Road Tripping with "Bob" Part 1, Port Douglas to Airlie Beach
Port Douglas, Queensland
After a week in Cairns and the surrounding area, the day we had been anticipating had arrived, it was time to pick up our campervan! Although we've loved every minute of our travels so far, we were hugely looking forward to not being restricted by bus timetables or hostel availability and having a bit of independence for the last 5 weeks of our travels. We hopped on a bus and arrived bright an early at 8.30am to be introduced to "Bob". Bob is, as an estate agent might describe as "bijou" and "full of mod cons". Although small, Bob has a fridge freezer, a kitchen sink with running water (so long as you remember to fill up the water bottle), kitchen cabinets complete cooking utensils, a toaster, a kettle, pots and pans and best of all a TV and DVD player. Yes, that's right, a TV and DVD player!!! This comes complete with a remote control, despite the fact you can reach the TV quite easily from wherever you are in the van! To give you an idea of size, we have the back of the van is the size of a double bed with the kitchen just a little smaller than the width of a normal kitchen side and the length of the double bed!
We spent the weekend getting to know Bob and practicing our driving skills so on the Sunday we headed an hour north of Cairns, to Port Douglas, a place we had passed through on our Cape Tribulation trip but not stopped at. Our main reason for visiting was to give Bob a test run before we were too far away from Cairns but the secondary reason was to visit a Backpackers resort called "Dougies" which also has camping pitches. For all of you Neighbours fans out there, we won't give away the storyline as we don't think it's happened in the UK yet, but watch out for Dougies in future episodes!!!
Now confident with Bob, we headed back to Cairns where we stayed another couple of nights (In Bob) and stocked up on essentials for the road. On the Tuesday, our road trip finally began in earnest! Whilst back in Cairns, it was pancake day. As anyone who knows me well will know, there was no way I was going to miss pancake day! So we set up our camp stove and made pancakes out the back of Bob in the dark!! We could've used the camp kitchen, but it was more fun this way! Something we've found at all the campsites that we've stayed in so far is that they have camp kitchens. You have to take your own pots and pans but they have kettles, toasters, hobs, microwaves, BBQs,washing up facilities and sometimes an oven. Much easier than just using one small camping stove. English campsites should take note!!
We headed inland from Cairns to an area called the Atherton Tablelands. We spent the whole day, winding along the steep hill roads through the area, taking in the magnificent scenery. We stopped at some look outs on the way up but our first real stop was at Lake Eacham. Lake Eacham is an extinct volcanic crater lake filled with cool, clean, crystal clear water, surrounded by 1200acres of lush tropical highland rainforest. We had a swim in the lake and a spot of lunch before seeing some turtles swimming in the lake and some turkey like birds that are native to the area. Our next stops, were at the Cathedral Fig Tree and The Curtain Fig Tree is from the strangler fig species. Normally these figs germinate on top of another tree and try to make roots into the ground. The fig will then grow, finally killing the host tree and then growing independently. In the case of the Curtain Fig Tree, this tree tilted towards the next one, the fig also grows around that one hanging down and creating a curtain effect. We also visited Millaa Millaa Falls, a beautiful waterfall, which was made famous by the 1990's Timotei advert, where the girl flicks her hair backwards out of the water. We headed out of the Tablelands before it got dark (it's not advisable to drive on the more rural roads at dusk and dawn due to the amount of wildlife) and spent the night at a campsite in a small town called Innisfail.
For much of our East Coast journey, we will be driving along the Bruce Highway which runs from Cairns to Brisbane and beyond. We find the name highly amusing! So, next day we hopped onto the Bruce Highway and headed south to a small beach town called Mission Beach. It's a small place, with not a lot going on but lovely for relaxing. We had intended on only staying a night at Mission Beach, however (and this is a true story) the caravan park we were staying on had an amazing waterslide in their pool and for that reason alone, we decided to stay an extra night!!! As with the beaches around Cairns, it's not advisable to swim in the sea at this time of year due to the lethal stingers that lie in wait. Many beaches along the coast have stinger nets, essentially a big rectangular fishing net with inflated sides which the stingers out of a small section of the sea which is patrolled by lifeguards. This is supposed to give you a safe area to swim in; however we haven't swum as there is always the possibility a sneaky stinger has got in somehow! With this is mind, rather than swim in the sea, we spent the next day making the most of the lovely pool and, much to the amusement of the older residents of the van park, using the waterslide!
Shortly after leaving Mission Beach, we were driving along taking in the scenery when we saw a male Cassowary casually strolling by the side of the road. We were very excited to finally have seen this elusive bird but as we value our lives, we didn't stop to say hello! On the same road, we saw one of many banana farms. This one was selling bananas fresh from the trees so we stocked up before continuing our journey!
