Archive for November 2014
Next stop Mission Beach
I was looking forward to Mission Beach. Everyone asked us our plans while we were in Queensland and when we mentioned it they all said “you’ll love Mission Beach”. Expectations were high and it didn’t disappoint.
We were staying at the Ecovillage Resort (review here) which was a superb base. As soon as we checked in we were off to the beach a few yards through the forest. It’s a cracker.
A classic long strand of golden sand backed by palm trees with the mountainous Dunk Island just off the coast. Like most of the beaches in North Queensland it was deserted
The hotel was tucked into a dense pocket of rainforest growing on Clump Point, an outcrop of dark black volcanic rock. Due to its peculiar mineral content it supports a very localised and very diverse ecosystem and the forest is lush, dark and luxuriant. Now anyone that knows me is aware that I’m not big on spiders and I was a little edgy about how I’d cope with rainforest and it’s plentiful 8-legged beasties. Just outside reception there was a sizeable Golden Orb Spider maybe 6 inches across. They are one of the famous residents of Tropical North Queensland (TNQ) and really rather beautiful
I went to tell the family but TBF, no doubt with a sly grin said “you think that’s big, take a look up”
This one was at a conservative estimate 12 inches across, hard to tell as he was hanging out several feet up in the palm trees. Safe to say he was enormous and I was a little taken aback (for that read I jumped ten feet back and screamed like a girl). They are harmless in terms of venom but their fangs are big so they can give a painful bite. Apparently they are relatively shy and reticent and will climb away from you if you are unfortunate enough to get too close. I didn’t take any comfort from that and made a mental note to close all the windows and tuck my trousers into my socks. After a while you realise they rarely move other than the occasional lazy stretch of a leg and you get used to their presence.
The next day was taken up with much lazy walking and exploring the area. We had a fine walk down the beach to the centre of “town” – just a few shops and restaurants.
Back to our rainforest home for a swim in their rather splendid free form pool and lunch on the patio
In the afternoon we took a stroll along the Kennedy Boardwalk past Lugger Cove.We had our very first sight of the sign that warns you are in the domain of one of the worlds oldest predators. Adds a certain sense of adventure to a walk don’t think
It was one of the highlights of the trip for me. There was just something about the forest and the deserted beach that struck a chord. That and wondering whether I was going to be on the menu at any point
We decided not to see what was on the other side of the headland as that’s where the crocs hang out
The area is called the Cassowary Coast after the large and prehistoric flightless bird, with its razor sharp and lethal claw, that calls the area home. They are under threat and are very protected. They lost a lot of their habitat and food after Cyclone Yasi in 2011 that devastated this piece of coastline. They eat pretty much all the fruit in the forest so by their natural digestive process they are a vital part of the forest growth in the way they spread the seeds around. Unfortunately in the search for food they tend to wander onto the roads and get run over (more Cassowaries were killed in road accidents than by any other means). Consequently there are signs everywhere warning you to watch for them and be “Casso-wary”. By looking at the signs you expect to see them at every turn, taking up car park spaces, pushing in front of you in the queue at the supermarket, that sort of thing. We were even told by the hotel that it was very common to see one in the car park or in the grounds. We were in the area for nearly three days and the nearest we got was some suspicious looking poop.
After a wander around the beautiful (and Cassowary-free) Licuala State Forest we took another evening stroll on the increasingly windy beach.
Mission accomplished! 🙂
A quick post on our road trip. After a few superb days on Magnetic Island we were back on the mainland and heading north towards our next stop. We needed a lunchtime stop for some R&R and a picnic lunch
The weather was superb so we thought a spot of river swimming was in order. Just north of Townsville are loads of rivers flowing out of the rainforest mountains of Girringum National Park. We chose Little Crystal Creek as the photos of the falls and its stone bridge looked rather appealing
It was. We dived straight in to the clear and startlingly, breathtakingly cold water. When I say “straight” I do of course mean me. The rest of the sherpas and funsters take an age in that typically British style where getting wet over a period of 10 minutes clearly warms the water up
It was great fun. Deep water, slides and jumps abound although even I was forced to call it quits such was the coldness of the water
The heat of the day was nice to sunbathe in, warming ourselves on the rocks
A picnic on the rocks finished off the excursion.
Bush Turkeys scrounging for food as they always do
I was tempted by a substantial leap into the pool under the bridge but I lost my nerve. I figure I’m getting too old for such things now.
A couple of hours of fun set us up for the short drive to our next stop at Mission Beach
Another poor attempt at a novel blog title
What I had to say was “Good Morning, what a stunning island you are”
Another early morning stroll on the beach enlivened by Honeyeaters and the huge flock of Lorikeets that hang out on the beachfront.
