Sunday, 28 September 2014

13 - 19 September 2014 - Airlie Beach

We arrived in Airlie Beach and decided to try the caravan park next to the airport which had been recommended by Wikicamps. The park is outside town in a lovely forested area so we checked in for three nights and setup the caravan. We went back to reception to see what activities were on offer in Airlie Beach. Now, this is the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands so there is a lot on offer! We ended up booking on a 2-day and 2-night sailing cruise around the islands. The only problem was we had to wait until Friday to go, today being Saturday, BUT we did get a 33% discount because of the last minute booking! To make things even sweeter, because we booked through the caravan park we were able to leave our caravan on site for NO charge while we were away - now that is what we call service.

Next morning we went into town to have breakfast out as a treat. We had a few days to kill so took the opportunity to get some chores done including shopping, washing and some things around the van. We bumped into a couple we were camped next to in Townsville and after chatting about what we had planned, they went off to see if there were any places available on our cruise. The cruise we selected takes a maximum of 4 couples in private ensuite cabins. Well, Rob and Val got the last cabin so we were all set for Friday.

After looking at pictures of the reef and the beaches on the islands we decided it would be lovely to do a sightseeing flight over the islands and the reef, so back to reception to book a flight for Tuesday, our anniversary. Well, this was really worth doing as we flew over the Whitsunday Islands and twice along Whitehaven Beach which is considered one of the best beaches in Australia. After the islands we headed to the outer reef and the Heart Reef in particular. The Great Barrier Reef from the air is spectacular and we had perfect weather for it. It was awesome to do this flight and a bonus to see the iconic Heart Reef on our anniversary.

After hearing about our flight, Rob and Val promptly booked the same flight for Thursday! We saw them off and had drinks that evening to compare notes and discuss the cruise the next day starting at 3 PM.

Friday arrived and we spent the morning packing and preparing for our adventure on the high seas - OK, island sailing then! As we booked through the caravan park they provided a lift to the jetty free of charge too!

Bush Stone-Curlew
One of the many Kookaburras that visited us
Ready to take off on our flight over the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef
Our lady pilot at the controls
Whitehaven Beach and the Inlet
The outer reef
Unusual coral formations
More reef formations
One of the smaller islands with a sand Spit with fringing coral reef
After the flight with the plane we flew in
The card Vlasta made for me

Friday, 19 September 2014

8 - 12 September 2014 - Cairns, Mission Beach and Townsville

Our last day in Cairns we decided we had not snorkelled the reef enough so we went out with Quicksilver to the Agincourt Reef on the Quicksilver VIII which is a large wavepiercer catamaran. We had to drive to Port Douglas to board the cruise so an early rise was required. The day was perfect and we had a king low tide which happens only once or twice a year. A king tide is an exceptionally high/low tide and it left about 30cm of coral exposed above the sea. There was no wind and the sea was like a mirror so the snorkelling was outstanding and we met more 'Nemos'.

The next day we left to move on south and ended up in a lovely caravan park in South Mission Beach. There are signposts to be careful of cassowarys everywhere but we never saw one :-(  We spent two nights right on the beach and spent the day relaxing. In the evening we had drinks with John and Margaret, our neighbours and had a wonderful chat - what a lovely couple!

It was with heavy hearts that we left and headed for Townsville. We checked into a caravan park on the beach - not in the same class as Mission Beach but quite adequate although noisy with traffic and all the Rainbow Lorikeets. We did a little drive around town then drove up Castle Hill along with dozens of exercise freaks running and walking up this high hill from which there were spectacular views of the city.

Next day we visited the aquarium which had great tanks of coral and reef fishes, many of which we have seen in the wild. We also took a tour of the turtle hospital where they rescue sick and injured turtles.

We left the next day heading south towards Mackay but ended up in Airlie Beach.

Agincourt Reef platform
Agincourt Reef from the platform

A King Low tide exposed the reef by about 30cm
Clown Anemonefish
Parrot fish and Cleaner Wrasse
Platform from which you embark on your reef activities
Mission Beach
Sunset on Mission Beach
Townsville from Castle Rock
Aquarium with a few Leopard Sharks
Green Python in the aquarium!
Wood Swallows

Sunday, 7 September 2014

2 - 7 September 2014 - Cairns

We packed up and headed to Cairns - all of 60km away. We checked into a lovely caravan park in a valley flanked by forested mountains and a forested river flowing by. We did some shopping, had sushi for lunch and walked around the marina then had the star on the windscreen fixed.

Our first full day in Cairns we did washing and some shopping. After lunch we walked to the river and had a lovely swim in a pool under the forest canopy.

After missing seeing the platypus while in the Atherton Tablelands we decided to return to see if we could find them. We headed over a mountain pass which rose 750 metres in altitude over a distance of 20 km of very winding roads which had over 200 bends, all through rainforest! Once up in the tablelands our first stop was a wooden lookout on a river in the town of Yungaburra and almost immediately two platypus came into view and kept us entertained for about an hour. We were told by a tour guide that we were extremely lucky to see them as they are only seen about once a month! Well as if we had not seen enough we headed to Tarzali Lakes to a place where platypus viewing is guaranteed. We were not disapointed as the lake there has about 70 platypus (according to the owner). We photographed these little animals for ages before having fish (baramundi) and chips for lunch. Before heading back to Cairns we did some more photography which is really difficult because the platypus are such busy little animals and only spend a short time on the surface of the lake.