Next port of call was Townsville. Townsville is fairly large town in Queensland terms, probably bigger than Cairns and home to a large RAAF air base. The main reason to visit Townsville is to head out to Magnetic Island which is only about 8km across the water. In the afternoon we stretched out legs after a very hot drive from Mission Beach and walked along the promenade. Again, you can't swim at this time of year but there are 3 areas with stinger nets if you dare (there were lots of families swimming so we guess was it was safe!). We were very impressed with the promenade that runs alongside the beach, it was very well equipped, with parks, BBQs, picnic areas, an amazing FREE water park and exercise stations. They really make outdoor living accessible for everyone and encourage everyone to use it by having free parking and plenty to do for free. We intended on heading out to Magnetic Island the following morning, however on waking up, we were faced with dark skies and the threat of rain. Although rain doesn't normally stop us from doing anything, Magnetic Island is really best seen in the sunshine so we decided that we'd skip it for now and continue our journey south.
Our next location was Airlie Beach, gateway to the Whitsunday Islands. En route, we stopped for lunch in a quiant little town called Bowen and sat by the sea whilst we ate! The Whitsundays are 74 islands located in The Great Barrier Reef. The main reason to head to Airlie Beach is to pick up one of the boat trips out to the island. We arrived in absolutely torrential rain and found ourselves a nice little campsite on the edge of Airlie Beach in tropical woodland setting, with a stream running behind our van (which was actually a bit scary when the rain came down really hard as we thought we might get washed away!). There were also frogs and toads hopping around and a Kookaburra sitting in the tree singing to us! Next day, with the help of the campsite, we booked ourselves a 2 day/ 1 night boat trip leaving the following morning. Much like Cairns, Airlie Beach has a beautiful swimming lagoon next to the sea with BBQs and picnic areas where we spent the afternoon soaking up the sun before the heavens opened in the evening! We spent a cosy evening in Bob watching How I Met Your Mother (a new addiction after we started watching it at Liz's in Melbourne and have now bought the DVDs!) and listening to what sounded like bullets of rain hammering down on the roof!
We woke up early the following day to a bright and dry morning, just in time for our boat trip. The campsite owners kindly dropped us at the harbour mad we joined our fellow passengers and our 2 crew, Trent and Jimmy, on our boat, the aptly named "Waltzing Matilda". On chatting with 2 other girls on the boat, Alex and Rachel, we found out that they were from the Winchester/ Southampton area, small world! We were all shown to our rooms and given a quick safety brief. As the boat wasn't full, we were "upgraded" to a private double cabin. This basically consisted of a double bed and a sink! Although actually the bed was bigger than what we are used to in Bob so that was a bonus!! To start the trip, we had a 4 hour sail to the Southern end of the Whitsundays to Whitehaven beach, one of the main attractions of the Whitsundays. The weather in the area hadn't been great for a few days and although it wasn't raining, the winds were still very high, making for a very choppy and blustery journey. We actually found it quite fun, sitting out on the deck and getting drenched by the waves! Once we got to Whitehaven, they took us over to the beach on a small dinghy and after a ten minute walk through some rainforest, we came to a breath taking look out over Whitehaven Beach. The sand is pure white and the sea is a multitude of blues and greens. As it wasn't brilliantly sunny, our photos won't do it justice, so we'll add a couple from the internet so you can see it how it should be seen. The sand on the beach was used by Nasa to create mirror on the Hubble telescope because it's so fine. As you walk through it squeaks under your feet and feels like powder. It's also known to be good to clean silver, which one of the girls, Alex, tried and it did work! We donned our stinger suits and headed into the water, which was slightly scary as there were actual stingrays hiding under the sand! Back on the boat, we were the first to attempt a shower. No mean feat when the boat is rocking from side to side!! I (Hannah) still have the bruises to prove it! We headed off for calmer waters to find somewhere to drop anchor for the night, Mara Inlet. We had a delicious BBQ dinner and after a few games of cards with our fellow travellers, it was time for some sleep. Next morning, we were all up on deck by 6.15am in glorious sunshine with not a cloud in the sky, ready to sail to our first snorkelling destination. After a yummy breakfast, we headed to the Northern Tip of the Whitsundays to a bay called Blue Pearl where we spent about an hour snorkelling on the reef. Then it was back on the boat to our final destination, Caves Cove. So far we'd been taken to the beaches on a small dinghy, however this time, Trent mentioned that we could either be taken to the shallower water in the dinghy or jump off the side of the boat and swim in. We didn't need telling twice and soon, like the children we are, were jumping off the side of the boat! After another hour or so snorkelling, Trent gave us two options of how to get back to the boat. Firstly, clamber in (ungracefully) to the dinghy or secondly (what he described as the graceful way) hold on to a rope and be dragged through the water at high speed by the dinghy! We chose this option and after much hilarity and water swallowing, we made it back to the boat! Lunch was then served and we spent a very enjoyable afternoon lying on the deck and sailing back to Airlie Beach. Exhausted, we headed back to the campsite and an early night in Bob!
Airlie Beach is a lovely little chilled out town with everything you need and our Whitsundays sailing trip was everything we had expected and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Although it might seem quite pricey for a couple of days, it's something we'd recommend that everyone does. We chose a small boat with only 14 people on board and were lucky to meet a good bunch of people who were looking for the same from it as us.