We left LEI and had another stunning flight back to the mainland including a bonus bumpy landing at Bundaberg
Now we had to get some miles under our belt. One of the hotel owners told us that there was loads of great stuff to see in Queensland but that there was an awful lot of nothing in between. There is nothing much to see in central coastal Queensland so we had a 500 mile drive north to our next adventure. We spread this long drive over 2 days and stopped off at the Rosslyn Bay Resort near the very nice coastal town of Yeppoon. There is a TripAdvisor review here if you’re interested.
It was a brief stay in a very nice apartment and as with all the places we stayed we awoke to birdsong. Here the laughter of the Kookaburra was loudest
Not only was it a rather fine hotel and apartment but a rather fine area as well. We took time out from endless driving for a walk on the beach and a wander to the top of the local headland
The views out to Great Keppel Island were very fine. We’d thought about a visit there but ferries are infrequent and it was one of those places we had to drop from the itinerary. Shame as the photos looked nice!
Feeling satisfied with a couple of hours of respite we hit the road again and headed north to Mackay. The scenery changed and Sugar Cane was king in these parts. Vast acres of them paralleled by miles of narrow gauge tracks for the cane trains. Huge sugar factories billowing plumes of steam. Many people told us how boring the drive through Queensland was. In truth there was not much to see, particularly as the main road, the Bruce Highway, runs several miles inland. But I enjoyed the drive. the roads are largely empty, traffic flows freely and that empty blankness was at least Australian empty blankness. We just cruised and enjoyed the fact we were in Australia seeing things and places perhaps we never thought we’d see.
Our destination was the Broken River Mountain Resort in Eungella National Park. An area of mountainous rainforest about 50 miles inland. The approach is through the wide Sugar Cane rich Pioneer Valley and we cruised along its mostly deserted roads. Suddenly the road pitched upwards in a series of sharp hairpins up into the forest to the resort at about 700m.
It was pretty much dark when we got there but the resort is gorgeous. A small collection of timber chalets in the forest with a rustic lodge at its heart. We had our own private cabin down by the river. You can read my TripAdvisor Review here
The restaurant was excellent and the waitress looked after us royally for all our meals and arranged our packed picnic lunches – I only wished we’d have got her name (I’m terrible for such things). We ate like kings and were treated to the nightly show out the back of the restaurant. They put food out and a family of Possums comes down for their evening meal.
They are rather cute in a wide, staring-eyed sort of way and we sat outside in the cold for many minutes watching them – a rare treat
The resort organised a free night-walk which was excellent and informative. We caught glimpses of wallabies, bandicoots and frog-mouth birds but alas too dark for photography
Next morning we were up early to see what the area is famous for – Platypus
Small, shy and endangered they are the weirdest of creatures. Fur like an otter, tail like a beaver, beak like a duck and a venomous claw on its hind legs. I’m told that when the first stuffed specimen was brought to the UK everyone thought it a hoax. They are actually mammals rather than marsupials although they don’t breast feed their young as such, they secrete milk through the skin and the young drink the milk off the fur. I couldn’t wait to see them
We had been told that they were incredibly shy and needed considerable patience to catch a glimpse. We must have been lucky as we saw them pretty much every time we went down to the river. They really are quite wonderful little – things! Cute in their own way and much smaller than you think. We were even lucky enough to see a couple of them engaged in courtship – fighting basically – so pretty much like Hereford on a Saturday night.
Considering the photos were taken with a 500mm telephoto lens, handheld, of dark brown creatures, in a dark brown river, in a forest, under a grey sky, in fading light, well I’m quite pleased with the outcome.
To fill our day we packed up a picnic and after being dropped at the trailhead took a long walk along the river through the rainforest. Not a typically tropical rainforest, this one is created by the moist coastal air being pushed upwards by the mountains, condensing into clouds and mist that cloak the forest most of the time. This allows the luxuriant growth of ferns palms and the towering trees.
The walk was magnificent with the sights and the sounds of the forest surrounding and enveloping us. We saw all kinds colourful birds but they were too fleeting to photograph or identify. I was keeping a watchful eye for snakes and leeches but were unlucky (or is that lucky).
We stopped to admire a stunning deep pool and were rewarded with another glimpse of Platypus. Incidentally the plural of Platypus is Platypus or Platypuses. The tendency to stick an “i” on such words is apparently the height of grammatical laziness!
We found a lovely spot down next to the river for our lunch
We finally found a place where we could sit right down on the rocks amongst the river itself and spent a happy hour just watching the forest world and river pass us by.
We finished off with a stroll around the dramatic and precipitous viewpoints that overlook the Pioneer Valley
A final Platypus watching session before dark.
This time peace was shattered by an almighty screeching noise. At first I thought it was pigs on the farm next door such was the volume but then I realised it was a huge flock of Cockatoos in the trees. It’s rather surreal to look up and see flocks of these birds that you normally see in bird houses or zoos and yet here they are numerous and flying free – something of a pest in fruit-growing areas we heard. I had no idea that they “flock” (if that’s the right word) in such numbers. The din they make is on account of the one’s in the tree-tops watching and alerting for danger while the others feed and drink by the water
There were also Turtles aplenty and in the end I felt a bit sorry for them. Everyone is looking at the Platypus and admiring them. The Turtles swim up close and clamber on logs as if to say “Hey, look at us, we’re interesting as well” but still, attention passes them by and no-one gives them a second glance. Covered in green slimy algae they look a little sad and pathetic. I took some photos and gave them some encouragement. Turtles have feelings too!
After a long day out we returned to our cottage and chilled, making use of the log burning stove. May as well we thought. Rather too enthusiastically it turns out. I had to open the windows when we got back from eating as the place was like a sauna :)
A short stay but a great one. Memorable for the amazing wildlife but also because it was a complete contrast to everywhere else we went. The rest of the trip was mostly islands and coast so a trip inland gave us some real contrast
“But Lady Elliot Island is on the Great Barrier Reef! Where were the photos of the reef and and all it’s treasures” I hear you cry! Patience patience!
