Days 235 – 237 (Jan 22nd – Jan 24th) Heading northwards towards Cairns and then south to Emerald

We’d booked a motel on the coast at Sarina Beach but stopped en route at a small place called Clairview. The caravan parks here allow day parking so the cafe and facilities are usually open to residents and casual drop ins like us. The BarraCrab Caravan park was probably representative of what Queensland used to be like before people elsewhere in Australia decided it would be worth moving to. A ramshackle bar/restaurant with seating immediately adjacent to the unspoilt and empty beach (although the very obvious warnings about stinger jellyfish may have had something to do with that). We had a crab sandwich and a wander along the beach before moving on. This would be a wonderful place to do nothing for a day or two or more..

Just down the road was the municipal notice board which gave more information about the area, which is now designated as a Dugong reserve

Our motel was in a similarly idyllic location which had direct access to a huge beach

View from our room

Our plan at this stage was to head north to Mackay and stock up on some North Queensland essentials such as snake bandages, long trousers and gaiters (for snakes and ticks respectively) before setting off towards Airlie Beach and, ultimately Cairns and Cape Tribulation. This was our rough idea….

Then Tali called. Thursday, 26th Jan was Australia Day (or Invasion day if you’re an aborigine) and she just been told she had a 4 day weekend and could she meet us? So, postponing plan A we reverted to plan B….arranging to meet her for 4 nights in Emerald, a town we’d all planned on visiting at some stage and which was roughly 2-3 hours from Worrabinda, where Tali is currently working.

Heading south we arrived in Clermont where we’d planned on staying overnight. We worked down the high street, stopping at all the motels asking for a room for the night. All were booked, filled with road workers who were busy repairing the roads after the recent storms. One rather large and very dark man even offered to share his room with me (Andy writing..) but I thought that was unfair on Helen and we moved on. We got to the stage of heading off towards Emerald when we threw the dice one last time, stopping at the Commercial Hotel, previously dismissed as it looked empty, derelict and unused.

Many of these outback towns have a “Commercial Hotel” and they all seem quite similar, presumably being the earliest accommodation made available to travellers and they combine that function with being a pub and gambling hall so are a one-stop shop for most of the vices…There were 2 bars, the sports bar and the gambling bar, both were quite busy as I walked in and asked for a room. They had more than one, which was both pleasing and worrying at the same time, but we were committed now and for the massive sum of AUS$60 (£40) we had ourselves a room opening onto the massive first floor balcony, a sink in the corner, aircon, and “communal” facilities. Helen was less than impressed but it was now a done deal and we moved our stuff in not knowing how things would unfold over the next 12 hours or so…

We went downstairs to get a drink and something to eat. Chatting to the bar staff it turned out all of them were from the UK. All backpackers, taking advantage of a scheme in Australia whereby if you work in a “rural” placement (definitions seemed to vary but north of the tropic of capricorn and inland seemed to be the most common) for 88 days then a 1 year visa could be extended to 2 years. The manager, an aussie, who we only met the next day, thought this was a great arrangement as otherwise getting staff for such a remote location would prove very difficult.

After dinner we went upstairs to luxuriate in our room only to find out that the air-conditioning unit, already swaddled in blue tape, had transformed itself into a tractor-impersonator, so sleep was out of the question. Downstairs again, speaking with the assistant manager (an ex-‘spoons manager) it turned out the our room should have been removed from the list as requiring maintenance. They couldn’t provide a fan and there were no other rooms available but they would refund our AUS$60….now we had an intolerably hot room, with no aircon, communal facilities, many hours until daybreak and a somewhat unhappy spouse… but it was free! Luckily the bar served Jamesons, an essential nightcap for such situations……for some!

We ran the aircon for as long as we dared and tried to sleep…..

At 0300, 0330, 0430, 0600, 0630 the fire alarm went off. At first we got up, peered out of our room, spoke to the two ladies next door but no-one from the staff turned up, there was evidently no fire so thereafter we ignored the sound but failed to sleep much. Checking the communal facilities, we decided to forget showering (would the floor hold out or the spiders get you?) so got up, packed the car and drove to the nearest tourist attraction, Hoods Lagoon, the site of the 1916 flood of such ferocity that it killed a staggering 65 members of the local community but which is now a fabulous local amenity and birdwatching area and one which has an enormous number of fruit bats.

Walking round the lake itself there were some nice birds to see

Returning to the hotel to get our refund, we stopped off at the mural opposite, a quite impressive depiction of the short but varied history of the town painted on old train wagons

Described in detail on the accompanying information board

So, a town with a fascinating history but terrible accommodation.

We stopped briefly at the Clermont Historical Centre, which was closed until March, and peered through the fencing and read a couple of information boards in the carpark.

Heading down to Emerald we had to stop at quite possibly the least deserving scenic lookout in the outback…

On to Emerald and an unexpected treat of seeing Tali again after 3 days.

Days 229 – 235 (Jan 16th – Jan 22nd) Yeppoon and the Capricorn coast

Yeppoon is the gateway town to the southern islands of the Great Barrier Reef, notably Great Keppel Island and is situated close enough to Rockhampton to be considered a commuter base / weekend retreat for the better off people of that town. Dreadful weather conditions, in the form of a cyclone which had formed in the Coral Sea, pushed heavy wind and rain all down the east coast of Australia from the very north to Brisbane and this meant we had to cancel our trip to the Broken River Mountain Resort in the Eungella National Park. This would have been the ideal tonic for too many days in the city with numerous walks in the tropical rainforest and platypus watching from our balcony. Not being able to move north (or west) because of road conditions or south because we’d been there already, restricted our options to staying put for a while in an apartment overlooking the ocean.

Monsoon conditions combined with the sound of roosting rainbow lorikeets

Finally, the rain eased off for a while and we took ourselves to the Koorana Crocodile Farm. This was initially stocked with “problem” crocs removed from residential areas and they now have a huge area set aside for thousands of crocs thanks to their breeding programme, producing meat and leather goods as well as offering tourists an attraction in its own right. The tour consisted of crocs of different sizes being fed chicken carcasses accompanied by a number of good stories and information from our guide. We were shown and told how to recognise croc activity in the outback around rivers and lakes. Basically if there’s no grass on the riverbank, turn around and go back, if you get chased by a croc, run in a straight line and don’t climb a tree. They can go months without eating, so who would give up first? We were also told, if a female mates with the same male, they will all produce the same amount of eggs (40-80), the female will always produce the same amount of fertile eggs, around 70% and then these figures are passed on down to the next generations. Is this true? I have no idea.

