Road-trip from Cairns to Brisbane by Edwina
Arriving late into Cairns we head straight for the Big 4 campsite, waking in the morning the kids were in heaven, outdoor pools, giant trampoline pillows, mini golf, outdoor movies, outdoor BBQs areas so that was our day planned. The next day we head out to Cairns Zoo the aim was for the kids to see Kangaroos since we never saw any alive in the wild just road kill and the other main attraction was for the kids to cuddle a Koala. Not disappointed we arrived for the Kangaroos feeding time and the kids enjoyed feeding the kangaroos out of the palm of their hands, spending close up time with them and seeing baby joey's popping their heads out of their mum's pouches every so often. Filled with questions Luca noticed large sets of balls hanging down on the males asking what these were for, so another lesson on biology was discussed as well as reminding Luca of the coin purses made out of kangaroo testicles we saw in the Airport shop that he wanted to buy to put his money in. The kids all enjoyed the interactive time at the Zoo and came away with photos of them holding Koalas and Luca also wanted to hold a crocodile. Down the coast are plenty of places to stay so we drove along to check a few places out such as Palm Cove and Trinity Beach. Noticing signs on the sandy beach fronts, "beware of Crocodile's and Stingers (Jellyfish)" and swim in designated areas, this was enough to put the kids off swimming in the sea so we headed back to the Big4 for late afternoon swims and BBQ poolside. We also didn't understand why these beaches are so popular, they are nice beaches but feel very confined as you can only swim in fairly small enclosed areas. Maz has planned another early start for the family the mission to get to Airlie Beach where the kids could enjoy the pool after our 7 hour drive. All down the coast from Cairns to Airlie are sugar cane plantations, many busy harvesting and cane train tracks weaving alongside the main road transporting the cane to the factories. Mixed amongst it Banana and Mango plantations and a lot of handmade signs on the sides of the roads selling melons, pineapples, mangos. One thing Maz and I have noticed since being in Australia is the massive presence of McDonalds they seem to be everywhere and on the road heading south big billboard signs advising "25 km till your next McDonalds" one town had a sign proudly letting you know that they have 11 branches in their town with a populations of 170,000! We are yet to have any takeaway food in Australia and have been holding out for Fish n Chips on the beach but we have not been hugely inspired so far and happy sticking with our sandwiches and full on meat BBQs in the evening.
Arriving in Airlie we were greeted with beautiful marinas and yachts in the bay, Airlie is a very small town centre and is known as the "heart of the reef" the main drag is lined with tourist shops, booking agents and not much else other than the odd late night bar and the restaurant's catering for all travellers. Accommodation was another Big4 and the kids not to be disappointed with pool but more delight came with the accommodation really comfy beds, loads of space and I'm over joyed to have a washing machine and dryer the first time since September being able to do our own washing sounds crazy but felt like a real luxury. Up early to the Marina to catch our tour boat to the Barrier Reef taking around 90mins to reach the Pontoon. Given safety briefings on snorkelling we are left to our own devices for the next 5 hrs. First we took the submarine tour out to look at the reef hoping to build confidence for the kids going into the sea and the other reason was that everyone else on the boat made a direct b-line to get snorkelling equipment and get out onto the reef it was really busy flippers and craziness everywhere.
After lunch it took us about 45 mins to get kitted out and in the water. The kids were brilliant and confident from the start, it was great to see the underwater world and how they coped with the strong current with long distances to cover, Luca became so at ease he was telling Maz to let go of his hand. The Barrier Reef was pretty good but with a family discussion back on the boat we all came to the conclusion that our experience of snorkelling in Indonesia was better. Why? Well you would go in straight off the beaches and the best time was whilst on the Komodo Dragon Boat tour it highlighted to us how much better the snorkelling was in Indonesia we saw a lot more colourful tropical fish and with the water shallower it made the coral seem a lot more colourful. We really did have a great day out of the reef and it was a good experience and yes still worth that long, boring drive from Cairns.
Back on the road for another boring long drive of the same scenery with crappy little towns with nothing to make you want to stop at we head to Rockhampton. I had made Maz factor in Rockhampton as one of my must stop places and yes it was all for the sake of a Rodeo. With Maz's master planning he had to factor into the itinerary that the rodeos either take place on a Wednesday or a Friday night. And being a Friday night it just so happened to be "The Young Guns Final" so we rock up at The Great Western Tavern 6.30pm it's a pub doing great steaks with an Arena out the back with stadium seating, bar, restaurant and some guy with his guitar and bad singing voice entertaining the punters. The kids had never been to a rodeo but heard about them from me and the odd one that I've been to back in New Zealand, they weren't sure what to expect. I was in my element totally loving the terrible music, cowboy hats, having a tinny and steak sandwich and the bull riding and horse barrel racing. The kids seemed to be ok with it some more than others but seem just fine with the idea of being taken to other Rodeo's when we get to New Zealand as for Maz well I know he was sucking it up for the good of the family and his wife!
A funny thing was listening to Maz trying to explain my excitement of the rodeo to the kids, "It's her Disneyland".
