Cairns, Magnetic Island, Whitsundays & Fraser Island
Kate dropped me at Sydney airport early on Monday morning. Originally when I booked my flights I had intended to arrive in Melbourne later and then fly directly from there to Cairns but my plans changed a bit and I decided to add in Sydney before Cairns. Unfortunately I couldn't change my flight destination so it worked out cheaper to return to Melbourne and keep my existing Melbourne to Cairns flight- a long day of flying! Anyway, I had worked out that Nat would be in Sydney airport waiting for her connection through to Cairns at the same time as me. I saw her looking confusedly at the check-in screen almost immediately and went over, she was shocked to see me and we had a big hug and then had a couple of hours in the airport together before catching our respective flights. She got into Cairns at 1pm but I didn't get in until 7pm after a nice long 4 hour wait in Melbourne airport. On our first evening in Cairns Nat was very tired after more than 24hours travelling so we just had a snack and went to bed early.
We had assigned Tuesday as our day to book our all of the tours and bus tickets down to Sydney and then benefit from bundle discounts. Nat had explored a bit the day before so she showed me around and took me to a travel agents. This sense of direction didn't actually last long! We received a quote from Peter Pans Travel shop and then went next door to Backpackers World Travel who beat the quote and threw in 4 nights extra accommodation and a discount on Nat's New Zealand bus pass- we were very pleased with ourselves! We spent the rest of the afternoon at the laguna and chatting by the seafront and had dinner at the hostel which was free after purchasing a $3 drink. Cairns was much warmer than Sydney had been, especially in the evenings.
On Wednesday we booked onto Barefoot's Atherton tablelands tour which was part of our bus pass package. We were picked up from the hostel by a guy with fake dread locks who enthusiastically tried to wake the tour bus from part sleep. We travelled up to Lake Eacham, an extinct volcanic crater lake where we were told we could have a swim- it wasn't too warm so most of the party decided to save it for the later waterfalls. It was beautiful though and made better by the fresh fruit, morning tea and the sun making an appearance.
The next stop was Dinner falls and the 138m vertical crater. We all took turns to jump into the water which was still very cold but fun. We had a pub lunch at Millaa Millaa before driving to Millaa Millaa Falls a.k.a the waterfall where Peter Andre filmed his mysterious girl music video. Nat and I made the most of it and made sure to take photos impersonating the video- Peter Andre isn't exactly multi-national (or that famous in the UK) so no one knew what we were doing. The last stop was Josephine Falls where we swam across and climbed to slide down. It was late in the afternoon by this point and the Mosquitos came out to get me!! I managed to get 6 bites on my back alone while everyone else came away with one bite at most.
We woke early on Thursday and walked down to the key for our diving reef trip. The boat ride out to Moore reef took a couple of hours which gave the crew time to brief us all and kit us up. I paid for 2 dives while Nat bought a snorkelling and introductory dive package. Both of my dives had a beautiful selection of coral and little fish but unfortunately still no sharks. Nat's snorkelling was good because the reef was so shallow but the introductory dive turned out to be a but of a con and she was just taught the basics and went down a rope and came back to the surface. A lot of other people who have dived from Cairns seem to have had better experiences so I probably wouldn't recommend our dive company but we still had a fun day and enjoyed the sunny weather in the boat.
That evening we were catching a late night bus down to Townsville so had a few hours to kill after dinner. We watched a few hours of Australian t.v and then walked to the bus stop for midnight by which time we were both very tired!
At 5.30am we arrived in Townsville and then got the ferry across to Magnetic Island at 6.30am. We couldn't check in to the hostel for ages so we slept on the outside furniture until 11ish (despite the noise around us and hustle and bustle of people checking out- obviously very tired) and then spent the rest of the day reading our books and sunbathing on the beach.
In the evening we cashed in our free meal and I had delicious burritos! Still feeling very tired, at 8pm we decided to have a very early night and slept for 12 hours straight- unheard of for me!