They seemed to congregate on the verandah of the Mexican restaurant making a deafening noise and I soon found out why. The owner came out with their regular breakfast of bread and honey and they descended on him like locusts. The guy must have had twenty birds on his head, shoulders and arms and dozens more flying around him. He put down the food and they devoured it in seconds. A very entertaining start to the day
Exploration was on today’s agenda. The island only has a few miles of roads and a couple of settlements but there is an excellent bus service. We bought an all day ticket and set about the task at hand. We first stopped at the “capital”, Nelly Bay and took a long walk along the beach down towards the old main town at Picnic Bay (apologies for the dirty smudge I hadn’t bothered to clean off the camera lens).
It was another fabulous day. We’d wanted to reach the beach at the far end of the bay but it seemed inaccessible from the shoreline. We also couldn’t find a way down from the headland or from Picnic Bay so we gave up, shame as it looks like a cracking spot. We headed on down into Picnic Bay
Picnic Bay was by Maggie’s standards a bit uninspiring so we hopped back on the bus and went for lunch at an Italian Sandwich Bar at Alma Bay.
After a brief walk on the beach we decided to hop on the bus again and head to Arthur Bay that we’d spotted the day before. An inspired idea. On an island resplendent with great beaches this was the best.
Perfectly formed with granite boulders framing the view, clear water and great snorkelling. We spent a very lazy and relaxed afternoon swimming, sunbathing and chilling. Up there with the best beaches we visited and it had some stiff competition.
As the afternoon sun started to fade we bid farewell to beach and walked back up the hill to catch another bus. We had one more animal encounter to finish the day. Back at Geoffrey Bay the road ends at a small jetty. Amongst the rocks by the road lives a colony of Rock Wallabies and every evening they come down to be fed. Armed with a couple of bags of food from the local shop we wandered down there.
There were loads of them. Some braver than others but eventually we found a head high rock with several hungry mouths to feed.
They are exceedingly cute. if you lifted your hand up they rested their little paws on your hand to eat. Bless ’em
I asked this one to pose for a photo and he did
We even got a baby to feed.
The kids absolutely loved it as you can imagine. It’s rare to get this close to any form of wildlife outside a zoo and they were moments to treasure. Not quite as exciting for me as seeing the Koala in the wild – these wallabies are effectively semi-tame and habituated to human contact but it didn’t detract from the experience.
One of the mothers came down complete with baby in the pouch which was rather special
Interestingly kangaroo young often leave their mother’s pouch and then return as they grow. Once a Wallaby baby leaves the pouch for the first time it never returns
After an hour of close up contact with these little furry bouncing bundles we had to say our farewells and catch the bus back home.
Another really special day and we finished it with another session in the Marlin Bar.
Another place ticked off and a real surprise. Most of the places we planned to visit I was least aware of in some way. Maggie was just an interesting looking stop off but in its quiet charming way it was one of our favourites. Possibly due to the stunning weather, the best of the whole trip, or maybe the contrast with the previous few days grey skies. I like to think it was more the degree of surprise at what a marvelous place it was. It felt like a “real” island, lived on and home to real people rather than overtly promoted and commercialised or a sacred overly protected natural wonder. Just a thoroughly nice place with stunning scenery without being in any way ostentatious or self-serving. It had a charm that I don’t think anywhere else we visited quite matched. Perhaps most of all it felt like the real coastal Queensland.
As we took the ferry home the next morning I said to Maggie “I love you and I’ll be back to see you soon, stay just as you are” 🙂
See what I did there.
After finally seeing the sun come out late afternoon the previous day we were finally treated to what the Whitsundays looked like under a blue sky. The next morning was stunning. Not a cloud to spoil the view (and no it wasn’t raining in my heart)
I sneaked out for a very brisk walk up the local hill, Mount Rooper under the pretence of finding some breakfast for the family. The views were now breathtaking.
If only we had more time. Our next stop was Magnetic Island a 3 hour drive and ferry ride away. We pondered staying in Airlie Beach for the day but really you need to be out on a boat to see the Whitsundays at their best so we packed up and headed out. It was a glorious, hot and sunny day and the drive north was stunning. We arrived in Townsville, one of Queensland’s bigger towns and caught our 30 minute ferry over to the island that sits just off the coast
Magnetic Island or “Maggie” as the locals call it was one of the few places I’d not heard of when I started planning the trip. We only decided to stay as it was a handy stop off on the road north. I’m so glad we did
The apartment rental agency gave us a lift to Horseshoe Bay, our home for the next few days. The Apartment was just stunning, huge, spacious and luxurious. It overlooked the Bay from a huge balcony and I instantly fell in love with the place (Apartment review here).