Like most parents Maz thinks I want our children to relive some of my experiences that I had as a child so after a very late night at the rodeo, no sleep in and I drag everyone up at 6am to hit the road to Bundaburg here the plan was to drag the children around as many tacky attractions as possible, either that or I was feeling like the kids were really missing out on something that Australia had to offer. After several long drives of nothingness Maz and I were really both wondering what does Australia have to offer us, what really so great about this country?
Bunderburg didn't live up to any expectations, so Maz drove us to the beach for the afternoon of swimming in the open sea without any concerns of crocodiles, stingrays etc it was great! It was the first time the kids has swam in the sea with large waves it was great again to see their confidence grow as the afternoon passed. We all tucked into our first Fish n Chips and Bundaberg special brew of Lemon Lime and Bitters a good end to a day that was actually only going to become better. At 7pm we had booked a turtle experience at Mons Repo, at 6.25 pm we realised that the clock we were using on the laptop was still in Alice time and it was actually 6.55pm, panic ensued as we rushed to the car and bombed down to the site, when we got there, there was still a big line so we all line up with all the others that had ventured out late in the evening. Once again Maz has totally excelled with his anal retentive planning and once again I am in totally gobsmacked at his dedication and brilliance of planning and research for this amazing world experience for our family as first booked was first in, Maz had booked on opening day so our names were called out in the first group with about another 20 people he certainly liked to let me know about his marvellous planning!
After a briefing from the researches we head out into the darkness down the beach for about 800m here we are quietly told to take our children and sit down around the backend of a large Loggerhead Turtle, it had just started to hatch its eggs and the researcher placed a torch at its rear so we could see them dropping down into the deep hole. It was incredible to see such an amazing event occurring and we were all blown away by this. Things were only going to get better, as we watched in darkness the researcher's measure and documenting, we were then all fortunate enough to see the turtle have an ultrasound. It was great to hear of the history of the turtle and how it had been coming back to the same beach for the past 6 years to lay eggs. Once completed laying the 148 eggs we all walked in darkness down to the water's edge slowly behind the turtle as it returned to the sea. Thinking that this was the end of the experience we were thrilled but more was to come, the eggs that the turtle had buried had to be moved for safety from predators so the researcher had dug a new hole the same depth but higher up the beach, all the eggs were laid out on the sand and counted then to our shock we are told that each of us has the privilege to help move the eggs to their safer hole, this had to be done quickly. The kids took great care carrying the eggs further up the beach and giving them to the researcher to bury, Maz and I were totally like wow!! Now our work was done we slowly walked back down the beach marvelling at the amazing stars and thinking what a lucky group of people we were to experience this, a lot of people come to Mons Repo but many miss out of this experience of nature. Good planning Maz!!!
No rest for us another 5 hour drive to Hervey Bay where we had to catch the Ferry to Fraser Island, this was going to be Maz's fun day out. We stayed in the kingfisher resort on the island for 2 nights being used to hotel rooms only these 3 bedroom apartment with and spa bath on the balcony seemed huge. Every time with left the apartment kids where concerned as on the first time we left Maddalena spotted a brown snake that after talking to the groundsman believed it was poisonous and we kept seeing it on the path outside the apartment. The first evening we wanted to eat in their bush tucker restaurant all their food was seasoned with bush herbs, Maz to start had crocodile, Kangaroo and emu pate platter, the kids all had a taste with crocodile being the favourite, I had oysters only Arabella brave enough to brave these, it was funny to see her eat the oyster and placed the whole oyster into the mouth, chewed, spat out and nearly vomited.
Next morning we hired a 4 WD and were off to explore the island. Maz was in his element, the sand was really deep and challenging to drive, Maz just had to keep his foot to the floor and go for it. We hit the beach for some fantastic beach driving heading north up to the ship wreck Maheno, this was a New Zealand ship that was being towed to be scrapped that broke away in the storm and beached here on Fraser, it was fascinating showing the history of the boat, it was used as a hospital ship in Gallipoli and after being wreck people would climb aboard and have weddings. Then Maz drove us inland again to see freshwater turtles in a lake before heading back down the beach to Eurong for a quick pie. Wishing we could be camping on the island and enjoying several days 4WD we headed to Lake McKenzie heavy sands and no other vehicles in site you really had to know how to drive in sand otherwise you would be screwed. We got to Lake Mckenzie and were blown away by the beautiful white sand and crystal clear waters Maz and I were really amazed how beautiful it was and thought it was an absolute must for any visitors to the island to see. As a family we all enjoyed the fresh warm water swimming for a few hours and just having some really nice family down time as we really are feeling shattered, especially Maz with all the long distances driving.
6am up and ferry to Hervey Bay again we needed to get to Seaworld and didn't want to arrive late it was to be 6 hours driving and the plan to get there early afternoon so the kids could go swimming which they did in the hotel waterpark. Another early start bags packed ready to be taken straight to the airport but first things first our last experience in Australia, Seaworld, Maz once again exceeds all expectations by arranging the family to swim with Dolphins we got to stroke, feed and find out the individual history of the rescued dolphins we were with and general dolphin facts, it was a fantastic start to our day totally brilliant and memorable. The last few hours in Australia were spent going on a few rides and watching a few shows at Seaworld. New Zealand here we come…..