The next day we headed for Kuranda on the restored scenic Kuranda railway. This is a great 1 hour 30 minute ride up the forested mountains to Kuranda which is a real tourist town in the rainforest. We visited the Australian Venom Zoo where we saw the world's most venomous snake, the Inland Taipan, and many other venomous snakes, spiders and scorpions (which glow under UV light). We then visited the butterfly sanctuary and tried to photograph the Ulysses Butterfly. If we thought photographing platypus was difficult then photographing this butterfly was almost impossible. The brilliant blue of the open wings is breathtaking in flight but as soon as it comes to rest it closes its wings to show the brown under-side - we did get some passable shots though. We headed home on the Skyrail which is a cablecar ride over the rainforest canopy - quite spectacilar with bridsong wafting up to us in the cablecar. That evening we had a BBQ with Vlasta's friend Renee, Sacha, Tenille and Jaz.

The next day we relaxed, did a little shopping and visited the Crystal Cascades just down the road from our caravan park.

After the rest day we stopped to photograph the Canonball Tree near our caravan park before heading back to Kuranda again to enjoy the bird park where you not only view the birds but you actually meet them. As we entered Keith was greeted by an Indian Ringneck parrot which proceeded to try and destroy anything available, be it the button on the top of his cap or the zipper draw strings on the camera bag. We saw many birds including macaws, white pigeons, a cassawary and water birds.

Swimming in the river near the caravan park

A wild Platypus at Yungaburra

Kuranda Scenic Railway
Skyrail over the rainforrest
Spiny Leaf Insect

Ulysses Butterfly
Ulysses Butterfly
Vlasta trying to photograph the Ulysses Buterfly
Our caravan surrounded by mountains in the rainforrest
Kuranda Scenic Railway
One of the cascades of the Crystal Cascades
This what the Ulysses Butterfly really looks like

Saturday, 6 September 2014

26 August - 1 September 2014 - Cooktown and Port Douglas

The drive to Cooktown included some steep mountain passes but also some interesting scenery. After arriving in Cooktown we setup camp and headed to the Tourist Information centre where we picked up brochures and bought a book on Australian Raptors.

The next day we walked to town and visited the Cook Museum where they had the anchor and canon from the Endeavour which were recovered from the Endeavour Reef where Cook threw many tons of items overboard to get his ship off the reef. We then walked through town to view the historic sites where Cook beached the Endeavour for repairs which took 11 days to complete but was only able to leave 3 weeks later due to wind conditions. In the afternoon we drove to some falls but only found one which was not that great.

Next day we headed to Daintree National Park to see the Bloomfield Falls. Stopped at the Lion's Den for coffee and delicious scones and cream. There were  amazing Yellow Breasted Sunbirds feeding off Jade Vine flowers which looked like plastic flowers but were completely natural! The falls were great and we spent some time viewing and photographing them.

Next day we left for Port Douglas along the same road as we came in. After settling into the caravan park in Port Douglas we drove to the marina where we booked a reef snorkelling tour then had a beer and garlic bread for sundowners.

Our first full day in Port Douglas saw us head into the Daintree forrest where we had to cross a river on a ferry to access the park. We headed to see Cape Tribulation where Cook ran aground on the Endeavour reef. We drove a steep hill to the lighthouse for a great view of the coastline. Next we headed for our Jungle Surfing adventure through the canopy. This is actually ziplining through the forrest canopy on 6 different ziplines and was initiated by a human hamster wheel! We all had helmets with names on them - Tinkerbell for Vlasta and Tarzan for Keith. Great fun but scary for Vlasta specially when the last surf was done up-side-down!  We did see an amazing blue Ulysses butterfly and Double-Eyed Fig-Parrot. After this adventure we visited the Discovery Centre where we had information overload but most interesting anyway. We are still looking for a wild cassowary but have seen its droppings!

The next day brought great calm clear weather for our snorkel cruise with Wavelength who only do snorkelling tours to the Opal Reef. The trip to the reef took 1 hour and 40 minutes on choppy sees but we survived and had three 1-hour snorkels on 3 different reefs. We had a Marine Biologist on board who gave us a guided tour on one site and showed us a genuine Clown Anemone fish. The trip back was pretty rough which left Vlasta rather green. We had taken seasick tablets which seemed to have worked for me but not so much for Vlasta.

Our final day we spent at Mossman Gorge where we took a leasurely walk through the forrest where we saw a Green Tree snake, the blue triangle butterfly  and a number of birds which were either very difficult to see or completely ignored us like the Brush Turkey and Orange-footed Scrubfowl.

Cook's Endeavour at the Museum
The Endeavour's Anchor
Cooktown from the Lighthouse
Bloomfield Falls
Pass over the mountains to Cooktown
A Strangler Fig
Mangrove Boardwalk - Daintree
Green Tree Snake
Striped Surgeonfish
Blue Triangle Butterfly
Rain Forrest Boardwalk - Daintree
Jade Vine Flowers at Lion's Den
View from the mountain pass to the coastal plain
Jungle Surfing - Daintree
Australian Brush Turkey

Clown Anemonefish - Great Barrier Reef
Pale-Yellow Robin
Yellow-Bellied Sunbird
Rufous Fantail