The previous post highlighted just what an amazing place Lady Elliot Island is to chill out, take strolls on the beach, watch the sunrise and sunset and admire the birdlife. Of course the main reason people visit the island is that it sits on the southern fringe of the Great Barrier Reef with all its treasures. There are so many facts and figures about it that its never quite clear which are right or wrong. Longest, biggest living organism on the planet is it’s claim although the second part it depends whether you see a coral ecosystem as one creature or millions. Doesn’t matter. What is clear from our three trips to see it up close (this is just the first) is that it is magnificent.
The common misconception is that the GBR (I can’t be bothered to keep typing it out and when you’ve been there you are allowed to shorten it like a nickname for an old friend!) sits but a short boat ride from the coast. It doesn’t. In most cases it’s around 30-50 miles out requiring a 1-2 hour boat trip across the coral sea to get to it. There are a few islands that sit right on it where you have the chance to see it without such a day trip and LEI (again I’m allowed to call it that) is one. Here you can walk a few meters from your beach hut, slip on a mask, snorkel and fins and away you go.
The photos while pretty good really don’t do it justice especially the fish which are impossible to capture in any detail. It also doesn’t really convey just how much life there is. There are a myriad of tiny colourful fish, crabs, molluscs, shrimps and the like which you just can’t capture with a compact camera. Hopefully they will convey a small part of the beauty but it is one of those things where you just need to see it for yourself. I count myself very, very fortunate to have been able to see it
The first thing that strikes you is the clarity of the water, it’s crystal clear. And then you notice the second thing, it is of course teeming with fish and coral. When I snorkelled in the Maldives the coral had been severely damaged by the effects of Coral Bleaching and the reef was a lifeless grey colour although the fish were still abundant and colourful. The GBR was not affected and it’s coral is still thriving so this was my first time up close.
The lagoon on the southern side of the island has it’s own reef flat and the water is only about 6-8 feet deep. This means you can just float right over the top of the coral and see it up close. The number and variety of fish is amazing but it was the coral I was pleased to see. Seeing the polyps waving about in the current was truly amazing.
Each time all you had to do was swim out against the current and then turn and drift easily back across the reef before getting out and doing it again. It’s absolutely perfect for nervous beginners as the water is shallow with plenty of sandy spots to stand and take a rest and you are never very far from the shore with a current that pushes you that way.
Whilst the coral and the fish are amazing, LEI has something else. Turtles
I was lucky enough to see one a couple of times in the Maldives but at LEI they are abundant. You were pretty much guaranteed to see several each time you got in the water and they are the most wonderful graceful and gentle creatures. Most of them are completely oblivious to your presence and you can swim right next to them while they glide through the water. You never tire of seeing them and every sighting and encounter was as amazing as the last. Like the whales its rare to get up so very close and personal to these animals and they are moments to treasure.
The only downside with the beach snorkelling at LEI is the tide. When it recedes the reef is exposed to the air so you can’t snorkel over it. You can only snorkel for about 4 hours spanning high tide and we were a little unlucky in our timing as this meant we could only snorkel first thing in the morning and at the end of the afternoon when it’s not quite as warm when you get out the water especially as it was so windy. It’s fine when you’re in the water as its pretty warm.
The flip-side benefit to this is that you can go out and walk amongst the reef. This gives you a chance to get right up close to all that same magnificent life you saw while in the water, and in fact more, without the need to swim or snorkel. Just slip on some reef shoes and pick up a stick to help keep your balance and you’re free to poke about as long as you don’t pick stuff up. This is after all a World Heritage Site and a very delicate and fragile environment. We took a little guided walk the first time and it was well worth it. The guide showed us where to look and we saw some great stuff.
The is a sea cucumber.
One variety, a leopard sea cucumber has the unfortunate distinction of having a fish that lives up its butt. The fish gets protection and some free food and the Sea Cucumber gets a rectal clean up. Isn’t nature wonderful :)
A Sea Hare (named for its two horns that look like ears). This fella squirts purple ink at you when he gets annoyed, very gross
A New Caledonian Starfish
A Clam. These are numerous and come in a huge variety of colours, all stunning
On our second trip out we saw more stuff. A Sea Urchin
A Conger Eel
More coral and clams
And a mutant New Caledonian Starfish with 7 legs!
We had another look at the fish feeding so I stuck my camera in the water for a closer look
We also had a visit from a large conger eel that stuck it’s head out of the water looking for food – they have quite a chilling scary face but alas I didn’t get a photo. TBF also spotted water squirting from a crevice in the coral that turned out to be an octopus but he was well hidden although you just make out a curled tentacle and some suckers
We also took a couple of short boat trips in the resorts glass bottom boat. The daytime trip was in very rough water which the kids found a little trying but we did get chance to try out deeper water which they didn’t seem to mind. Photos from this little excursion were marred from my waterproof cameras propensity to fog up so no photos from under the water
We also took a nightime glass bottom boat trip which was also amazing, seeing the the different creatures that come out. They also turn on the UV lighting causing some of the algae within the coral to glow with an unearthly blue light which is surreal and exciting in equal measure. Alas nightime photos from a moving boat over moving water of moving objects is much harder than it sounds :(
We managed to squeeze in one last snorkel on our final morning
You might be asking where is all the colourful coral you hear so much about as it looks very green and brown here. Well, these greens and browns are an indication of very healthy and happy coral. Coral live in a symbiotic relationship with algae that live in it’s tissue. Coral is an animal that lives on passing detritus in the ocean but it needs energy from the sun to survive. The algae, being a plant, can photosynthesise and passes that to coral. This algae is normally green or brown hence the colour of the coral which would be primarily translucent without it.
Global warming means the algae produces too much oxygen and causing the red/orange colours of oxidisation you often see in photographs and the coral doesn’t like it much. Rather than seeing this as a display of healthy colour, these reds and oranges are a sign of very stressed coral. When the oxygen enrichment becomes too much the coral rejects the algae and it loses all of its colour and eventually will die without it. This is coral bleaching. The primary greens and blues at LEI show that the reef here is happy and stable
So there you have it, the wonderful underwater world of the GBR at LEI. Much more GBR to come later in the trip but to be able to see it whenever you want and to get up so close and personal is LEI trump card
Back on the mainland but for a few short hours. We were heading into Hervey Bay for breakfast but not after a comedy episode with our first sight of creatures that bounce across the landscape. So excited was I to see my first kangaroo that I grabbed the camera from the boot. Unfortunately, not only had they bounced away by then I also drove away without closing the boot and some of our luggage fell out the back and onto the road – most embarrassing!