On leaving the farm we headed for Emu Park, a seaside town south of Yeppoon best known not for it’s emus but for the, quote, “remarkably beautiful Singing Ship sculpture”, yet another tribute to Captain Cooke who discovered Keppel Bay between the 26th and 28th May 1770. This area is shared with a large tribute to the Anzacs.

Up in the hills between Rockhampton and Yeppoon are the Capricorn Caves, a privately owned site next to the Mount Etna Caves National Park, home to a large proportion of the entire Australian population of Little bent-wing bats. There are 3 types of cave tour available, a short one for those of a more delicate nature, an intermediate one which includes some ladders, tight spots and mud and a third one which includes all of those things plus some climbing. We embarked on the intermediate tour, looking at three separate caves, all accessed after a walk through “dry rainforest“, an apparent contradiction in terms. Patches of dry rainforest are now increasingly rare as they are very susceptible to bush fires and encroachment from invasive plant species. None of the caves had an entrance such as you might find in the Blue John caves in Derbyshire, instead it was scramble through the undergrowth and into a narrow entrance on the hillside, so much more authentic! These caves are created from limestone and are quite large inside with dramatic views. In one section some of us were guided through some very narrow tunnels, through a deep puddle and then up a steep slippery slope to re-join the group. It was so much fun!

On leaving the Capricorn site we moved to one of two access points to the Mount Etna National Park which was created primarily to protect the rare bats that use the caves as a maternity site. The history of the park is very interesting as it was originally owned by a cement company who started blowing up the caves so they could use the limestone in their products. A long protracted fight with environmentalists and bat conservationists resulted in the project being halted and the park was established. Evening bat walks can be booked where a ranger escorts you to the cave entrances to set the bats streaming out at dusk to attack the local insect populations…

Given our prolonged stay in Yeppoon we dropped in at the local tourist information centre to enquire about walks and birdwatching places along the coast. This was our 2nd visit, the first being to ask about trips to Great Keppel Island, and both were noteworthy for the incredible welcome and advice we received from the volunteers who run these places. On this occasion one of the volunteers told us she’d lived in Southampton for years and was planning to go back on a cruise this year as part of a Europe-wide trip.

The sun was now out, temperatures were in the high 20s and we headed out to one of the better birding places on the coast, the little known Kinka Wetland, an amazing local initiative set up as part of a wider project to ensure the sustainability of the Great Barrier Reef. We drove up the flooded dirt track, parked at the end of the road and set off up the path. The sun was very hot, there was no breeze and much of the swamp was dry despite the recent rains.

Helen was armed with sticks to ward off marauding snakes and then we ran into a chap with binoculars and very large camera and telephoto lens. Andrew, being his name, was supposed to be working from home but had taken time to check the swamp for birds as he is a volunteer for Birdlife Capricornia, and assists with many of the surveys and initiatives of the group. He started to describe what he’d seen, saw the blank look in our eyes and offered to guide us round, an offer we couldn’t refuse. He’s also provided information on a lot of sites up north and around where Tali is at the moment in Woorabinda so our meeting was extremely fortuitous.

Our next stop was at Bluff Point, part of the Capricorn Coast National Park, which consists of several headlands along the coastline which all retain rainforest and other protected environments. As is usual, the carparks are situated near shade and picnic areas equipped with barbeques. The walk up to one of the lookouts and then onto the beach resulted in spectacular views.

That evening we were serenaded by the roosting rainbow lorikeets..

The next morning Lammermoor Native Gardens were visited on the recommendation of our birding friend. The carpark is by the beach and tracks lead both into the gardens and up the beach, giving a range of different routes and habitat types. The bird life was spectacular, the most dramatic bird being the huge Red-tailed black cockatoo but a large number of species have been reported there. Our next destination was to be the Byfield National Park, a largely inaccessible park just north of Yeppoon. In fact it turned out to be entirely inaccessible as a river crossing was still deemed too dangerous following the recent rains.

Instead we drove over to Wreck Point Lookout, where there are good views along the coast as well as over to North and Great Keppel Islands as well as bit of seafarer-related history, notably Captain James Cook and a less well-known navigator called Matthew Flinders who circumnavigated the entire continent and charted the coastline as he did so.

Our final stop was inland at Lake Mary, a water body known for attracting a variety of bird species.

On the way we encountered the strange looking Pheasant coucal, one of the many cuckoo species which breed in Australia but the only one which doesn’t parasitize other birds in order to breed. At the lake itself we came across what looked like an adult Brolga and 2 young

Accompanied by several kites (probably whistling and black kites) and a beautiful Wedge-tailed eagle, the largest eagle in Australia. What these predators were doing is unknown but it’s more than likely they saw one of the young cranes as potential prey and the adult crane was getting quite agitated.

The following day Tali came over and we revisited some of the places described above. Firstly Bluff Point where we did the full walk this time

Then back to Lammermoor where we had an encounter in the carpark

Coastal taipan

Described better here. Tali first noticed it in an area of scrub, in the process of swallowing a rat-sized animal. A few people came over and spooked the snake which regurgitated it’s prey and tried to escape. In doing so it crossed paths and areas being used by people so caused quite a stir, eventually finding a more secluded area and disappearing from view. Note to selves : buy the 1st aid snake compression bandage to have to hand in case the next encounter doesn’t end so happily!

Tali returned to Rocky and we prepared for our postponed trip up north…

Days 221 – 229 (Jan 8th – Jan 16th) Brisbane to the Gold Coast, Bundaberg, the Tropic of Capricorn and Rockhampton

A 2 day trip from Brisbane to Rockhampton (Rocky), largely because we took the opportunity to visit our friends Sonya & Greg who live on Hope Island in the Gold Coast. We met them during our Alaskan trip and shared one or two raucous nights during our time together. Heading up to Rocky was a good opportunity to drop in and relive some of those memories. Hope Island was once a swamp but has been turned into a massive, mainly gated community. Mode of transport to the shops, visiting neighbours and going to the pub is by golf buggy. So, having dropped off our car, we were picked up by buggy and taken to the Boardwalk Tavern, a large restaurant and bar that had an incredible selection on the menu. We were joined by 2 of their 4 children and had a great afternoon catching up, playing trivia and relaxing. We were driven home by buggy and hope to meet again before leaving Australia.

