Australia - Coastal Queensland
Woke up ridiculously early so packed up my stuff and caught up with the blog, so far I've written over 55,000 words which in Calibri font type 11 amounts to 95 pages.
14.10 We strolled out of Legasbi airport and towards our Cebu Pacific flight; Mount Mayon seemed only to be a few hundred metres away from the runway - dangerously close for an active volcano.
The one hour flight literally flew by and we were back in Manila where we had to wait a few hours in a rather dull airport before our seven hour flight to Sydney. James and I thought we'd have our own screen for the in-flight entertainment but unfortunately everybody had to share, I resorted to my netbook and started to watch a surfing DVD I'd download whilst in the Philippines, I've never surfed before but want to master it whist in Oz.
Sydney airport was far better than Manila and even though I was like a walking zombie I had to smile when I saw surroundings similar to those back at home. After a few more hours we caught our connection flight to Cairns, where we caught a mini bus to Northern Greenhouse Guest House which was slightly more expensive than we were use to ($28) but a great place to meet people and socialise, the hostel had some great facilities including a pool, kitchen, large outdoor canopy and decking area, tourist / travel office and free bbq on a Sunday night and it was Sunday - perfect. We dumped our bags in our 6 person dorm and jumped onto our top bunks for a lengthy sleep.
I'd set my alarm for 17.00 to prevent us from sleeping all night; after our free bbq we headed out onto the streets of Cairns to locate an ATM machine. The weather was a lot cooler than the heat of the Philippines and everything just seemed more organised, the buildings were spaced out and the roads far wider than in England and even though there wasn't a great deal we wanted to see in what seemed to be a slightly lazy laid back city, it was a perfect place to organise our onward journey and adventure travel activities.
Back at Greenhouse we met a few other travellers in the bar and ended up sampling an array of Australian beers. After a few too many the bar man Carl told us that the green ants which can be found in the greenery surrounding the hostel have a citrusy tasting backside, at first I thought he was winding us up until one of the girls in the bar lead us outside and showed us what to do, gripping the head of the ant she licked the rear ants backside, we watched in disbelief as her face nearly turned inside out. I'm not one to miss out on a new experience so James and I grabbed a little blighter each and pressed the rear of the ant onto our tongues and experienced a remarkably sharp citrusy tang.
Because of our lengthy daytime sleep our body clocks were slightly confused, we were both wide awake and ended up having a later night than we'd anticipated.
We ate breakfast in a local little cafe shop which was transcendent; I've forgotten how good proper bacon tastes and what a good portion looks like. We visited a few camp shops to stock up on kit required for the next leg of the journey before heading back to base, a group of us sat under a huge canopy with wooden decking below and watched the rain pour down around us, flying foxes (huge bats) soared above us dominating the skies.
Later that evening I introduced myself properly to my roommates (2 Finish girls and one lad - all seemed friendly enough), James and I ended back in the hostel bar with a group of fellow backers and spent most of the night playing poker. The hostel owned a huge poker table, Carl organised the game making sure everyone had plenty to drink, we all put $10 dollars in the pot - winner takes all and second place gets his money back, I was happy to come second and get my dosh back. The night turned somewhat messy with Carl swapping clothes with a 19 year old girl from Cambridge before we made our way to the Woolshed night club, Carl knew the bouncers so we cue jumped to the front and got drinks for half price all night, however even at half price Australia was ridiculously more expensive to what we were used to.
11.00 we made our way to Juicy Rentals to pick up our bright green Toyota people carrier, James had to drive because I felt pretty grim and still probably over the limit, we visited a huge shopping centre and Coles supermarket to pick up some supplies before heading back to the hostel to say our goodbyes and pick up our stuff before checking out.
After stocking our fridge up with beer (Tooheys Extra Dry) and sausages we drove north to Port Douglas for our first night in the van. Port Douglas was once a pretty little fishing village but has seen lots of tourist development over the last few years, that's not to say it still isn't pretty, the town seemed very quaint and James and I eventually pulled in a lay by near the beach. We stood at the back of the van and cooked up our sausages (snags), onion and garlic sandwiches before sleeping in an extremely warm van - no bedding required.