Nothing damaged other than my poise and calm persona and after a feast of food and a bit more roadside packing we were back at Fraser Coast airport for our flight to Lady Elliot Island on the Great Barrier Reef.
No airliners here, just a small plane for the 40 minute hop across to the reef.
The flight was amazing, over the edge of Platypus Bay where we’d seen the whales a few days before, with Fraser Island in the distance. I was lucky enough to sit up front next to the pilot. I faithfully promised not to touch anything, just as well it wasn’t my mate GM who just loves pushing buttons in someone else’s vehicle the little tinker
And then we saw our destination in the distance, a small tree covered island with the airstrip down the middle surrounded by its own reef. It looked stunning from above. The pilot takes the plane on a full circuit of the island to maximise the views
Then it’s time line up with runway and bounce down onto the grass. What a way to arrive at your destination.
After a brief guided tour and lunch we were shown to our little beach cabin. The island is an eco-resort where the emphasis is on nature and simplicity rather than luxury. The rooms are simple and basic but clean and have everything you need (you can read my TripAdvisor review here).
But its outside where the real pleasures lie. A few steps from our verandah was the coral beach and the islands lagoon reef and it’s just stunning. Crystal clear water just teeming with fish.
We watched the daily fish feeding session at the fish pool, a large gap in the coral where the fish gather and you can paddle right amongst them while they brush against your feet and swim between your legs.
The island is so laid back and easy-going that you just slip into a happy routine of beach strolls, bird watching, reef walking and snorkelling.
The beach is not sand but rough coral and sharp on the feet. This is how a coral island should be I’m told rather than pure sand. I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Maldives with its talcum powder sand and I was left wondering how “manufactured” the beaches might be. Doesn’t matter as the feeling of isolation in the middle of a vast ocean is the same and walking around the island is just heaven, watching the waves crash around the reef edge, birds soaring overhead and trees waving in the breeze
Day trippers as well as overnight visitors ensure a regular to and fro of planes
The island is known for its birdlife and they were everywhere. They seem to be completely oblivious to our presence and you can pretty much reach out and touch them while they are roosting. They make a hell of a lot of noise and often swoop right in front of your face. There must have been several thousand on the island but this is the bird low season. In summer they number almost 100,000 which is astonishing. Apparently every single branch and twig that can support a bird has one. The resort provides ear plugs to cope with the night-time chatter. What they can’t prevent is the smell which is pretty bad so I’ve heard and Lady Elliot Island “Tattoos” are common :)
This is a White Cap Noddy
And this is Brown Noddy
They get their name from the way they nod their heads to drain the saltwater out of their beaks
I’m not sure what this one was but it was nesting a few inches from the path right next to someones verandah
This is a Common Rail, often seen in the dining room scrounging for food and stealing toast from the table while you pop off to get a cup of tea (with the kids watching no less!)
There are also a wide variety of Gulls and Oyster Catchers. In short the Island is teeming with life both above and below the water.
Being on an island you get the benefit of superb sunsets and sunrises. I got up at 6am each morning to see the sunrise and they are majestic.
Even TBF who loves her bed in the morning was persuaded to join me once although she did a great job of looking very cold, which in truth it was (it was windy for most of the time we were there).
For me, life is pretty good when you can draw back the curtains of your cosy little room and see the sun rising through the palm trees over a warm tropical reef and ocean. Wandering aimlessly around the island before most other people are about and just savoring the solitude and beauty is a memory I will treasure forever.
The sunsets weren’t too shabby either. On our last evening we spent a couple of hours just sat on the beach watching the colours change as the sun descended.
Just as the sun sets the birds fly out and swarm and swoop over your head. I’m pretty pleased with some of the shots of the sun with the birds silhouetted against.
As the sun went down the moon came up, lighting up the sky once more and laying its silvery trail across the lagoon. I even managed some pretty good close-up shots of the moon – not bad for a handheld telephoto shot
We only spent two full days on the island but the place really gets under your skin. Almost immediately it feels like home and everything feels so familiar and comfortable. The staff of the island are warm, friendly and knowledgeable. It has the feel of a research station that allows guests in. I wonder if they have any jobs?
It was a sad moment when we realised we had to pack up and leave and continue our journey. It was a common feeling we had everywhere we went on the trip, the consolation that there was another great place to come but it never helped that sense that you needed more time. Even though the island is small there is so much to do and even doing nothing is a delight. It must be a wonder to see the island in the summer when the turtles come ashore and lay eggs and thatch their young or when the birds arrive in their thousands to breed.
A little slice of tropical paradise and yet another to add to the “I must go back and stay longer” category. This one was one gorgeous lady!
Time to relax, have a lie in, take it easy? Hell no! There was more, a lot more of Fraser Island to see. The bugle was sounded at 6:30am and the troops roused from their beds. Bags packed, breakfast forced down and off out into the wilds again
I like to make my own way around on holiday and visit the places I want in my own time at my own pace (when I say “my” I do of course mean “our”, hate anyone to think I drag the family around on my whims, hell no!). Not really an option on Fraser due to the driving skills needed. I struggle with urban roads let alone driving around in a sand pit. So, reluctantly, we took a guided tour along with the rest of the masses in a large 4WD bus. Amazing to watch these coach sized vehicles bouncing around the sand tracks. Our host and driver was again Gary and he welcomed us on board and pointed us at the empty bus so we could get a decent seat. Off we bounced and rolled along the same track as before to the western coast and 75 mile beach. We were old hands at this now, affording a wry smile as the newbies looked rather uncertain at the rough ride. The kids were grinning from ear to ear – or were they just grimacing from lack of sleep. Who knows (who cares)
We rolled out onto the beach and headed north. The weather was much better now. Still showers around but plenty of blue sky and warm sunshine. Less driving today so hopefully we could spend a little more time out of doors.