The following day we headed north through the awful Brisbane traffic, finally stopping off at Maryborough, famous for being the birthplace of the creator of a childhood musical, Mary Poppins.

The town itself is quite old by Australian standards and has a few nice buildings

Next brief stop was supposed to be Childers but we got distracted by a brief sighting of a road name as we approached the town centre. Following this up we finally got a photo

Irrespective of the fact the family in question may have been related to those incarcerated in the Tasmanian penal colony (see previous blog for Hobart) it seems only correct to investigate a little further and a request has been sent to the local history society.

To keep you awake on the long drives, the Aussies have decided trivia will keep you vigilant, if only to see the answers to the questions on the roadside. I now know a baby echidna is called…a puggle and many more interesting facts!

Finally we arrived in Bundaberg, famous for it’s rum distillery and proximity to the southern-most islands of the Great Barrier Reef and Mon Repos, a beach which hosts the largest population of Loggerhead turtles on the east coast of Australia. The visitor centre is excellent, geared up to educate children and local people and the work of the staff there has ensured most turtle beaches are now protected by national park status. The centre offers tours to watch the turtles clambering ashore to lay their eggs (in Oct – Dec) and then to watch the eggs hatch (Nov – Feb) but these are so popular that booking ahead for months is vital, not the 2 days we hoped for. We might be able to drop in on our way back to Sydney. However, we checked out the beach

Oddly a feature of Bundaberg that doesn’t appear in the travel guides is the Baldwin Swamp Environment Park, situated in the middle of town, it retains some of the original swamp land prior to development of the area. An early morning walk was interesting, a few new bird species and a lot of roosting fruit bats. These animals are restless, forever scrabbling, even during the day, and calling incessantly. This is a great fruit farming area but it’s difficult to imagine the local fruit farmers are entirely welcoming..

The rum distillery is the a feature of the town and they have made distillery visits a smooth and slick part of their marketing. Arriving at the site a number of wittily written boards describe the history of the site and how rum came to be made there and then you have to walk past a huge “library” of all the products they have made.

This is followed by the tour proper and then the tasting

Doing her best to avoid driving back

It was fun but but despite her best efforts Helen still isn’t really converted to the rum cause

Leaving Bundaberg we stopped off at Seventeen Seventy, so named as this was Captain Cook’s first landing place in Queensland in May 1770. Together with Agnes Water this is a very pretty coastal area

Moving on we came across the Calliope River Historical Village which was just closing but is run by a very enthusiastic group of volunteers who were most likely older than the village itself

And finally we arrived in Rocky, passing over the Tropic of Capricorn into the tropics just as the monsoon season started…

The next few days were spent finalising Tali’s arrangements to move to Woorabinda and avoiding the wet, windy but warm weather. We did make two visits to the top of Mount Archer where there are 3 walkways to various parts of the summit, overlooking different parts of the region. The cloud didn’t assist with this!

Tali left on the Sunday and we moved on, in search of the sunshine…

Days 216 – 221 (Jan 3rd – Jan 8th) Brisbane

Leaving Noosa, prompted a short stop at IKEA! Tali needed stuff for her move to Rockhampton. This of course meant a trip to their restaurant for Swedish meatballs.

Then Tali collected her car

Andy was released and returned to our hotel in Brisbane, while Tali and I went on a clothes shopping trip. This could have been fraught, a waste of time, caused a massive falling out (as it has done occasionally in the past), but turned out to be a joy. We found 2 shops that Tali liked and so she ended up with a years worth of mainly linen clothes for both her work and generally. Sorted!

That evening she had booked us a table at The German Club, a bar and restaurant near The famous Gabba, the Brisbane cricket ground. The beer was good (I’m told), and they had Asbach (always a winner with me) but unfortunately a lot of the typical German food was off the menu but we managed with Schnitzel and sausages.

Wednesday was jobs and in the evening, the three of us went to Six The Musical, which is definitely worth seeing anywhere in the world. It is about Henry VIII’s wives, any other info would spoil it.

Thursday was more jobs for Tali, cleaning and finishing packing up her flat and loading her car. I thought we were on holiday? Take out pizza, risotto and salad from a rather posh Italian, finished the day off. We left Tali for her last night in her flat and trudged wearily back to our hotel.

The next day, Andy went to the flat to oversee the “bond clean”, Tali went to collect Sian from the airport, welcome poster in hand as well as a really useful hat. Sian has been a friend since they were teenagers, playing cricket together.
Flat sorted, friend collected, time to move on to holiday mode again.


We had booked a restaurant only to discover they weren’t serving food, so gave that a miss and walked to the South Bank, same idea as London but with more restaurants, open air free cinema and other events but best of all a huge beach complete with numerous swimming pools that has lifeguards until midnight ! What a city.

We also had a quick go on the electric scooters dotted all over the city. Fun but expensive.

The next day after repacking her car, Tali left for a 7 hour journey to Rockhampton (Rocky) which actually took 9 hours.

Sian moved to her hostel to decide what to do next and we went for a walk along the river. As it got hotter and more humid we decided to catch the City Cat which is a ferry that took us down the Brisbane river as far as Northshore Hamilton and then bought us back to South Bank.

Sunday, we left Brisbane for our trip up north……

Days 200 – 216 (Dec 18th – Jan 3rd) Brisbane to Peregian Beach and Noosa via the delights of Maleny and Steve Irwin’s Zoo

We left Brisbane for a short drive north to our next stop in Maleny, a small town located a few hundred metres up in the Blackall Mountains in the so-called Hinterland (i.e. the land beyond the coast). These mountains used to be cloaked in sub-tropical rainforest but substantial logging for cedar in the early 20th century did for most of the trees but created space for dairy cattle and fruit production. With the exception of the colonial type houses, the resulting landscape is reminiscent of Derbyshire but somewhat warmer. We chose Maleny as a stop as there are a few remnants of rainforest, notably at the Mary Caincross Scenic Reserve, restaurants and for its close proximity to the Australia Zoo, originally established by Steve Irwin’s parents but which was catapulted into the limelight by the man himself. However, Maleny proved to have a few hidden gems as well as disappointments.

