Sugar is big business in Northern Queensland whose land is filled with sugar cane fields so on our trip south from Cairns we stopped to look around a sugar museum. Sugar cane is about two metres tall and the fields are so dense that they do block the scenery a bit but when they are in flower they are very pretty with huge pink grass-like flowers sticking up a metre above the rest of the plant. We spent the night in Ayr, not a very interesting little place but we did have another one of those strange coincidences in one of the only restaurants there. The barman, an Aussie guy, used to play rugby for Leicester over twenty years ago. Next day we headed straight to Airlie Beach which is a pretty little town by the sea where we booked ourselves onto a three day sailing trip around the Whitsunday Islands for the following day.
The following day we were a bit embarrassed because we broke down on the way to the Marina and had to call the boat company only to realise that we had just run out of petrol (the fuel gauge on the car doesn't work properly we now know) - a quick run down the hill and the fast purchase of a 5 litre can full of unleaded sorted out the problem - we ended up being only 10 minutes or so late for the boat. From now on we will have to fill up when we've done 300-400kms (even though on the open road a full tank will last for 500-600kms) just to be safe.
Three days and two nights on a boat called Ambition with twelve strangers - a truly international crowd with a Kiwi skipper (Duncan), a German deckhand and cook (Sylvia), two people from France (Vanessa and Harvey), five from Switzerland (Andrea, Carolyn, Anita, Xenia and Louise) and five of us Brits (Deanne, Tom, Paul and us). Crusing around beautiful islands, snorkelling with loads of fish, watching the sunset and looking up at the stars while the water gently laps around the boat is really special and doing it with a fun group of people made it even better. This was a really chilled out trip, a chance to relax and enjoy ourselves - let's face it you are a prisoner on the boat and sometimes not being able to go anywhere or do anything apart from what you are told is just what a traveller wants.
'You must go sailing in the Whitsundays...' - quote from just about every traveller we've ever met
So to sea. We were a bit unfortunate with the weather though it did get better over the three days but on the first day the wind speed was over 35 knots (technically gale force!) and we were absolutely freezing, hanging on for dear life as the boat tipped at such an extreme angle that at times I swear I was looking straight into the water below us. At one point I thought we might have to go back but it settled down a bit and we were ok - better than no wind at all for sailing I guess and it was definitely invigorating.
The first night was spent anchored off Cid Island in Cid Harbour and after a barbie and a few drinks on deck we were forced to have an early night by the rain. We were all shattered anyway.
The weather was better today and we were rewarded at the end of the day with a perfect sunset at Whitsunday Passage. After which we cruised on to spend the night at Stonehaven Anchorage, a sheltered spot near Hook Island where we had another barbie, a few more drinks and did some elementary star spotting. We saw the southern cross and the milky way but without a planosphere we found it hard to pick out other constellations partly because we don't know what we are looking for in the southern sky and partly because the sky was so clear that we could see thousands of stars making it more difficult to identify patterns - also trying to use binoculars from a rocking boat is pretty tricky.
With our sailing adventure over, that evening we all met up for a few drinks on dry land at one of the backpacker bars in Airlie. Tired but relaxed - oh, did I forget to mention?, you must go sailing in the Whitsundays....it's the best!
Sailing is, of course, a time to look cool - nice try, Richard
After our rest we decided to go exploring - we'd heard that there was a chance to see platypus (no-one seems to call them duck-billed
platypus anymore) in the wild in Eungella National Park so we headed south and then inland through more sugar cane country and up into the
mountains. From the top there was this wonderful view. When we parked near Broken River in the late afternoon we saw our first
wild kangaroos (or possibly wallabies, we find it impossible to tell the difference) which
were looking for some dinner.
It was also a busy time of day for the birds and the really loud squarking and screeching turned out to be hundreds of beautiful sulphur-crested cockatoos like
We're not known for being early risers but for some reason we woke up early at the Eungella Chalet Mountain Lodge (I think it was because it was so cold) and when we opened the curtains this was the view over the mountains and the valley. Before we left Eungella we went platypus spotting again and saw another couple of glimpses including one which sufaced very near us and stuck his bill out at us before disappearing for good.
We also saw some lovely birds here including: the cockatoos, a Kookobura (a bit like a kingfisher and known for it's laugh) and diving birds that would get out of the water after fishing and sit on branches with their wings extended waiting for them to dry.
Writing this in October (yes I know we are terribly behind - I know we are on holiday but we still don't seem to have much free time) I can tell you that we've seen the sunrise three times in Australia in the past five months, this was the first, since then we've seen it rise over the sea at Surfers Paradise and we woke up at 4am last week to see the sunrise at Uluru - well worth it.
Further south to Rockhampton (Rocky as it's affectionately known) where we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn. It's not a big place but
I did manage to pick up a nice fleece for less than £4 which was badly needed as it is the middle of winter here and not that hot -
despite the Aussie tourist board hype they do have a winter here, and it does get cold: and this in in the tropics!
The other thing Rocky has is a fantastic zoo, and even better it's free. We spent a great afternoon first of all watching the hundreds of
little turtles, ducks and geese in the lake outside and then the rainbow lorikeets, roos, wallabys and saw that rare and odd bird the
Cassowary. We'd seen lots of signs to watch out for them on the roads like the one near
but we'd never seen one in the flesh. But, of course, the reason we went to the zoo was to see our first
koala. These wonderful cuddly creatures that spend most of their days half asleep munching euclyptus are soooo cute that we took far
too many pictures of them but they are really photogenic.
Onto Maryborough to see a big thing! There are lots of big things to see in Australia, if a town has nothing of interest to tourists then it will have a big thing. Maryborough had a Big Ned Kelly and further down the road in Nambour we saw a Big Pineapple and you can see pictures of them and all the other big things we've captured on camera so far on our dedicated Big Things page.
Quite an eventful journey to Maryborough as I got my first, and only so far, speeding ticket. I couldn't believe it, not another car in sight and then a police car comes towards me, turns around and catches up behind me with lights flashing and pulls me over. I was speeding (122kph in a 100kph zone) but it is very difficult to do 100kph (60mph) on an empty straight highway. As we said before the speed limits here are less than they are at home and with so many empty straight roads in the middle of nowhere it's difficult to keep the speed down. The fine was $135 which is a stiff £54 but if I'd been in New South Wales rather than Queensland it would have been almost double that. This could be an expensive trip!
After ten days on the road we arrived in Brisbane.