First stop was at a pair of Cessna light aircraft parked on the beach. They take off and land on the beach, the only one of two places in the World where this is done (the other is Islay in the Western Isles of Scotland). Gary plugged the fact that they run 15 minute flights over the island for $300AUD. Not something I’d planned but I was feeling in a particularly chipper mood, dangerous for a man with very little wallet control. The kids looked stunned as I got off the bus and handed over a credit card. Life’s too short and you never know when you might get a chance to fly over the worlds largest sand island on a glorious sunny day.
What can I say, it was an amazing 15 minutes. The views were breathtaking. You really get a sense of the scale of the island from above and especially the length and arrow-straightness of the beach.
We flew over the forests, graced by a rainbow.
We flew over the perched Butterfly Lake.
We flew over the Maheno Shipwreck, stunning from above.
Out over the sea looking for sharks and whales (none seen!). One more turn and we bounced back onto the beach. Over in a flash but memories to last a lifetime.
The pilot took a really nice family shot for us and we wound down with a wander about the rainbow cliffs and watched the next batch of people take their flights. Not a bad start to the day and it got better.
Next stop the Maheno Shipwreck. You can read about the history here, safe to say it’s a big attraction on Fraser. Under a dazzling blue sky it really is an evocative and impressive sight. I loved the contrast of colours between the sand the dark red of the rusting hulk and the blue sky. Having done my research it somehow looked different to how I imagined it. I realised that there was now much more of it submerged in the sand than on most promotional photos. The first shot below is mine from this year. The second one from a few years back
It’s a fascinating place to wander around with plenty of artistic photo opportunities, but other events were unfolding.
There were a couple of dingos wandering on the periphery of the numerous tour bus groups, not really bothering anyone and the majority of people just being “dingo safe”. A couple of dumb tourists decided to approach them, like you are warned not to do and when the dingos moved towards them they panicked, as you are warned not to do, and ran away screaming, as you are warned not to do. The Dingos decided that they were fair game and started to chase them for a few seconds until they thought better of it and returned to idly looking for fish carcasses. All over in a few seconds but just a handy warning about treating these wonderful and wild animals with the respect they deserve.
Having satisfied our appetite for shipwrecks and near savaged tourists it was time for a swim. Off to Eli Creek
There’s a lot of water on Fraser! Numerous perched lakes (more later) and hundreds of creeks draining the forests. Eli Creek is one of the better known ones. In the wet season it drains 80 million litres per hour of perfectly clear, clean drinkable water out onto the beach. There is a boardwalk that follows it’s course inland for a few hundred metres and it’s stunning. A ribbon of clear water overhung with green and lush vegetation.
It is very popular with the tours but the boardwalk was relatively quiet. Most people seemed content to admire the creek from the beach. Not us! We like to get wet
There are steps down into the water at the far end of the boardwalk and we were in the water without hesitation. It’s only a couple of feet deep so you can either wade down or swim/float down in the current. It’s a cold but fantastic place to take a swim amongst the fish.
Here’s one of yours truly enjoying a float
TBF in particular has a very special fondness for this spot and it’s hard not to agree. The mix of dense green foliage, crystal clear water and blue sky was beguiling. Alas, the restrictions of being on a timetabled tour meant less time than we’d have liked. TBF waded the first run but was then persuaded to swim it and was very glad she did.
This did mean that everyone was back on the bus and waiting for us by the time we got changed. A common theme throughout the day as we like to extract maximum value from everything and were always last back on the bus :)
Onward (via lunch at Eurong) to our next stop and yet another of Fraser’s unique experiences. The forests of Fraser Island were heavily harvested for their high quality timber and Central Station in the middle of the island was the hub of the industry. Now it’s the heart of the what is the only place in the world where rainforest grows on sand.
We took one of what would become many rainforest walks on our trip and they are a real highlight, like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. Dark and exotic with huge towering trees, fan palms, epiphytes and strangler figs they are a world apart, all the more amazing here in that they grow on an island without any topsoil. It’s truly astounding to take in all the biodiversity just growing on a sand dune.
Problem is its so hard to capture this in a photograph. I guess I need more practice as most of the photos simply can’t do it justice. It’s one of those places you just have to experience for yourself.
I was still hobbling on crutches and combined with attempts to photograph the foliage and the birds I ended up a long way behind everyone else. We caught a glimpse of the stunning Azure Kingfisher but it was just took dark to get a photo. The bus engine was humming when I got back, just time for a very swift cuppa and high quality homemade cookie (my, they were good cookies!) before we were off yet again for our final stop
I mentioned the perched lakes we flew over earlier in the day and it was time to visit one close up. I’ve read a couple of reasons why they form. One was that the crumbling brown rock found on the island – called coffee rock- in places forms an impenetrable layer that allows the water to collect. The other was that it’s the dead and decaying leaf litter that does the job. Either way Lake Mckenzie is an absolutely sensational spot.
Dark blue and turqouise water, surrounded by a white silica beach, perched amongst the green forest under a sunny blue sky. It was gorgeous and the water is astonishingly clear, just begs to be swum in.
I stripped off and dived straight in. Man, was the water cold. All the other positive spins were in use. “refreshing”, “invigorating” and the like but “cold” did it for me! Still amazing to swim in such clear cold water in such an idyllic spot. The common wild swimming theme that continued for the trip was repeated here. By the time the rest of the family had dithered and dallied and slowly worked their way into the water over a good 10-15 minute acclimatisation period, I’d had enough and wanted to get out. At least a chance for me to capture the atmosphere in photos.
This remains one of MY special places from the trip.
Refreshed and chilled in equal measure we were again last back on the bus and heading back to the resort. They day wasn’t done though. We went straight back down to the resort beach and after a warming brew (and cold beer in my case) we sat on the beach and watched the sunset.
Despite the huge size of the resort we were one of only a handful people there. The sand and the trees glowed with the setting sun and provided a calm and reflective finish to a truly memorable day.