The following day we bought an all day bus ticket and went round to picnic point and then back round to Alma Bay where we spent a good hour feeding the rock wallabies. They were very sweet, especially the tiny joeys that poked out of some of the pouches. Although I had seen wallabies on Phillip Island it was very different to see them in the wild.
While we were walking back to the bus stop a man named Bruno called up from the beach and asked if we wanted to see reef sharks. I was disappointed not to see sharks in Cairns so I was very excited by this and eagerly made my way down to the beach. Nat was wearing Tom plimsolls so didn't originally want to come in but I waded out to waist height with Bruno and waited for the sharks. Very soon after we stopped moving a baby reef shark swam past us chasing fish! At this point Nat decided that she couldn't miss out so she waded in to meet us wearing her Toms- you had to wear some kind if footwear because if the stonefish. We waited about 10 minutes and had a few sightings of black tip fins and then saw 2 small sharks very close and 2 bigger black tips about 10m out in quick succession. We also saw a lot of big stingrays floating past close to us. I can't believe that I paid so much for the dive trip and this was free! It was such good luck too that Bruno was there because we wouldn't have thought to look otherwise.
After a quick snack we got the bus up to Forts walk. This walk is known for the high chance of spotting a wild Koala and we saw one! Well, it was actually Bruno that saw it, Nat and I were strolling past and too busy chatting to notice so he had to call us back. The koala looked very cuddly and was smaller than I thought but moved up the tree pretty fast when we tried to get a closer photo. Bruno then made an arrow out of sticks so that other walkers would see it and we carried on up. The view at the top overlooked Florence bay round to Horseshoe Bay and was well worth the walk. We walked down and caught the bus to Horseshoe Bay and then back on the loop to our hostel- the bus pass was very good value.
That evening we cooked pasta in the kitchen and spent a few hours chatting in the hammocks overlooking the beach which was very relaxing!
The next morning we caught the ferry back to Townsville and waited for the bus to Airlie beach. It wasn't too long a journey so we arrived mid afternoon and checked into our hostel before walking to find a late lunch. We then checked in and received all the details for our Whitsundays sailing trip and then went back to decide what to take and pack a little bag of clothes.
We walked to the peer at 2.30pm on Monday to start our Whitsundays tour and met a couple of really nice girls who were also on our trip-a good start.
The first 3 hour leg of sailing out to where we threw down the anchor for dinner was very rocky and a couple of people were not feeling too good by the time that we stopped. All food was included and the chef/crew member had the challenging task of cooking 23 people cod, mash and coleslaw but he did it very well and there was plenty of good food! We then had another 3 hours sailing to Whitehaven beach where we moored for the night. This leg was worse than the first so a few people were sick and everyone else, including myself, did not feel good. The evening was quite chilled as we all got to know each other and then set up our beds. Nat and I hadn't been told beforehand that on this specific catamaran a perk was that you all slept on deck. This would have sounded pretty good had the temperature not dropped and the rain started. The sleeping bag did keep us very warm and big tarpaulins were put up but unfortunately rain and wind managed to get through so Nat and I woke to very wet heads at 4am. We pulled the sleeping bags over our heads which sort of did the trick.
We woke in the morning to more rain and so the group all got very wet on a rib over to Whitehaven Beach, despite being given oversized yellow raincoats! Despite the rain and wind, the beach still looked beautiful from the lookouts. After making our way down onto beach the sun did try to get through and the rain stopped which we all celebrated.
We had a selection of cold meats back on the boat for lunch and then we sailed for another few hours to Manta Bay for snorkelling. Nat, myself and a lot of others had just got warm and didn't fancy going in so the skipper offered to take us out on the rib with fish food. This was great and we saw loads of fish and a big bass named George who almost chewed my hand off!
