Saturday, March 12, 2016

East Coast Australia: Cairns to Brisbane

It's been a little while since I posted last, a busy couple of weeks on the East coast of Australia. I left off in Cairns in the northeast. That's where I met up with my next tour group and began the next leg of my journey. I didn't participate in the optional activities the first day, as it was a boat ride out to the Great Barrier Reef to go diving or snorkeling, and I had just spent 3 days out there. Instead I took advantage of the hotel pool (you can't swim in the ocean around Cairns without a stinger suit, too many jelly fish about), and wandered the same small touristy downtown I had already gotten to know pretty well.  
That night we went on an organized pub crawl that started back at Gilligan's, the party hostel I stayed in before my dive trip. They have a bar on the ground floor.  From there, we went on to several other stops, I made it to 4 out of 5, not bad. The guy who was leading the group through the pub crawl (not the tour manager) instigated these terrible games that would start off innocently enough, and then suddenly he was telling people to take their clothes off if they didn't want to be eliminated. I didn't participate at all, but several people were upset, and even more so when photos were posted online without anyone's permission. Aside from those shenanigans, I did get a chance to talk to some fellow travelers, start to get to know the group a little (difficult as it was once again 50 people, some of whom had been traveling together for a while through the Northern Territory). More on that later. 
The next day I went along for some white water rafting on the Barron River; it's just a grade 3 river, so no huge rapids, but still a fun time.  And awesome to have my GoPro along to shoot video of the adventure. 
Finally it was time to bid Cairns farewell, I was more than ready.  I had been there off and on (aside from my days on the dive boat) for about a week, much longer than needed in that location.  It was a long drive day, 8 hours.  While riding along, our tour manager started a get to know you game, where everyone in an aisle seat moved around the bus in a circle, talking to all of the people in the window seats for a couple of minutes.  While initially we were all irritated we didn't get to nap (our morning had started around 5:30am), it was a good way to talk to some people we might not have otherwise met.  We also made a couple of stops, first to see one of Australia's "Big Things" (throughout the country there are these large sculptures scattered around know as the Big Things. The first was the Big Banana), the Big Crab of Cardwell.
 We also stopped through the creatively named Townsville, not quite big enough to be a city, with its large hill not quite big enough to be considered a mountain. 
At the end of the long drive, the group split in half, some choosing to do 2 days of sailing around the Whitsunday islands, others (myself included) going to stay on Day Dream Island for a couple of nights in a nice resort. A lot of honeymooners go there, so no surprise that my room was quite a nice suite, but beyond beautiful scenery, there isn't much to do in the island itself.  

Most of us opted to go out on a big purple catamaran called Camera for a day, to snorkel more of the reef (again in stinger suits), and spend a little time on the gorgeous white sand Whitehaven beach. It rained while we were snorkeling, but it really doesn't matter when you're in the water. The coolest thing I saw this time were a bunch of semi-giant clams breathing, opening up a little and then closing again. 
The sand of The Whitsunday Islands is actually made of silica, so it's an excellent exfoliant, and you can even brush your teeth with it (only one person tried). Not getting sunburned was a huge accomplishment for that day. 

After we got back and cleaned up, someone from the resort took us around to see the aquatic wildlife they have in the (manmade) lagoons around the island, and we were invited to feed tiger sharks and manta rays, and to hold a sea star (apparently we aren't calling them starfish anymore). 
The next day it was back to the mainland to pick up our sailing crew, who hadn't showered in a couple days and we all kept a small distance from (as much as possible on the bus). Our stop for that night was pretty cool: we stayed on a working cattle farm.  As prices of cattle have fluctuated and made it difficult at times for them to stay afloat, they have added tourism to their repertoire, taking in groups and sometimes hosting weddings.  We went on a small hayride around, met Sausage the Brahman bull, and learned a little about life on the farm. 
We were all given cowboy hats to get in the mood, and then shown how to handle a whip. The man in charge told me he's never used be whip on or around his animals, he actually only learned to use it for the tour groups that come through.  After a demonstration, he let us all give it a try.  While I thought that I would be a natural, it turns out I'm more of a menace when armed with one.  I couldn't get that satisfying crack of breaking the sound barrier. After our lesson and some dinner (beef, naturally, with a really tasty baked squash on the side), we moved on to line dancing, and I was able to redeem myself.  I pretty much already knew Cotton Eye Joe, and the others were easy enough to pick up (at least for me, I may have been in the minority there). And then on to the main event, karaoke! I happen to love karaoke, despite my limited range and ability, and all evening they had been raving about their selection of 2,000 songs! As it turned out, those didn't include any of my goto numbers.  I still got up and performed, both in a group and solo, but probably sounded worse than usual with songs I don't know in and out.  But if you were a fan of Bieber or Miley, they had you covered. He noise cutoff out on the farm was midnight, which was fine with me, as I kept feeling really old not wanting to stay up partying all night. 
Back on the bus bright and early, we drove down to the Sunshine Coast, with a stop at a local winery for a tasting and lunch. Ohana winery is owned and run by a young couple, with just a couple of employees to help out.  They specialize in wines made from exotic fruits.  We tasted a mango wine, as well as more standard white and red options, followed by a limoncello. And then light lunch before continuing on to Noosa head for the night. 

Ironically as we got down to the Sunshine Coast, it rained as we walked to dinner at a local surf club.  It's a cute little harbor town, and our accommodation were apartments with free laundry facilities and a pool in the center. 

Our included adventure for the following day was a 4 wheel drive tour of nearby Fraser Island, famous as the largest sand island, as in no dirt or soil, all sand throughout the island. Along one side is a sand highway, an actual registered state highway that runs on the beach. 
You need a 4 wheel drive vehicle to get around the island. I had expected a bunch of jeep-like vehicles, but instead all 50 of us piled into 2 huge trucks. 
On the island we rode down to Lake McKenzie, totally crystal clear water down to the sandy ground. Since this is still in an area where jelly fish are a problem in the ocean, the lake was a perfect alternative for a swim and a lay out on the sand.  
The drivers kept warning us that we might encounter dingoes and to keep our distance, because though they look like dogs, they are vicious predators.  I was somewhat disappointed not to see any.  After a bite to eat, we continued on across the island to a trail through the rainforest (yes, this little sand island has a rainforest on it, the only tall rainforest growing in sand anywhere). When I looked down at the stream along the trail, I thought it was dry at first, because the water was so clear and the sand beneath so white. The ferns with the largest fronds in the world grow here.
After our hike, we bumped back along the sand, but had to detour off the beach highway, because the tide had come in, making parts of it impassable. I imagine that happens regularly (like 2x a day perhaps). Back the accommodations, we all took advantage of the laundry and the pool for the night. 
The next day of driving was much shorter, so we left the Sunshine Coast (in the rain once again) and had a chance to spend most of the afternoon in Brisbane, the capital of Queensland (the state we'd been in this whole leg of the trip). 
Our visit started off rainy, but as we had some lunch, the storm cleared up, and we were able to wander through the open air markets on the south bank, and admire the public pools set along that side of the river. They created pseudo-beaches, with sand and water, for everyone to enjoy in the long hot summer months. 
We also took advantage of the free ferry to get across to the north bank, and wander through the extensive botanical gardens (in this case more like a big city park with a few flowers scattered throughout). It was a nice place to spend the afternoon, but with just a few hours, I didn't even see the central business district; it was just a taste of the city. 
From there we drove on down the Gold Coast to Surfer's Paradise, but I will leave that for the next installment.  Thank you faithful readers for following my tales of travels Down Under. 

No comments:

Post a Comment