Having sat down and written the post I’m still in wonder at how much we managed to cram into the day. It was the ongoing theme for the trip. We didn’t relax all that much but boy did we see and do some terrific stuff.
Sadly that was the end of our whistle stop trip to Fraser Island and the next morning we were again up early for the ferry back to mainland, in itself a pretty fine journey across the Great Sandy Strait.
Fraser Island had promised and delivered a unique experience. I’d love to learn how to drive in the sand and go back with a tent and stay wild in some of the more remote spots. One of the frustrations and delights of the island is how much effort you have to make to see it but how rewarding it is when you do. There is so much more to experience that we will just have to go back. For now we had new adventures to look forward to and another island to visit
The furious pace of our first week in Queensland continued. After our fish and chips on the sea front we were off to River Heads to check in, dump the car and head over on the ferry to Fraser Island, the worlds largest sand island and World Heritage Site.
We stayed at the Kingfisher Resort, a vast sprawling but sensitively developed complex (as much as these things can be) amongst the dense forest. You can read my review of the resort here. We had a rather splendid timber villa up in the trees but it was dark by the time we checked in. The jet-lag was leaving us tired quite early in the evenings but this suited us as we’re not party animals. Also as it’s winter in Queensland it gets dark around 6pm and light at 6am so early to bed, early to rise was a good plan that we stuck to for most of the holiday
We woke the next morning to a pretty impressive dawn chorus from the local bird life. Bird song in eastern Australia is a real joy, every location offering a different loud tune usually accompanied by the laughing rant of a kookaburra. I heard a few people grumbling about it. I loved it. There were clearly showers in the air but the early morning view from the balcony across the forest was mighty fine.
For our first day we were taking the luxury option of a private tour in a 4WD. Just after eight we met our guide for the day, Gary. In typically Queensland style he was knowledgeable charming and good-humoured and he really made the day with his good company. They have recently sealed the resort roads (all of the roads on the island are sand) but as you crest the hill behind the resort you suddenly plunge into the real Fraser Island. A rollercoaster of a sandy track, rutted and quite daunting even as a passenger. I had thought of hiring my own 4WD and taking us around but I bailed on that idea after reading too many stories of getting stuck and worse. A hundred yards down the track and I was so glad I did. It clearly needed a good deal of skill that I don’t have so I settled down for a day of being chauffeured around.
The island doesn’t look that big on the map but of course like all things Australian, its enormous. It’s not only the worlds largest sand island but the largest island on the east coast where large islands are in abundance. 75 miles long and 15 miles wide its size takes some getting used to especially when driving along its bouncy sand tracks. The west coast where the resort is, faces the calm waters of Platypus Bay (where we’d seen the whales the day before), characterised by white sand and mangroves. We were off to the east coast that faces the open Pacific Ocean. Only 15 miles by sand track it took over an hour from the resort
The forest is incredibly dense which is amazing when you consider the island has no topsoil. Everything grows in sand. Every so often a huge expanse of sand is visible called a blow which gives you an idea of what the island would look like if it had no trees. The one below is called the Stone Tool Sand Blow as they found Aboriginal Stone Tools buried there.
You can glimpse the ocean in the distance and we were soon down to one of the islands crowning glories, 75-mile beach
Here we picked up speed as when the tide is out the beach becomes the highway and the whole stretch has numerous 4WDs bouncing along. Driving on the beach is great fun and it’s a really novel experience to be driving at 40mph just a few feet from the crashing waves (if you check out the slideshow at the bottom there are some videos within).
Inland are cliffs of sand, a myriad of hues and colours and all along people camped out right by the beach. What I wouldn’t have given to be staying here right on the beach rather than a resort hotel
For most of Northern Queensland the coast is protected by the Great Barrier Reef but it doesn’t stretch this far south. As a result this is proper ocean, booming, crashing waves and foamy surf with fishermen plying their trade every few hundred yards. It looks pretty good for a swim but that’s not a good idea. Apart from the powerful rips that will drag you away to a watery grave, sharks and rays patrol in near the shore ready to add you to the menu or impale you like the poor unfortunate Steve Irwin
Fortunately Gary was taking us on a long drive up the beach to one of the few places on the Island where you can swim in the sea, the Champagne Pools.
Even though you pick up speed on the beach it’s a long drive. It had been grey and showery most of the morning but just as we arrived at the pools the sky cleared and the sun burst through. Marvellous
The Champagne Pools are huge sandy pools with a rock wall separating them from the booming waves. The waves crash over the walls filling the pools with foaming surf every minute or so, hence the champagne moniker. Time for a swim
The water was pleasantly warm for our first dip in the ocean but the strong breeze made it a chilly swim. However it was a truly fantastic swim and sitting on the rock wall with the surf washing over you and into the pool before jumping into its calm depths was fantastic. We were only in the water for about 15 minutes but it was still a stand out moment. The kids loved it although TBF felt it was perhaps a little too chilly to be swimming in the ocean. I hadn’t travelled halfway around the world to look, I was keen to take everything on and loved every second.
Only downside was that TJS cut his foot and bled quite lavishly and I managed to bruise my heel which migrated from a minor inconvenience to severely painful within a few strides. I hoped it would wear off but it plagued me for the rest of the trip.
After a swift change we headed back down to Indian Head, one of the few rocky outcrops on the island. It’s an impressive spot, named by Captain Cook after the Aborigines he saw watching him from the headland as he sailed by. In those days anyone not white was deemed “Indian” hence the name. It was a short brisk hike to the top and the view up and down the beach were breathtaking
It was time for lunch and Gary unpacked the picnic. I’m not sure how many people they thought would be in the car but there was enough food to feed ten people not 5!! We made a brave stab, ate about a quarter of it and took the rest home (we never did eat it all). As we ate the sun came out again and the views were again stunning
Due to the time it takes to head this far up the beach (around 30 miles I guessed) we had to head back. The tide was coming in fast making the driving much trickier. Rather than the hard-packed wet sand nearer the low tide, we were on the soft stuff near the cliffs. The creeks that drain the forest also create small edges a few centimetres high that give you quite jolt when you don’t see them coming. Hard work for the driver but great fun for his passengers
We passed the famous landmark of the Maheno Shipwreck (more of that in a later post) on our way to one of the eastern coast resorts at Eurong for an ice cream (TBF enjoyed the delights of the superbly named “Golden Gaytime” ice cream)
One of Fraser Islands most intriguing residents are it’s Dingos, Australian wild dogs. They are the purest strain in the country and here roam wild amongst the tourists and campers. All the resorts are surrounded by dingo fences and everywhere you go are warning signs to “Be Dingo Safe”. You get the impression they are everywhere but after most of the day we hadn’t seen one and were giving up hope. Just before we turned inland we saw our first one!