8.00 I woke up and James was already in the driver's seat heading towards the beach, we both had a look at the huge beach and used the beach shower to freshen up and wake our selves properly. I drove into Port Douglas and parked on the central street, people were in little cafes enjoying their breakfast, James and I stood next to our bright green van eating bran flakes from our bowls.
Port Douglas is a great place to dive from, we were both certified and wanted to dive on the barrier reef whilst we were here, Poseidon came up with the best deal - about £100 for three dives, dinner, diving equipment, huge yacht with a onboard marine biologist, it was Wednesday and our dives were on Friday so we decided to head further North and return back to Port Douglas on Thursday night. After I charged my camera battery and laptop in a nearby cafe we headed North through Mossman where we stopped and cooked more sausages before heading into the rain forest (Daintree National Park).
The roads in Daintree were windy but in superb condition, we had the sea on one side of us and dense rainforest on the other. Our final destination of the day was Cape Tribulation where we went on a jungle walk before freshening with our first solar shower, the only interesting thing we saw on the walk was a pretty big spider which was incredibly quick. I attached the shower to a tree and stripped naked hoping that nobody would enter the carpark and sea my white ass, the shower ran out after a few minutes and I managed to throw a towel on before a car entered the Dubuju walkway car park.
In the evening we had a couple of drinks in the only bar in Cape Trib (PK's) which was a huge place with internet access and pool tables. We contemplated where to sleep, every car park we stopped in said no camping and the sites cost $30, there was no way we were going to pay for a spot so we pulled inon the main road put our ear plugs in and slept there under the starriest night I've ever seen.
Oh yeah and for supper guess what we had - sausages (snags)
We woke up early because the rangers drove incredibly close to our car beeping their horn in an attempt to move us on. We drove to a nearby car park and used the toilets to freshen up, in the toilets were two more spiders, one was about the size of grape but fat, white and crab like and the other had long legs and looked like it could have taken on both me and James. We walked through the jungle and onto the empty Myall Beach; it was around this area Captain Cook's vessel hit a reef offshore in June 1770. The British captured the Spanish port of Manila, in the Philippines, in 1762 that detailed maps of Australia's coast fell into their hands; it took the Brits six more years to assemble an expedition to locate the continent. Sailing in 1768 on the Endeavour, Captain James Cook headed to Tahiti, then proceeded to map New Zealand's coastline before sailing west in 1770 to search for the Great Southern Land - unsure whether it was New Holland or a undiscovered landmass. A party of forty sailors attempted to land however, two Aborigines attacked them with spears but us friendly Brits drove them off with musket fire; Endeavour continued where it ran aground off Cape Tribulation but cook managed to get the ship safely to the beach and set up camp whilst the ship was repaired. Cook successfully managed to navigate the rest of the reef finally claiming possession of the country which he named New South Wales - for King George III on August 21.
We wanted to have an early morning swim in the sea but was slightly put off by the crocodile and jelly fish warnings; there was even a container holding vinegar should you get stung. An albatross soared over head, it was like everything in Australia is on steroids even the flies are huge.
On our way back to Port Douglas we pulled over at a small beach for some lunch, however it was not quite as successful as we'd planned - we run out of gas whilst cooking our sausages and noodles; not wanting to be beaten we started a fire and finished what turned out to be a delicious meal on that.
Later on that evening after circling the town for a place to stay we pulled in at a public bbq next to Port Douglas beach, most backpackers would settle for a couple of sausages or burgers however James and I had treated ourselves to amperages, onion, garlic, mushroom, egg and kangaroo steak which was delicious. Kangaroo meat tasted a bit livery and a little chewy however it tasted ok and was reasonably priced - we'll be having it again.
We ended the day in a car park next to the mariner with a few other camper vans scattered around, it's amazing how many juicy campers we've already seen, we make a point of beeping the horn and shouting out 'juicy' to anyone else with abright green eyesore of a vehicle. We had to be at the mariner ready to dive at 8.00 so it was a perfect place to sleep.