We had time to spend a couple of hours on the beach and took a swim in the warm waters – not as clear as further out on the reef but shallow and calm and perfect for the kids.
As we watched the sun go down we were joined by a turtle swimming just a few yards off the beach. We even caught a glimpse of a whale breaching far out in the bay. I’d been told Horseshoe Bay was the place to go for sunsets and it didn’t disappoint. Watching the sun set with the boats silhouetted in the foreground was just magnificent. What a find this place was. After a picnic tea on the balcony we turned in, very happy indeed in our new temporary home and pleased we’d decided to take in a stay on Maggie
As was my routine I was up early the next day and took a stroll on the beach before anyone else was up. As always I was joined by the usual dawn chorus of birds, primarily the ever noisy Lorikeets and the more tuneful Honeyeaters. This time I was joined by a Kookaburra but he must have got ourtof bed the wrong side as he didn’t laugh although he did pose for some pictures
We spent the morning just lazing on the beach out by the rocks at the far end of the bay. We had planned a swim but the tide was out and Horseshoe Bay is extremely shallow so we just pithered and pottered and enjoyed the best weather of the trip. We did manage a brief swim out front of the apartment before lunch but even at a couple of hundred metres out it was only waist deep.
In the afternoon we took a walk across the headland to see some of Maggies other more remote beaches of which the island has plenty.
After a short and rather hot walk through the bush we broke through the palm trees to Radical Bay and what a stunner it was.
Straight in for a swim to cool down in the tropical waters. I could have floated there all day but then I started to tingle all over and it was clear there was something in the water with us. It was like the feeling of prickly heat and a little uncomfortable and after a few minutes of scratching we got out. Something microscopic in the water was giving us a little nip or nips. Later research confirmed something called sea-lice, tiny jellyfish that can be something of an irritation but nothing too bad. We recovered by lazing on the sand and sitting on the rocks at either end of the beach watching the fish and the boats and just enjoying more sunshine and warmth after the grey skies of the Wetsundays
Maggie has loads of these pocket beaches between granite headlands and our walk around the coast (a bit of rollercoaster of ups and downs in the heat) took us to Florence Bay, itself a real stunner and like Radical Bay, practically deserted
We didn’t linger as we had one more walk to do, and one that Maggie is renowned for. After another punishingly steep hill we passed Arthur Bay – more of that little cracker in the next post.
We were heading for the forts walk, one of the islands main attractions. It’s home to a collection of WW2 ruins, lookouts and gun batteries scattered throughout the forest and they are fascinating insight into history. Nestled amongst the bush and Eucalypt trees the walk is well worth it just for the views and the history. However this was not what we had come to see. Our eyes were facing up to the tree tops trying to spot one the islands reclusive inhabitants. We looked everywhere and were getting neck-ache and a little downhearted that our luck was out as the day was fading away. Then we got a quiet shout from and man over to our left and went over to see. There just above us in the trees was what we had come to see.
A mother and her baby! We were truly blessed. We must have watched them for well over an hour transfixed. A rare treat to see such an iconic and such a threatened creature in its natural habitat and so close.
After a few minutes they started to put on a show for us. Slowly climbing the tree, baby clinging on at first and then separately. Watching the mother expertly climb the thinnest of branches and then gather the leaves was just amazing I took hundreds of photos fearing that I might not have got a decent shot and so pleased that I’d invested in a proper telephoto lens although they were only 15 feet above us.
Koalas are under serious threat in Australia, mainly due to loss of habitat. Despite the fact that there are hundreds of varieties of Eucalypts in Australia, Koalas can live on just five. As man continues to expand so the number of those specific trees is reduced and along with it the Koalas. As food becomes scarce many Koalas become weak and fall prey to a range of diseases that normally they can withstand. It’s diet is also the reason Koalas have their reputation for being limited of movement. Rather than being just lazy, they are just conserving energy as the leaves give them so little nutrition. It’s tough being a Koala
As darkness approached we had to tear ourselves away. As we did a male Koala gave a throaty roar from a few trees away. I never knew they roared (they aren’t bears of course!). Did you also know that Koalas are the only one of 3 species (man and chimps are the others) that have unique fingerprints, very much like ours. What an amazing creature and we felt privileged to have seen them. Who knows what their future holds
We swiftly made our way to the summit and climbed the lookout point. The ruins on the summit are extensive and there would be whole heap of fun to be had exploring. For us it was a very swift and breathless climb to the highest tower. We’d just missed the sunset but the views were still spectacular, albeit, well, dark really
As a final treat on the way down I noticed some movement by the side of path and saw an Echidna, a sort of Australian hedgehog. One of a rather odd group of Australian animals called Monotremes (“one hole”) on account of the fact they only have – well – one hole called a cloaca to lay eggs and, you get the idea. It was too dark to take a photo so we just stood and watched as the little pin cushion waddled off into the bush.