They look remarkably like very ordinary dogs, albeit slightly scruffy and lean. They look like the kind of dog you would wander over to and rub his head and tickle him behind the ears. This one in particular seemed especially chilled and just sat calmly as we drove past. Make no mistake they are not puppy-dogs. As a rule they will keep to themselves but they will come into camps and steal food and there have been injuries and deaths from dumb tourists doing all the things the signs tell you not to do, namely approach them and try to pet them (or even feed them!) or run away screaming when you see them (that’s an invitation to a Dingo to chase and hunt you down). Apparently (!) you just hold your hands out to show you have nothing of interest, maintain eye contact, back away (never turn your back) and they will likely ignore you. I found looking at them from inside a car to be much safer
Still it was amazing to be up this close to a proper wild animal, even if he did look uncannily like my nans old dog, Sandy.
After a short drive we saw another couple, this time digging for and finding some gutted fish carcasses carelessly left in the sand by a fisherman.
Satisfied with a long day of beach and forest driving, swimming and dingo spotting we headed back to the resort on another long, bouncy and stunning drive through the endless forest that is Fraser Island.
Just time for a swim in the very chilly unheated pools at the resort and to wander down to the beach on the other side to watch the sunset.
My foot was now excruciatingly painful and I could barely walk. I was seriously worried I’d done some major damage that was going to spoil the trip. Walking back up to the villa after the meal nearly had me in tears such was the pain and frustration. The nice people at reception kindly lent me some crutches in the hope that taking the weight off it would help. It certainly made the very painful hobble back up the villa much easier.
Another magnificent day but Fraser Island is as I said, huge and there was much more to see. Off to bed early, there was another big day ahead tomorrow
At last after what seemed like years of anticipation and days of traveling we were off on our first proper adventure.
Up early at just after 6am to finish packing and be ready for our pick up. Gave me a chance to look out on a sunrise fringed with dark, stormy clouds and wet roofs of the hotel below
Whale Watching in Hervey Bay is big business between late July and October and the number of tours and excursions is dazzling. The majority of trips are half day on large fast moving boats with lots of people. We wanted something a little more personal and after some research we came up with Blue Dolphin Marine Tours.
Run by the friendly Peter and Jodie it proved to be a superb choice. Their trip is on a smaller catamaran with only about 15-20 people. It’s a slower voyage but an all day trip with lunch which suited us better. What set them apart was not only their friendly and accommodating approach but their sheer knowledge and passion which was evident from the moment we stepped on board. You can find my TripAdvisor review here
We settled in and had a hot cuppa as the boat headed out into the bay.
It was a cool and windy morning with the promise of showers and a bouncy ride but we all enjoyed the voyage as we crossed the bay and headed up the west coast of Fraser Island towards Platypus Bay where the whales hang out. It takes an hour or so to get there and we were overtaken by a couple of the faster boats and their crowds of people but the views of the coast, dolphins and rainbows over the bay more than made up that and it was great to be out on the ocean with the anticipation building.
We saw a boat ahead us that was clearly stationery and then we saw the first splashes – there be whales!
These were distant views and this pod seemed a little reclusive. We waited and gently followed their movements but they always seemed to be moving away. Perhaps this was as close as were going to get?
Peter assured us that patience was the key and that the other boat had been a little too pushy in trying to get them to put on a show. “There are whales and there are good whales” he said and we looked elsewhere. Perhaps a kilometere away was another small boat that had also been sitting in the same spot for a while. The splashes told us that they had some whales of their own and we headed over to take a look.
And here was the thing. As we approached you could see, and sense, that they were heading our way. They were coming over to take a look at US!
And then the show began. For the next 2-3 hours this pod of 4 whales rolled, spouted, tail-slapped, breached and cruised around the boat.
They are the most extraordinary creatures, huge in bulk yet with a sense of calm gentleness completely out of step with their size. There seems to be absolutely no reason for why they do this for us tourists in our boats than they enjoy it. These were no longer distant glimpses but close encounters.
They would cruise right by the side of the boat and pop out of the water closer enough that you almost touch them. Often they would blow water through their spout and you get soaked by the spray. Magical. I believe the local term for this is “mugging”. I’ve heard this phrase before and it seems completely apt but you do wonder who is watching who!
It’s hard to describe in words just what an experience it is to watch such a large, rare and intelligent creature up close. It’s difficult to imagine that these behemoths of the ocean live exclusively on tiny shrimps called krill.
As the whales appeared and disappeared we all ran from one side to another, front to back watching their graceful movements (including one dash to the top of the boat when the waves rolled that almost caused me to fall in!). Even with choppy waves the water is so clear that you can seen them swimming several meters beneath the surface.
A word here for Peter and Jodie who run the tour. I mentioned above that their enthusiasm and knowledge is amazing. Peter controls the boat and knows his stuff, a fascinating guy to talk to full of information bounded by that dry Aussie wit that characterises everyone we met in Queensland. Jodie acts as the host and what a job she does. Aside from catering to our every need with a regular supply of drinks and a cracking buffet lunch she joins us up on deck to watch the show with her guests. Watching her leap and run about the deck with excitement it’s hard to realise that they do this every day. It really does feel that this is their first time out as well as yours. The feeling is that this is not a commercial enterprise but a private outing that they have asked you to come along to. Seeing the whales with any excursion would have been amazing but the atmosphere created here transformed it into something special and very much more. Thank you both.