7.50 We parked as close to the Poseidon vessel as possible and made our way to across the jetty to the large catamaran where we were met by the crew. The organisation was impeccable and the onboard briefing was thorough, we were offered sea sick tablets but coming from the Philippines James and I opted out, however the large waves turned both our stomachs and a number of people were escorted to the outer wet area and projected their breakfast overboard. We were taken to the port side rear of the vessel and assigned kit, snorkelers where doing the same star side. After a thorough dive brief we were split into teams fortunately for us two of our team were sea-sick and unable to dive - smaller groups are much better. After an hour and a half at sea our Finnish Dive Master / Biologist 'Hereld' told us that we'd be disembarking the port side door in five minutes, James and I checked each others equipment over and joined the queue to exit the door. I'd hired a digital camera for the dives so had to make sure that was secured to my hand before holding my mask and regulator in with one hand and holding my weight belt secure with the other before performing a giant leap into the water below.
Hereld signalled for us to go down so we released the air from our buoyancy control device and made our way down to the bottom, equalising our ears as we descended. The water was lovely and blue and warmer than it was on the boat, the six of us headed towards the reef and started to navigate our way around the corral. The visibility was good but probably not as good as the Philippines because of the waves above us, however the array of fish were astonishing; Hump head Wrasses, Cornet fish, Trigger fish, Black Snappers, Clown Anemon fish, Green Turtles and stingrays just to mention a few.
After our second dive we made our way to the rear of the board dried off on the cold deck and went inside for some lunch. The food was delicious - cold meat, pasta, fresh prawns, fruit, cheese and crackers; I certainly over did it with the food and was probably less buoyant for my third and final dive which was my favourite because it was like a drift dive; we swam around a huge corral formation and the current did the rest, we floated back to the catamaran like a group of weightless astronauts. The thing I liked about the Poseidon team was that they were super organised I mean I've never had to sign a register when embarking / disembarking the boat, they also gave talks about the marine life in-between dives which again was pretty good. The things I didn't like was the amount of tourists on board, however I suppose this was predictable when visiting one of the number one dive location in the world.
That day I dived on Phil, Advanced and Castle Rock all of which are located in the x on the Great Barrier Reef.
Back in Port Douglas we headed to the beach freshen up in the public shower, before driving back to Cairns.I waited outside Northern Greenhouse Hostel whilst James looked for someone we knew to open the gates for us, Julie a girl we'd met last time we were here swiped her key card into the gate and we drove into the car park. It was pretty cheeky really everyone else was paying to stop here but James and I crashed in the car making use of the dry cleaning, free internet and of course the bar = another messy night.
Having converted our bright green camper van back to its day time look - curtains tied back, bed folded away etc, we mingled into the rest of the people at Northern Greenhouse who had paid for the privilege to be there.
During the day I visited a large shopping comlex where I located the car inverter I'd been looking for, now I could charge my laptop and camera from the car cigarette lighter instead of asking barmaids if I could use their plug sockets.
James had quite a bit of stuff to sort out the main one being his flight home in July; he'll fly back to the UK for one week to attend his sister's wedding.
That night was the last time we'd be stopping at the Northern Greenhouse so we hit the bar early and spent the evening with a small group of fellow backpackers including, Guitar John, Win a lot Justin, Barman Carl, Brazil, Colette, Julie, Erin, Lydia and co. We carried on drinking by the pool and into the early hours of the morning, I grabbed the guitar so we could have a bit of a sing song before sneaking back to the camper and drawing the curtains for the night.
9.00 picked up a few supplies from the shopping mall, ate our bran flakes in the shopping mall car park like a couple of hobos before hitting the road. We headed south to Gordanvale, filled the camper with juice and headed into the Atherton Tablelands which are the highlands behind Cairns and named after John Atherton, who made the tin deposits at Herberton accessible by opening a route to the coast in 1877. The roads and scenery were beautiful, I didn't realise that Australia had such greenery, it felt like I was driving through Canada or even Scotland. Motor bikers were using the road like a race track, leaning right over on the corners before blasting it down the straights. We sawa number of other bright green juicy campers on our journey so we now flash our lights and beep the horn at any other juicy car.