We caught a late bus home and finished off an exceptionally fine day in the best way possible. Cold beers and burgers in the Marlin Bar, handily placed next door to the apartment. A proper Aussie bar and I loved it and in fact, quite disturbingly, so did the kids. I’ll restrict them to just the 4 pints next time
Another day in Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays, another gloomy day. The wind had dropped and the rain had turned to drizzle but if anything the day was more dreary than the day before. The cloud was down pretty much to sea level and everything was grey and dark.
The plan had been to get a very early start and take full day trip to Whitehaven Beach. Images of a long lazy day under a blue sky on the white silica beach taking time out to swim, snorkel and walk in the bush. Can’t say that I really fancied spending a whole day sitting on a beach in the rain. Our tour operator kindly let us swap to a “3 island tour” to take in the resort islands of Daydream and Hamilton with just an afternoon at Whitehaven Beach. I figured the resorts might at least give us a change of scene and somewhere to shelter from the rain.
Well, the best thing I can say about Hamilton and Daydream Islands is that they are indeed a change of scene and they did give us shelter from the rain. Daydream Island resembles an upmarket Butlins. Absolutely not my sort of place. It did have some rather damp and pi55ed off looking wallabies in the grounds and they did have a large outdoor aquarium complete with a range of sharks and rays. They held a feeding session which the kids enjoyed. That was it really and I can’t say I have any inclination to return
At least Daydream had some kind of cheesy charm. If anything I liked Hamilton Island even less. Obscenely ostentatious, all rich yachting types and golf carts with some quite grotesque high-rise hotels. This is not the Whitsundays of the brochures. We heard that the guy who had the rights to develop the island had been told that he could not build any development higher than the trees. He got around this quite ingeniously and outrageously by building a hotel no higher than the tallest tree on the highest part of the island i.e. a tower block. Whatever passed for the authorities in the area let him do it. Now Hamilton Island resembles an upmarket Benidorm on a what I’m certain used to be a glorious tropical island. I hated it
We did at least have a decent lunch, and an ice cream on the beach. It may have been the culmination of a day and half in the rain but my spirits were pretty low in seeing how they had allowed development to despoil the place
When we boarded the boat to Whitehaven things began to improve. The skipper on the boat gave an insightful and humorous commentary as we cruised around Whitsunday Island.
As we approached Whitehaven Beach it stopped raining and there were tentative signs of the weather finally breaking. We were ferried ashore in a little punt sort of thing and stepped ashore finally at Whitehaven. Suddenly spirits were lifted. The sun didn’t exactly come out but it was bright and warm and the water was crystal clear and inviting.
We spent a happy couple of hours finally enjoying what the Whitsundays had to offer with a wander on the beach and a couple of swims. There are campsites right on the beach and it looked so inviting, a total contrast to the high-rise squalor of Hamilton Island. It must be magnificent before and after the tour boats arrive to be camped in this most stunning of spots. What it must be like on a clear blue sky day. That would be my idea of a Whitsundays resort
All too soon it was time to head home. As we boarded the boat we saw our first blue sky and watery sunshine for two days. Our more buoyant mood was further improved by warm scones, tea and fresh fruit, courtesy of Cruise Whitsundays (you can find my review of their day trip here).
From there everything improved. The sun started to break through and we were treated to a fabulous sunset over the Whitsundays as we travelled back to Airlie Beach via Daydream Island and Hamilton Island once more. Despite the chilly wind I stood out on the front of the boat all the way and soaked in the views and reeled off loads of photos
I had finally seen something of what the Whitsundays had to offer. Looking back now its really unfortunate that I don’t have quite the same fond memories that we had of almost everywhere else we went in Queensland. Obviously the weather didn’t help but the blatant commercialism that exists at Airlie Beach, Hamilton Island and Daydream Island was not only the antithesis of the kind of places I like but was completely out of character with everywhere else we stayed. If I return I would seek out one of the quieter islands or better still try to arrange a camping trip or 2/3 night sailing trip to get away from the crowds. Rather than feeling unlucky at a day and a half of bad weather I feel lucky that we had half a day of great weather. Enough to show me that the Whitsunday’s deserve another chance with a bit of thought and planning