The show continued, broken only by a violent and heavy shower. And again while we sheltered, the whales stayed, as if waiting for us to come back out. Even at points where you thought perhaps they’d moved on, if you shouted and waved, back they came. This was not whale watching, this was whale interacting!
In amongst all the excitement, Peter shared with me a thought that has stuck in my head and probably will for ever more. We have pursued, hunted, barbarically slayed and generally persecuted these gentle giants of the oceans to the point of extinction for hundreds of years. Yet when we come out on our tourist boats to see them they still come over to take a look and enjoy the experience. I find that heart-warming and heart-breaking in equal measure.
Why do they like Hervey Bay so much – here’s an extract to explain all about them:
Humpback Whales belong to the group of whales known as rorquals, a group that includes the Blue Whale, Fin Whale, Bryde’s Whale, Sei Whale, and Minke Whale. Rorquals have two characteristics in common: dorsal fins on their backs, and ventral pleats running for the tip of the lower jaw to the navel area. They are characterized by the possession of baleen plates for sieving the krill upon which they feed. Humpback Whales are regular visitors to the coastal waters off southern Queensland. Each year, during winter, humpback whales migrate from Antarctic waters, pass through South Island New Zealand, to the warm waters of the tropics for calving.
Many humpback whales arrive in Hervey Bay from late July and remain until November when they begin their return to the southern ocean. Whale watching in Hervey Bay has become an important attraction for tourists and naturalists. In recent years visitors to Hervey Bay, from mid-July to early November, have discovered the awe inspiring experience of watching the majestic humpback whale, and their encounters with the whales on the waters of Hervey Bay have been unforgettable. These majestic creatures have made Hervey Bay a regular stop on their annual migration to Antarctica after giving others and calves are now relaxed and at home with the whale watching boats which carefully approach their playground, and the guaranteed sightings are counted as “an experience of a lifetime”. The humpbacks have made Hervey Bay their own, and as one of the most active and acrobatic of species they provide an awesome sight with their antics, including spectacular displays of breaching, tail flapping
Finally it was time to head home. Such was the bond between us and the whales they actually started following us for a few minutes – they didn’t want us to go!
I’d been a little concerned about taking a whole day trip but it simply flew by, over all too soon in fact. The cruise back to the Harbour was quiet as everyone was tired out, reflecting on a truly stunning day.
I chatted to Peter about his life and history and before I knew it we were back and shaking hands and exchanging heartfelt words of thanks and appreciation and one we will all never forget. On the rest of our trip we did some amazing things (as you’ll see!) and I often ask the family what was their favourite. The stock answer is of course “all of it” but when pushed, really pushed to name just one day, this is the one. I can’t give higher praise than that. The YouTube slideshow at the top also has some pretty good video shots of the whales. I don’t normally plug my slideshows (I create them for own benefit really and put them on You Tube and the blog as its easy and free) but in this case I really recommend you take a look as the video adds so much to memories. Hope you enjoy
We finished off the day in style with fish and chips eaten on the seafront watching the sun set.
What a truly amazing day and yet there was more, a lot more to come. Next stop Fraser Island
For the past few years since the kids had been really small we’ve been taking our holidays in the UK and France. We’ve had some amazing times and fantastic adventures but they aren’t weren’t exactly exotic. I’d been thinking for a few years to take the family on a “special” holiday, a once in a lifetime trip to use the popular term. Somewhere a long way from the UK that the kids would hopefully remember for the rest of their lives. Somewhere we could see places and have experiences we couldn’t get in our European backyard. Most importantly a trip that would please everyone. For me, and most probably TBF and TJS that would involve the outdoors and mountains or trekking. That’s not TJF’s bag though so I needed something else.
We thought of the Western US, (California, Utah, Arizona) but that would have involved a lot of travel and still a little too much in the way of walking for TJF. Hawaii was a popular idea with its beaches and volcanoes but I wasn’t sure about the many inter-island flights we’d need. We all love beaches and swimming and in particular snorkelling and as me and TJS had been to the Maldives we thought that would be ideal. Trouble is the best time to go is in the Winter and we’d have to take the kids out of school for a week – not ideal. What we needed was somewhere with a similar exotic feel that we could visit in the Summer and still get decent weather.
I’d not considered Australia due the simple and rather dimly incorrect idea that in their winter the weather was cool and wet. When my thoughts drifted away from the Maldives to somewhere else we could go snorkelling on a coral reef the obvious place is the Great Barrier Reef. Imagine my surprise when a little research revealed that winter is the ideal time to visit Queensland. The summer is hot and oppressively humid with lots of rain and tropical storms. The winter is warm, clear and much drier. A little more research showed that the Great Barrier Reef is but one part of the huge array of natural wonders that coastal Queensland offers. I did have a foolish idea that we could see several parts of Australia in one trip but one look at the image below reminds that Australia is HUGE – I had no idea until I saw this graphic on a postcard while we were there just how huge and how much it dwarfs France for example.
Once that idea was ditched, we settled on a trip from Brisbane to Cairns.
As a Contractor I have the major disadvantage that I don’t get paid when I’m on holiday. Consequently when costing up a trip I have to factor in my lost earnings while I’m away. The main advantage is of course that I can take as much time off as I like between contracts, something you can never do as a permanent employee, restricted as you are to an annual leave entitlements. May as well take a whole month off and be damned. With that in mind I took the obvious (possibly foolhardy decision) that life is too short and you only get one shot at it. Enjoy the world while you can. No point working hard if you can’t enjoy the rewards. Etc etc. This was the mantra I repeated to myself as my finger hovered over the “buy” button on the airline website when the flights came out. TBF looked pensive as I asked her “shall we do this”. While she paused and considered I clicked. We were going to Australia, no turning back now! :)
The next realisation was that even in 4 weeks we could not fit in everything that Queensland had to offer. I didn’t want to spend the whole holiday dashing from place to place without ever having chance to savour each place at least to some small degree. We pondered over the options and made some good and some tough choices. Being the Project Manager that I am, I took on the whole trip myself and over the following 12 months researched and booked all the hotels and trips that – I hoped – would make it something really special
I’ve always wanted to use my blog not only as my personal life diary but also as a resource tool for anyone else who might find the details helpful. The posts that will follow will therefore have some practical details within and links to the various places we stayed and visited. I’ll stop short of a “review” style post as I’ll be putting that stuff up on Trip Advisor (that’s what its for!) and linking back to those if anyone is interested. Hopefully the collection of posts will both inspire someone to follow in our footsteps and help them plan it if they do. I’ll also put up a post at the end with my overall thoughts on the trip and Queensland as a family holiday destination (although I think that will become obvious!), practicalities of how I organised things and how everything turned out – what a 4 week road trip in Australia is like.