Maleny itself is a well-to-do town with more estate agents than charity shops, plenty of clothes shops, cafes and local purveyors of the kind of magic stones one finds in Glastonbury as well as magic remedies prepared using secret herbs by the local aborigines. Everyone we spoke to was jolly nice but we left feeling it was all a little false and suspecting that behind the scenes there was probably some deep unpleasantness. There was, however, a very nice looking pie shop. Our hotel was outside the town, on a ridge overlooking the distant coast and down the road we could see in the other direction, over to the Glass House Mountains, the remaining cores of ancient volcanoes

Our stay was a little disrupted by the small matter of the World Cup Final between France and Argentina which, due to hugely unfavourable time zones, kicked off at 0100 on our first night. With extra time and penalties we could finally get some sleep at 4am.

Our first call the next day was Maleny Botanic Gardens and Birdworld for breakfast and the fabulous view over the mountains.

We then walked the length and breadth of the Mary Caincross Scenic Reserve well-known for hosting some special rainforest birds, notably the Noisy pita and a few rare pigeons, doves and honeyeaters as well as the Red-legged pademelon, a very small kangeroo which shuffles through the undergrowth.

Finally, we’d read about a Duck-billed platypus viewing platform along the river in Maleny so we went there for a look. Heading the wrong way we came across these peculiar growths…

..which on closer inspection proved to be Grey-headed flying foxes or fruit bats which can grow to 1kg in weight and roost hanging from trees during the day before flying off at night to find fruit.

Roosting flying fox
Dispersing at night to find fruit

As dusk approached we found the platypus viewing area. Tali had stayed in town and reported seeing one so we waited a little longer for the tell-tale signs of platypus action…

Definitely a platypus..

Day 2 was saved for the Australia Zoo. This effortlessly combines the ever-enduring allure of Steve Irwin, the attraction of seeing animals otherwise forever unseen with some serious conservation work. Probably the best bits were the saltwater crocodiles…

Crikey!

koalas..

Finally we saw a number of the most venomous snakes in Australia, and a fantastic aviary replicated the birds of the rainforest, including the elusive Noisy pitta

..and a selection of other animals, such as wombat.

Although nominally a zoo, albeit one which really makes an effort to provide adequate space for its inmates, this is far more than that, being a memorial for the work Steve Irwin did to raise the awareness of wildlife in Australia and a base upon which serious conservation work in Australia is being built. The zoo owns a huge tract of land in northern Queensland, nominally to protect the endangered cassowary but also used to further research into the tropical rainforest of the continent. Perhaps more controversial is over 100,000 acres bought in the interior of Queensland especially to save the Woma python.

Our stay in the hinterland was over, time only for a few photos of the Blackall mountains.

And a quick stop at the Mapleton Falls National Park, yet another small but stunning remnant of sub-tropical rain forest

Sound up to hear the crickets, and the odd irish-sounding chap who was there with his son/daughter..

We arrived at our rental home in Peregian Beach in good time to explore the town and the annual Peregian Beach Carols, a major event in the town best known for the sky-diving santa, for which the best vantage point was on the beach….

The excitement began to build…

…and finally, Santa appeared from the sky

A glorious day indeed.

Our rental house was 5 minutes walk from Peregian Beach, a wonderful place for a short walk into town or for swimming. The area is quite well developed in terms of holiday homes yet there is plenty of preserved forest and protected sand dunes. Peregian Beach lies between 2 different parts of the Noosa National Park, the area to the north around Noosa and the southern element just south of where we were staying. This latter section included a small area of rainforest and sand dunes just behind the beach plus the imposing Emu Mountain, accessed via the formidable Emu Mountain trek…

At a lung-busting altitude of 71 metres this proved to be no problem for ranger Tali but we did get good views of the rarely seen “prawn” clouds, indicative of good fishing, apparently…or maybe we made that bit up…

The next few days included Christmas, when we cooked a turkey which looked remarkably like a fruit bat, many walks along the beach and swims in the increasingly rough seas, our final day coinciding with some dramatic views along the coast. We were also initiated in the game of Finska, a throwing game of a wood baton and numbered blocks. Fun on the sand, impossible on grass! We all won at least once so we’re all happy.

A beautiful place. Next stop Noosaville…

Noosa is an interesting place, beautiful and very popular as an up-market holiday destination by the sea. The town has developed enormously since the days when the only activities in the area were logging and dairy farming but has been tightly controlled by the town’s inhabitants, perhaps aware of how similar places have been ruined by over-zealous development. They’ve specified a maximum permanent population (approx 60k), no high-rise buildings, no traffic lights (light pollution!) and insisted on many adjacent areas being designated as national parks. Part of the Noosa National Park extends south to Peregian beach, where we stayed before arriving in Noosa. One part of this collection is the Noosa Everglades, one of only 2 everglade systems in the world (although the definition is a bit woolly). Essentially the Noosa river rises inland only a few metres above sea level and runs slowly through the landscape before it encounters the tidal waters near the sea at Noosa. The slow moving current of fresh water has created a labyrinth of waterways reminiscent of the Florida Everglades. The park was actually a cattle farm until the 1960s, showing how quickly the bush takes over the land in this part of the world. Sadly, however, the logging which occurred prior to the farm being established took out many of the larger tree species and now there is an imbalance, with too many tea trees. These acidify the water, making it impossible for anything but a couple of fish species to live. As a result the dolphins and dugong which used to live there no longer do so.

We took a boat out and toured round the area with a very knowledgeable guide. It is a beautiful area and well worth a visit.

Day 2 was a surf lesson for Andy and Tali on North Shore, a beautiful beach 4kms from our house that took nearly an hour to drive to as we needed to wend our way through Hastings Street, the most popular place in Noosa if you like cafes and shops. Finding a parking spot in Noosa Forest took awhile but they managed to get to their lesson on time.

Settling down on the beach to watch them and many other novice surfers soon had me counting how many seconds good surfers could stay upright. 10 seconds was the best. These were serious surfers back on the high rollers waiting for that perfect wave. Seems to me to be a lot of waiting around for a quick thrill!