In the evening we had a good spag bol for dinner and then the crew member arranged party games where we split into 4 teams and had a number of challenges which ended in a dance off. We slept on deck and got rained on again but I woke in time to see the sunrise which was beautiful. Wednesday was much sunnier and we all sat on deck as the catermaran sailed back to Airlie Beach. The trip was a lot of fun trip and, although it was slightly ruined by the weather, we had a good group of people and made the best of it.
We got the night bus down to Rainbow Beach that evening and had a Fraser Island briefing and met our groups once we arrived the following morning. The briefing video was very exaggerated and emphasised the danger involved in driving a 4x4 and the dingoes that roam the island. We then went for lunch with our group which was extortionately expensive because Rainbow Beach is so small, bought lots of chocolate snacks for the weekend, made pasta, packed and went to bed.
After an early morning wake up call each group was given a menu, idiot proof cooking instructions and 2 crates of food to pack into the 4x4 and we set off. The German guy in our group, Ingo, took the first turn of driving and made it look easy. After the car ferry to the island we swapped driver and Nat drove up to Lake Mackenzie. It was a beautiful lake full of yellow water with very fine sand that we used to exfoliate our skin and clean jewellery- Nat and I couldn't believe how soft our faces were after! I then drove the next leg which was a bumpy ride and the 4 Canadians in our group were very impressed at our ability to drive 'stick'. We swapped drivers again after an hour and one of the Canadians, with some manual driving experience, drove to the camp site via the beach and over the rocks- I had a lucky escape and would probably have impressed less after stalling multiple times trying to get over the rocks. The tents were already assembled at the camp site so we got to work making the group stir-fry. With 8 group members this was a lot more conplicated than it should have been because everyone had a different opinion on the order that you cooked the meat, veg and rice. We were the last group to finish but it did taste very good! Later in the evening we all walked to the beach to see the stars.
We had been warned to go to the toilet in pairs because of the dingos so I woke Nat at 4am to go. The video briefing had definitely made an impression and after hearing a dingo near the toilet block, Nat and I were petrified. We had been warned not to run away because the dingoes will think you want to play and chase you. Luckily we made it back to the tent without being attacked by dingoes and although scared at the time it now seems ridiculous and we can laugh about it.
The next morning we packed up and drove to Eli Creek and the Wreck of S.S Maheno ship that sits at the edge of the sea with waves Crashing into it- a bit eary! The creek was so cold at first that I struggled to breathe but soon acclimatised and enjoyed floating down. It also woke us up!
Next up were the dunes and after an almost vertical climb to the top, (It's so hard to climb in loose sand!) we sat to catch our breath and look across an amazing view. After lunch we drove to the Champagne Falls which were spectacular natural salt-water pools with big waves. Indian head was the final stop of the day. We got there at dusk so managed to take great pictures but unfortunately couldn't see any tiger sharks below because the water was too churned up.
For our last dinner the boys in our group cooked steak, mash and salad which was delicious and a real treat. The girls washed up and then we sat around the camp fire. The toilet trip that night thnakflly didn't involve any dingos or dingo noises!
In the morning I drove down to the beach and across to Lake wabby. We left the car on the beach and all hiked 2.5km through the bush and down a sand dune to get to it. Lake Wabby is the deepest lake on island but for a lot of us, including Nat and I, it was too cold to swim. It was nice to sit and watch the few crazy people in the water though!
Nat drove the last stretch of the beach to our lunch spot and then swapped drivers for the inland road back to ferry. Nat and I were lucky to have both inland bumpy rides to and from Lake Mackenzie and beach drives.
We arrived back at Rainbow Beach about 4ish and checked into a nice room where only 4 of the 8 beds were occupied. We were both quite happy to not be in the same room as the Canadians because after 3 full days with them we needed a bit of a break! We had pasta to cook but were so tired that we couldn't face it so we bought dinner at the hostel and then enjoyed listening to an aboriginal man playing live music at the hostel bar. I also spent a lot if time that evening challenging (and beating) people to table tennis!
Tomorrow we travel down to Brisbane which both Nat and I are really looking forward to after a lot of beach time.
Lots of love xxx