So after 18 months of planning, research bookings and anticipation we were ready for the off. A Friday evening drive to Heathrow and an overnight at the satisfactory – that’s the best I can manage – Sheraton Skyline Hotel (review here). Nice enough hotel but considering how much it cost it was far from ideal. I chose it as it had onsite parking but that was full so I had to move the car to a deserted and frankly seedy looking car park down the road. I spent the next 4 weeks hoping it would still be there, in one piece when I got back (it was). Their definition of a “family room” was also interesting. Two double beds is not what I call a family room. Still, it was a nice room and we were only in it for 10 hours so we put up with it. I wouldn’t go back though.
I remember when I was young, taking a flight and going to the airport was an adventure. It was as much a part of the holiday as the holiday itself. Nowadays the whole thought of an airport visit especially a large one fills me with deep depression. Slowly but surely they have surgically extracted every last ounce of fun and excitement and turned into one long dreary round of queues, frustrations and commercial exploitation. Heathrow is by far the worst and it has some stiff competition (Brisbane gave it a good go as you’ll find out later). It starts at Heathrow when you realise that the once free hotel shuttle bus now costs a whopping £15 return for a family of four for the 5 minute journey to the terminal. Having been dutiful and checked in online, printing off all my boarding passes at home I was then told I had to use the check in kiosks and do it all over again. Another few trees lost forever. Finally I was fleeced to the tune of another £15 for a chocolate brownie, a cup of tea and a few bottles of water. God I hate airports.
Still, we were on holiday and we are all determined not to let Heathrow spoil the mood. Our flight was with Singapore Airlines and very good they were too in an economy long haul flight sort of way. I was rather excited (in a childish, airplane geek sort of way) to be flying on a new Airbus A380 (the double decker one) on the first leg. Not as long or wide as you’d imagine but it’s the wingspan that catches the eye. We settled into our seats for the journey
As I’m sure you already know Australia is a long way – a very long way – from the UK. The flight to Singapore alone is a bum-numbing 13 hours (an extra hour tagged on to avoid missiles fired by those cheeky chappies in Ukraine). I’d warned the kids of the boredom and to be fair they coped pretty well. I was happy as Larry (who was Larry anyway) as I caught up on about 10 films through the outbound and return journeys, ate lots of noodles and drank a few beers.
We changed planes at Singapore (a very nice and relaxed airport – Heathrow take note) which broke up the journey quite nicely. Then a final 7 hour stint to Brisbane punctuated by one little bout of air-sickness from TJF (big thanks to the steward who produced a tupperware container from nowhere at a very opportune moment).
I’d been worried about how the kids – and quite frankly the adults would cope with a 20+ hour flight(s). We all took it in our stride despite the fact that you have no idea what time of day it really is or what time of day your head says it is, complicated by a lack of sleep. TJS is not allowed to use this excuse as he slept like a log on all flights and had to be physically jabbed awake to be fed his noodles and curry
Flights over, bags retrieved, customs negotiated, car collected and a short 15 minute drive and we finally arrived at our hotel in Brisbane, the very pleasant Colonial Village Inn (review here) at Taigum. We’d set off from home at 6pm on the Friday night and it was now 9pm on Sunday. I think we’d earned some sleep although we were all holding up well. As we settled down a familiar sound could be heard outside – rain! And we’d only been in the country an hour!
The First Day
I was awake at around 5am as jet lag – or possibly boyish excitement – kicked in. While everyone else slept, I popped out for a walk around the hotel and the local streets. It was only suburban Brisbane but I was thrilled. I was in Australia for the first time! There were birds of every kind everywhere. The bird life here was amazing. Everywhere we went we saw a myriad of colourful birds all with their own song. The dawn chorus everywhere was always a delight. Here I saw Rainbow Lorikeets, Galahs, and Corellas. It felt almost surreal to be on the other side of world at 6am, walking the deserted streets and seeing parrots in peoples gardens!
Eventually I was joined in the waking world by the rest of the family. The hotel had a very fine cafe for a hearty breakfast at the Espresso 351 cafe next door (review here), very welcome after 2 days of airline food. The birds came down to the table to feed giving the kids their first up close view of some proper Australian wildlife.
The hotel owners came around for a chat and told us that we should have been here last week as the weather was glorious – not what you want to hear on your first day :)
Time to start the road trip. We had a 3 hour drive north to Hervey Bay where our adventures would begin proper. Hervey Bay has a huge sprawl of retail and industrial parks as you drive in, not hugely impressive. On a whim I turned off the main drag and managed to find the sea at at place called Torquay and a fine place it was. A wide grassy parkland overlooking the beach with an array of cafes and shops to feed us, again welcome after airline catering. We sat and ate our lunch on one of the many fishing piers, watching the heavy showers tracking over the bay, Australian Ibis picking about among the leaves.
The clouds looked heavy with rain so we headed off to our hotel, The Oceans Resort (review here), very fine in a posh and corporate sort of way. We had a huge apartment with a fine view over the bay and the pools, shame we were only in it for one night!
Despite the cool and wet weather we were determined to enjoy the facilities and took a swim in the pools, one warm and one startlingly cold. It was great to be out and about and moving around after days spent in cars, airports and planes.
And that was our first day, uneventful but we embraced the fact that we were in Australia.
After a mammoth packing session for our trips to the islands (more to come) we headed to bed. We had to get up early the next day to start our holiday for real. We were going to see the Whales!