Andy and Tali were learning in the waves as they broke onshore. Still serious waves that you could try and stand up on your board with varying degrees of success by them both. They finished their lesson exhausted and covered in friction burns. The sea can be a cruel place!

It looked incredibly tiring and not my or their idea of a beginners beach.

Tali in double speed

There appears to be an error in this post, as there are no photos or videos of Andy! I wonder who has the ultimate editing rights?

Day 3 was snorkelling…by every parameter this was a trip mis-sold. We were promised “Snorkel the beautiful waters off the Sunshine Coast from Noosa’s newest purpose built vessel, the Noosa Wave. Dolphins, turtles, rays and tropical fish are just some of the things you may encounter while diving on Noosa Head National Park” but this was not to be as the weather prevented the boat from leaving the river

…so river snorkelling it was…

Firstly we disembarked at the mouth of the river as the tide started to turn and we were slowly swept inland along the shore, supposedly picking out fish living amongst the weeds and rocks of the shoreline, in water thick with sediment. We’d been warned to keep away from rocks and tree trunks in the water but this didn’t stop a couple of other people on the trip from returning with bleeding torsos and extremities, amply cared for by nurse Helen in her role as observer. Our second trip was to the mangroves, which were associated with huge numbers of nursery fish.

Overall it was good fun but would have been much better if we’d seen more and had the opportunity to visit the coastline of the national park.

New Years Eve involved a morning fishing trip which resulted in quite a few caught fish, all released for being undersize. The skipper was born in Noosa and had seen the town develop from a friendly seaside tourist destination to one where new money was starting to dominate the property market. Houses along the river front (even the “shitty” ones, as he put it) were going for millions whereas some of the better properties, bought for up to $ 20 million prior to COVID, were now going for twice or three times that, impacting house prices for all the locals and especially the people needed to work in the cafes, restaurants and bars.

Having failed, we resorted to the local fish market, buying a red snapper and some Morten Bay Bugs for our New Year dinner.

Followed by fireworks in the town at 9pm so the children could see them. At our vantage point we met a radiologist who often worked out in Rockhampton and Woorabinda and provided a less sanitised overview of both places for Tali’s benefit. Finally we saw 2023 in, an hour after watching the fireworks in Sydney on the tv.

The biggest section of the Noosa National Park is Noosa Heads, a large headland across which a number of trails pass through the rainforest and overlook some wild beaches. The problem is access as the main car park is off Hastings Street, the prime shopping area and thoroughfare to the north facing beaches and the national park trailhead. The only other access point is to park on a side road on the south side of the park and walk from there on the Alexandria Bay walk through the forest.

At the end of trail is a massive beach

Noosa is a glorious place, comprising a number of different small towns and beaches and it’s clearly a very popular destination. Probably best visited in the winter…

We headed back to Brisbane having spent an enjoyable Christmas and New Year in lovely weather and fantastic surroundings. Now it was time to do the parenting thing and help Tali with her move out to Rocky..

Days 196 – 200 (Dec 14th – Dec 18th) Brisbane

We drove to Brisbane about a 3 hour journey. A short stop produced our 1st “sign” of the dangers lurking in Australia. Andy went in search but was unlucky or lucky depending how you look at it.

We arrived in Brisbane, a sunny modern city with lots of construction ongoing as preparation for the 2032 Olympics. Tali’s flat is a 3 floor Art Deco building, dwarfed in its surroundings by skyscrapers either already built or in the process of construction. She has coped with the constant noise and dust for most of the last year as it is in such a great location. Dark wood inside, it is always cool. A nice place to live but I’m sure she’ll be glad to move out and hopefully get a bit of peace!

Tali has lived in Brisbane since Jan 2022 and has got to know the city well. Her flat is right in the centre of South Brisbane, giving her easy access to all the central parts of the city. Day 1 she took us out to breakfast at one of the many pavement cafes in the city, many of which cater for those with more eclectic tastes in food. The people on the table next to us were having a hissy fit as an Australian ibis poked around their feet looking for scraps.

This was followed by a bus ride, always Helen’s favoured means of transport, and a tour round the University of Queensland campus, a beautiful space which was much damaged by the flooding that occurred soon after she moved in. This particular week was one for graduations so each day we came across parties of students, clutching flowers, dressed in their gowns, being escorted by proud parents. Hopefully we’ll be back in exactly 2 years to be those proud parents!

It was very hot, so to cool down we’d go into one of the university buildings which are all very well air-conditioned.

Returning to the city we wandered around the South Bank and main theatre and sampling one of the witty-named local beers.

Brisbane seems to have a young population: every space, bar, cafe and restaurant is buzzing, full of people enjoying the outdoor lifestyle. Plans for the city include many more complexes with yet more restaurants and bars, all built in a very sympathetic way, with lots of trees and shade to protect from the searing sun. Yet try and get a late dinner and you run into trouble as many restaurants close at 8 or 9, so advance planning is a useful technique.

Day 2 was car buying day so nothing to report except that it was very hot and we got one, so Tali can safely embark on her rural studies

Day 3 Tali took me to one of, if not the poshest bakeries in town, Lune

This was followed by a trek over the river to the CBD to obtain a Queensland driving licence for Tali and then a gentle stroll round the whole of the South Bank, a truly remarkable area set aside for Brisbane residents and tourists, perhaps because the area is very prone to flooding and also it keeps people out of the river, home to Bull sharks, not one of the most benevolent of the shark species. Highlights include the river walk and massive building projects.

The artificial beach

Shaded areas set aside where people can congregate and use free BBQ facilities

And gardens growing herbs and vegetables, some of which are made available for people to use

That evening we caught the bus up river to Felons brewery, a huge area set aside for the pursuit of outdoor beer drinking and then on to our 1st steak in an old style pub, which was good. Finished the evening with a walk back along the south bank to our hotel.

One of the reasons to be in Brisbane was so Tali could finish packing to move to Rockhampton for the next year and to do boring stuff such as getting rid of unwanted items. To supplement this, we decided to go to the theatre, something a student can’t really afford, so Tali and I went to a matinee of Mary Poppins the musical, leaving Andy to do his own boring admin! Not an Aussie accent in the cast, it was a great performance. We have booked to see another show in early January when we come back to finish her packing.

On the last evening, we left her to meet with one of her friends and we ate at our hotel whose restaurant was no5 on trip advisor out of over 3,000+ but not sure why!