We drove around Lake Tianroo which is a convoluted reservoir formed by pooling the Barron River's headwaters, stopping at various look out / focal points. We stopped at Mobo crater, Lake Euramo and Cathedral Fig which is a giant tree (50m diameter at the base) with a thick mass of tendrils supporting the crown which have been fused together like molten wax.
After a sardine butty and brew, we drove further south passing through Malanda and then onto Millaa Millaa, at this point the weather changed dramatically, rain bounced down and visibility was pretty low. A heard of cows were crossing the road at a dairy farm so I sat patiently as the last few cows were making their way slowly across the rain drenched roads, a car overtook me and tried to make its way through the cows just as the farm yard dog run out and under the moving car. I should have looked away as the small dog got trapped under the wheel, the dog yelped and tried to make its way back to the farm but its rear legs looked broken, I didn't stop because the farmer was nearby and the other car had pulled in.
Once we'd visited Millaa Millaa waterfall which was lovely but spoilt slightly by the weather, we tried to find a place to stay. We visited a campsite in a small bay somewhere near murdering point but we felt like it was over priced so headed to Tully in the dark. Just outside Tully we found a small dirt road between two sugar cane fields, we decided to spend the night there. The rain had now stopped so we quickly cooked up our tea - steak, onion, red wine and garlic which was delicious. We'd bought a box of red wine and a box of white wine earlier in the day from a drive through bottle shop, I couldn't believe that you actually by alcohol at a dedicated drive through - it's seemed a bit of an encouragement to drink drive. The cheap boxes of red wine and white wine are known as goon in Australia apparently because goon translates to pillow in aborigine; people who drink it blow up the empty inner sack and use it as a pillow. I managed to crawl into bed later that evening and use my own pillar - not having to rely on the goon sack (this time).
10.00 I drove into Tully centre to try and organise our white-water rafting expedition, James was still lay in the back with a goon hangover. Tully didn't have a lot to offer and after I visited a local bakery for some sausage rolls and checked my emails we headed back on to the Bruce highway for a few hundred yards pulling it at the Raging Thunder cafe. Two predominant companies offer rafting as a day trip but the Raging Thunder Company offer an extreme rafting special which included swimming down the rapids, rock jumping and grade 4 rafting; we booked it there and then for $200. We had to be back at the cafe the following morning at 8.00 so instead of hanging around Tully which was a little boring, we drove to Mission Beach.
Mission Beach is the collective name for four hamlets strung out along a fourteen-kilometre stretch of sand. The coastal forest is home to the largest surviving cassowary population in Australia. Cassowary is a blue headed, bone crested rainforest version of the emu whose survival is being threatened as their habitat is carved up.
James and I visited all four hamlets and pulled in at some out of use toilets on the front of Bingil bay, the toilets said out of order but we jumped over the rail and found a working shower. After a swim in the sea we used the shower (once the cockroaches had scattered from beneath our feet) and cooked our beef on a fire we made on the beach.
After a sleep on the beach we decided to try and seek out the illusive cassowary, we drove to the nearby 'Tam O'Shanter State Forest' and parked the car up. A sign read footpath 'closed due to dangerous trees', if the sign had read 'crocodiles' we may have thought again but trees didn't really put us off so we sprung over the fence and made our way down the narrow path. The path was quite badly overgrown to start and we had to duck under a number of trees, some of them where especially prickly which resulted in us having to undo each other from the leaves which kept attaching themselves to our clothes. On one occasion I was making my way through some thick undergrowth when I immediately stopped and jumped backward towards James; a huge yellow and black spider had formed a web across the muddy path and the spider was in a position which would have made contact with my chest - I nearly screamed before remembering I'm a bloody bloke.
The walk lasted for hours and we were deep in the jungle running out of light, we hadn't seen a cassowary just a huge spider and a few other bugs. Eventually we run out of light and had to make our way out of the jungle with the light from my head torch. The most direct route to our car was back through the jungle but there was no way we were going to attempt that in the pitch black, the jungle noises alone is enough to put most off; James and I made our way down a unlit highway trying to hitchhike - nobody picked us up.
We ended up in a more urban area and caught a taxi back to our car for an extortionate price, before returning back to our prebuilt fire to cook a beef stir fry; that evening we slept on Wongaling beach front