cyclone Yasi (we have since discovered that they are safe and well). Luckily we were around 3 days ahead of it, but many of the places that we had recently visited were hit, and Mission Beach was all but destroyed according to reports.
The cyclones had created big surf which authorities warned people not to attempt. The locals made the most of it though and ignored the warnings. However, much to our (and especially my Dad's) disappointment, we decided not to risk it. We still haven't managed to fit a surf in. Shocking.
So after a two week drive, many restless, humid nights, countless sightings of Kangaroos (all of which were roadkill, but that still counts) and two cyclones, we have arrived back in Brisbane where we started our Aussie leg.
Our favourite place in Brisbane - the south bank lagoon - was completely ruined by the floods a few weeks before. The man made beach has been drained and the sand was washed away. It has all been completely fenced off, so our plan of chilling there for four days appeared to be scuppered. Fortunately the Brissies have done a great job in clearing up, washing down and moving on. Free activities have been put on around the south bank to make up for the lack of beach. There's table tennis, air hockey, a bouncy castle (Steph wouldn't let me) and a free outdoor cinema in the evenings. We made the most of the beanbags which were layed out and managed an easy few days before our flight. There are posters all over Brisbane saying "Floods can Flood Off", and it is great to see how good most of the city looks after such a massive event.
Next is a new country, new timezone, new currency. New Zealand!