Days 189 – 196 (Dec 7th – Dec 14th) Up the east Australian coast from Sydney to Brisbane: Forster and Yamba

Collecting a hire car was easy enough but Tali being over 25 made being able to add her to the insurance a real bonus, so we split the driving up to Forster, a place Tali had got to know from her trip down a few days back. We stayed in an apartment complex with a tiny bit of a sea view but within walking distance of all the amenities of Forster. Tali took us on a walk along along the beautiful, if windy coast followed by a tour of the shopping street

On our last day we took a boat trip on the huge expanse of tidal lake behind Forster, primarily Wallis lake and Island. We had several dolphin sightings (inshore bottlenose dolphins), lots of pelicans and a couple of White-bellied sea eagles before returning to shore.

That afternoon we crossed the bridge to view 9 mile beach, a totally unspoilt section of coastline known for its good surfing but on the southern end you’ll find Tuncurry Rockpool, an enclosed swimming area nestled into the breakwater.

Presumably sharks are an issue here

That evening we went to the Kings Valley Eqyptian restaurant in Forster. The menu was middle-eastern, as you’d imagine, the egyptian element being provided by a few statues of pharoahs and an ambience lifted “directly from Egypt itself”. It was pretty good but the ambience thing needs a bit of work!

380 km up the coast is the up and coming town of Yamba, our next stop. We’d booked at a holiday resort within a mile or so of the town proper but on the seafront with easy access to the lighthouse and a couple of surfing beaches. On day 1 I walked to the lighthouse, via a very lively local market

The Aussies start early to avoid the heat so the place was busy already, with surfers, BBQs, shoppers, walkers and cyclists all out and about. As you might expect this is a very outdoor culture, even the tents are works of art in all the gadgets they bring with them to make living outside that bit much more comfortable. That afternoon we reverted to Butlins mode and played pool in the clubhouse, before returning for real home-cooked food on the BBQ, via the beach and hundreds, if not thousands of Soldier crabs

Day 2 Tali and I drove out to Iluka Nature Reserve and the rainforest walking trail, which starts in the town and ends on Iluka point, a great lookout over the east coast. In between is a section of rainforest which had a number of fascinating and new birds for our Aussie list. On the way there we stopped at Woody Head, location of a campsite in the Bundjalung National Park where Tali camped during her mid semester break. It is a stunning place and for a while I was sufficiently won-over to start considering taking up camping in Australia…….

Within minutes of returning to the apartment a few White-throated needletails flew over. These are swifts by any other name and are rarely seen low down, preferring to feed much higher up. However, low pressure preceding an imminent storm may well have forced their prey lower, a phenomenon which also occurs in the UK with our Swifts. There are only 3 Swift species in Australia, all of which breed in Queensland so just 2 remaining to be spotted.The approaching storm offered the possibility of interesting photo opportunities so we headed up to the lighthouse to find a couple of kangaroos strutting around the place.

At the headland, in stormy seas we watched teenagers jumping off the rocks, holding our breathes until we saw them resurface. I’m glad Tali didn’t want a go! There were surfers on several of the small beaches, some with lifeguards present (until 5pm clocking off time), after which the beaches emptied.

Day 3 we caught the ferry to Iluka, a 40 minute trip. We were entertained by the ferryman’s help, telling us of tales of having to kiss the mermaid in the harbour there or experience bad luck.

He pointed out a sunken boat to prove his point! It was an incredibly hot day so we strolled along the sea walk to the small town, just generally enjoying the sights and several species of birds in the surrounding rainforest. A bit of shopping by Andy and Tali and we returned on the ferry. In the evening, we were “forced” to drive to Yamba Tavern, a 5 minute drive away for dinner as everywhere else was closed. It was typical fast food but with a great view of the river.

Tomorrow it was time to move on to Brisbane.

Days 185 – 188 (Dec 3rd – Dec 6th) At sea and Australia. Sydney

The final day at sea and the last Ventures appearance on deck 7 coincided with a constant stream of White-capped albatross flying alongside the ship.

We then had the last trivia, thankfully finishing a close 2nd, so avoiding yet more Seabourn tat, and the last Grand Brunch….followed by packing and usual logistical problem solving, such as how to get nearly full bottles of drink off the ship and into our Sydney hotel room.
The last show by the entertainment team was a repeat but one of the best with jolly, popular newish songs and dances. Not long now!

The 2nd and last Grand Bruch with Corrie, Theresa, John and the 3 singers, Ellie, Rachel & Matt

Our last day on board started with sunshine and warmth as we headed up the east coast of Australia towards Sydney. Arriving at the mouth of the harbour at 10am we could see the city in the distance. At the Gala night the captain had provided some statistics on our trip, all in the past 65 days…:

35 kg caviar

18800 bottles of champagne

13800 nautical miles

Sydney is the capital of New South Wales and one of Australia’s largest cities. Indigenous Australians have inhabited the Sydney area for at least 30,000 years, and it remains one of the richest in Australia in terms of Aboriginal archaeological sites. In 1770, during his first Pacific voyage, Lieutenant James Cook landed at Sydney, where he claimed possession of the east coast of Australia for the British Crown, naming it “New South Wales”. In 1788, the first fleet of convicts, led by Arthur Phillip, arrived in Botany Bay to found Sydney as a British penal colony, the first European settlement in Australia. Phillip named the city in recognition of Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney. Penal transportation ended soon after Sydney was incorporated as a city in 1842. A gold rush occurred in the colony in 1851 and over the next century, Sydney transformed from a colonial outpost into a major global cultural and economic city. After World War II, it experienced mass migration and became one of the most multicultural cities in the world. Sydney has hosted major international events such as the 2000 Summer Olympics. The city is among the top fifteen most-visited cities in the world.

Sailing into Sydney was quite an emotional experience (for your correspondents anyway) as it combined reuniting with Tali after nearly 12 months, the end of the first leg of our journey to the opposite end of the world and what has to be one of the most iconic skylines on the planet. We sailed past Sydney Harbour National Park and entered the harbour proper as views of Sydney Harbour bridge and the Opera House came nearer and nearer.

Sadly we didn’t dock in the centre of Sydney but at some industrial harbour a few miles out, something which didn’t go down too well with the monied guests on board the ship, many of whom had spent substantial sums to sail to Sydney. Despite this, intrepid Tali had found a way into the port, blagged a drink at the staff cafe and was there waiting for us. She came on board, met a few of our fellow travellers, enjoyed lunch at the patio and then we took the bus shuttle to Sydney proper, for a tour around the harbour and Opera House.

That night we ate at a Middle-Eastern fast food place just down the road from the hotel. We headed back onboard for the final night before being officially allowed to disembark. The next morning we sailed through customs, they weren’t interested in marmite or ryvita and caught a taxi to our hotel in the centre, where Tali was waiting for us.

She had been busy, locating the nursing home Gordon Travis ( 2nd cousin, this time on mothers side) had been in when she’d arrived last year. Due to COVID, she was unable to visit him. With trepidation, we rang the home to see if he was still there and discovered he was. Being close we decided to visit immediately and after arriving and seeking his wish to see us, plus waiting for the results of our rapid covid antigen tests, I was able to see Gordon for the 1st time since 1986. His first words to me were “you’re not Helen, you’re twice the size!” How to make someone feel good! We had a quick visit before lunch and then I returned and spent a lovely hour chatting but mostly listening to Gordon reminiscing about my mum, his travels around the world (4 times), his piano playing at various hotels and restaurants in Sydney, the time myself and friend Debi had visited him ( he remembered Debi for some reason) whilst backpacking around Australia in 1986. He has the most amazing recall of facts about cricket and football and is a Spurs supporter.

As we were leaving he told us more about the last place he worked, the famous Alfredos in the centre of Sydney. We called, booked a table and turned up to ask if Alfredo (the very same..) was there. He was and joined us for a few minutes as he described how he and Gordon were such good friends but he’d not been able to see him since COVID. He promised to go and see him now it was possible and thanked us for dropping in. Later on he came back with 3 limoncellos at the end of a very enjoyable meal.

The next morning we all went to buy Tilley hats, essential for protection from the hot sun

The next morning our tour guide took us our to Watson Bay, a delightful suburb of Sydney and part of the aforementioned national park, reached by a very efficient ferry service from Sydney harbour

Our stay in Sydney was over, next challenge, the east coast to Brisbane.

Days 182 – 184 (Nov 30th – Dec 2nd) At sea and Australia. Phillip Island and Melbourne

Our day at sea saw us still sailing up the east coast of Tasmania through deep waters but as we approached the northern tip where the Bass Strait separates the island state of Tasmania from the Australian mainland the average depth decreases to 60 m (200 ft) and it is at this point where marine wildlife is most often found as nutrient-rich deep water is forced into the shallows. The Bass Strait is notoriously rough due to the the strong currents between the Antarctic-driven southeast portions of the Indian Ocean and the Tasman Sea’s Pacific Ocean waters. The shipwrecks on the Tasmanian and Victorian coastlines number in the hundreds, although stronger metal ships and modern marine navigation have greatly reduced the danger. Many vessels have disappeared without a trace or left scant evidence of their passing. Despite myths and legends of piracy, wrecking and alleged supernatural phenomena akin to those of the Bermuda Triangle, such disappearances can be invariably ascribed to treacherous combinations of wind and sea conditions, and the numerous semi-submerged rocks and reefs within the Straits. As we passed through into the strait, there were several whale sightings, a pod of dolphins followed us for some time and Short-tailed shearwaters became increasingly evident.

The ventures team have been a positive force onboard and have contributed significantly to this trip being a success (for us at least). On this morning they were filming for their blog

The same day a Grand Gala dinner was arranged in the evening. We were all invited to hosted tables and music was provided by the cast

Steven (ex-truck driver), Rachel, Ellie & Matt

We were sat with 2 other couples, one from Argentina & Germany and the others from Chile. The Argentinian lady was delightful, if a little snooty, as she agreed with me about the merits of the tango but complained about the deckchairs making a noise on the ceiling of the “Owners Suite” in the morning, a first world problem if ever there was one!. For reference the owners suites are extremely expensive.

Phillip Island, connected to the mainland by a bridge, 11/2 hours drive from Melbourne, turned out to be our last stop of beauty and adventure before hitting the mainland.

The tender was a good 20 minute ride into the jetty due to low tides and sea depth. On the way, we spotted Australian pelicans, which have much longer and thinner beaks. On arrival we were greeted with a jazz concert from the local Rotary club. There was a shuttle bus to Cowes, the nearest large town and you could go onwards to Ventnor. Were we on the Isle of Wight by mistake? The scenery and gardens of the houses were very British but no, we were on another idyllic island and chose to walk to the headland and the famous wetlands, looking for waders after another chance to eat off the boat presented itself and an enjoyable and tasty lunch was had.

Walking up to the headland we spotted a strange little animal scuffling around in the grass, a mixture between a hedgehog and a porcupine. We were later told it was an Echidna or spiny anteater.

Walking back through the park, we were treated to the very noisy Galahs, a grey and pink parrot that abound all over Australia and ticked off a few more Aussie bird species

That evening was the long-awaited sunset walk to a Short-tailed shearwater breeding colony on Cape Woolamai. Guided by Graham, a naturalist who is a ranger for Phillip Island Nature Parks, and who has worked on the colony for many years, we had a superb trip out. Firstly, walking along the pristine beach towards the headland

Carefully monitored by the local wallabies

We started coming across eggs randomly strewn across the landscape

These are shearwater eggs. They are quite large and are found because inexperienced shearwaters arrive back on land, can’t make their burrows in time and lay the eggs, undoubtedly with a great sigh of relief. Unfortunately, these are quickly picked out by gulls and by the next morning have been eaten.

As the sun starts to set, hundreds of thousands of shearwaters start to accumulate in huge rafts off-shore, waiting for it to get dark so they can safely fly to their burrows. We were all treated to a glass of champagne and settled down to wait for the spectacle to begin.

On the headland there are approximately 2 burrows per square metre, so the whole area, away from the paths which cross the headland, is a network of burrows in the sand, accompanied on occasion by the tracks left by the Copperhead snakes which predate the eggs, much to Helen’s horror…. As the sun sets, the shearwaters fly overhead and round, slowly dropping down as they pick out landmarks near their nest holes. They then drop down silently and scurry into the nest holes, from which come delighted calls as the birds are reunited with their mates, who having been egg sitting for a few days, and will be desperate to fly out to sea and feed.

Flocks building up over the sea
Getting closer
Final approach

Graham explained to us the history of this site, which used to be a poorly maintained farm and was taken over by the Nature Parks group so it could be restored to its former status. As a result the wallabies have returned in numbers and the shearwaters are maintaining their numbers. One major predator, foxes (inexplicably introduced by the English so they could go hunting…) has been eliminated but one non-native predator remains, the domestic cat. We passed the remains of a shearwater predated by a cat and these animals present a real threat to these defenceless birds. Quite incredibly, from next year it will be illegal for a domestic cat to be allowed outside. They can be housed in cages in the garden, but roaming free will be banned, punishable by a large fine. Each cat has to be tagged and neutered. The argument is that the shearwaters are a natural phenomenon and something special to Phillip Island so they should be protected.

We walked back along the beach to the light of a crescent moon, a fabulous night.

Melbourne is very close to Phillip Island and we were supposed to be arriving at 8am, ready for a tour out with the head chef buying food at the local market for the chef. These trips are very popular and we’d bagged spaces on the last one only to hear the ship couldn’t dock until 10am and the trip was cancelled.

Instead we walked into Melbourne City, past the beach

Up Bay Street, past numerous cafes, restaurants and bakeries through to an area of historically protected housing

And into the centre of Melbourne which is very modern. At this point we were lost so jumped on a tram, were helped by people until we got to a shopping centre, bought the suitcase we needed to send stuff back to the UK and returned by taxi. This is a lovely city, the people were very friendly and we’ll certainly try to make more of it on a return visit.

Apparently, sailing out of Melbourne is quite difficult as there are lots of dangerous sandbanks

so the pilot didn’t leave the ship until sunset.

Tomorrow was our last sea day, the grand trivia final and brunch for 11!

Days 176 – 181 (Nov 24th – Nov 29th) At sea and Tasmania, Australia. Hobart and Port Arthur

Thanks to the captain avoiding the worst of the weather we had 4 days at sea. Previously these have been fine, calm days with warm air and being able to sit on the rear of deck 7 all afternoon. Changes in our latitude and the weather systems might impact both of these so it was with some trepidation we recommenced sea day mode. Would the entertainment be changed?

Luckily, the first day’s highlight was returning to winning form at trivia. And, given we had time to spare, we arranged all our prizes to take a memorial photograph

Trivia Spoils

As previously stated, the food onboard is good but repetitive and we had spoken to a few others about the possibility of arranging a brunch. Breakfast onboard finishes at 10am and just occasionally it would be nice to have the chance of “a very American all day breakfast”. This presented a great opportunity for a sea day, so having asked Frederico, head of food and beverage, it was agreed to have it at lunch time on Sunday 27th. Perfect, egg, bacon and mimosas were promised and delivered in style at our table placed strategically in the midst of the restaurant. Toast, marmalade and marmite just finished it off superbly. Already the next one is planned for our final weekend but we may be expanding our presence..

The weather was too cold to sit out and increasingly rough but this did present a lot of opportunities for sea bird spotting with 4 species of albatross and a few new species including 2 species of prion, tiny little seabirds that are barely visible from deck

Fairy prion
Broad-billed prion

The 36 hours prior to landfall weren’t the most comfortable as the ship was lurching and pitching in the rough seas and high winds and these, plus the spray, made going on deck a risky business. Probably the worst bit was the banging as the ship went through turbulent waters and at night especially, this could be quite disturbing. However, seasickness there was none, prevented by a homemade remedy containing a high percentage of Jamiesons.

Arriving in Hobart, the sun was out and the sea was calm. It was so nice to see land again although the temperatures were quite low. Hobart started as a penal colony and has also enjoyed a heyday as a whaling centre in the 1830s. Today the wharfside warehouses of Salamanca Place are filled with shops and restaurants, and the settlers cottages in Battery Park are lovingly restored by proud owners. Hobart is Tasmania’s main cruise port, having Australia’s deepest harbour. The port is located on Derwent River, while the city’s background is dominated by Mount Wellington. Hobart is the country’s capital city of Tasmania, which lies approximately 240 km (150 mi) south of mainland Australia.

The city has some lovely buildings reflecting its English history and some parts look very English, including the weather on this particular day.

Hobart used to be a centre of jam-making and this is one of the buildings used back in the day

Later that evening we dined at one of the many high class eating establishments in town

Walking back we passed one of those photo opportunities begging for a witty caption

Overnight we sailed round the coast a few miles to dock at Port Arthur, a small town (500pop) and former convict settlement on the Tasman Peninsula. Port Arthur is one of Australia’s most significant heritage areas and officially Tasmania’s top tourist attraction.

Before immersing ourselves in history, we were booked on Robert Pennicott’s award-winning 3 hour coastal wilderness cruise in an area reminiscent of the Algarve or the Jurassic Coast. The wind was bitterly cold and after a short coach ride across the peninsula we were provided with windproof smocks, ginger tablets to prevent seasickness and boarded a nautical version of a saturn rocket, but without the walls or windows.

Each seat had a seatbelt and these were needed at times as we powered through the occasionally rough seas into a freezing gale. But the scenery was superb as we headed in the direction of Tasman Island, beyond which is nothing until the Antarctic.

Seals and cormorants abounded plus we saw a small pod of short-beaked common dolphins and some albatross and Australasian gannets

The Port Arthur Prison and Coal Mines are a part of the UNESCO World Heritage designation protecting the convict history of Australian settlement and were located right next to where we were dropped off. The imposing Penitentiary, the chilling Separate Prison, the 4 Convict Church, and the ruins of the coal mine community bring to life the earliest European arrivals in this land.

The prison is set in an very English-like landscape, with interesting trees and gardens

Plus quite a nice cafe, with a display which nicely summaries the Australian tendency to abbreviate everything

Tassie wines and beers were also available..

Next to the cafe was a display area plus some terminals so us Brits could check whether anyone with our surnames had been sent over as a convict

We sailed south, out of the harbour and turned east past Tasmin Island before moving north up the Tasmanian coast.

As we passed Tasman Island, huge flocks of sea birds passed down the port side and across the bow of the ship.

Another sea day beckoned, to be followed by adventures on Phillip Island..