So after 7 ½ hours on the Bruce Highway (great Australian name there) we finally arrived in Airlie Beach in the pitch black and torrential rain. The rain here is honestly incredible - it's so strong it even made one of the windscreen wipers come loose! We stopped en route at a garage, choosing to ignore the friendly sign saying 'we do not lend tools'. Obviously we looked pitiful enough that the gruff mechanic (whose response was 'bite me', when Roland asked him what his dog's name was) helped us fix it and didn't charge us anything. Maybe he was just charmed by Ruby...?
Next day, after some rigmarole when it turned out that we weren't actually properly booked on our sailing trip, we boarded the Anaconda III (we didn't dare ask what had happened to the first two).
We had a great time on our three days sailing around the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef. Again, we missed out on the typical white sands/ turquoise sea picture postcard experience on account of the rain, but we did have one sunny day. Besides, it's wet underwater in any case!
The coral and fish were amazing – particularly with some sunshine to light up their vibrant colours. We loved the way the fish are really curious and come right up close. It was a very special experience with a good bunch of people, but we were glad to get back onto solid (if not quite dry...) land after three days at sea. But despite some pretty rollercoaster rough weather out at sea, with stuff flying about the cabin, neither of us felt too badly sea-sick.
Once back on the mainland, we decided to stay local for the next couple of nights as the forecast had improved (typical!) and so we had two lovely hot sunny days in Bowen, about an hour away from Airlie Beach.
Bowen is a relaxed seaside resort with some pretty bays and coves, but since it's jellyfish season, we mainly stayed at our lovely campsite pool (one lilo purchased). Really nice to soak up some proper Aussie sunshine – this was more what we had in mind! The sun is so intense but I must have finally grown up as I'm being very sensible and have managed to avoid getting burnt.
Before leaving Bowen, we visited its 'Big Mango', which is pretty much exactly as the name suggests. It's one of several 'big' things in Australia, and apparently cost $90,000 to 'design' (umm?) and build. The end result is a little bit like a GSCE art project and doesn't even look especially mango-like. Anyway, of course we took the obligatory photo.
From there we headed back South (the weather was dodgy further North so we decided to skip Cairns) to Bundaberg, via a night stop in Rockhampton.
Bundaberg is famous for its rum distillery (the whole area is full of sugar cane, and even has a sugar cane train) but we skipped that in favour of going to visit a marine turtle rookery.
We had a really special evening at a turtle conservation site at Mon Repos ('my rest' in French) beach. We were lucky and didn't have to wait too long before a loggerhead turtle hauled itself up the beach to lay her eggs.
It's an amazing thing to watch and we felt really privileged. As our giudebook says, you almost expect the hushed tones of David Attenborough to provide the voiceover. First, the turtle digs an egg chamber with her back flippers. It has to be quite deep to protect from predators so it looks like rather gruelling work. Then, without being too graphic, is the egg laying itself. Suffice to say, they're like ping pong balls popping out.
It so happened that our turtle had laid her eggs too close to the shore, where they risked being washed away and, since turtles are endangered, the eggs needed to be relocated to a safer place further up the beach. Roland was able to help carefully transport a couple of the (93) eggs. Once the mother has laid her eggs, she doesn't ever return to them so it's not a problem that they're moved from the original site she chose.
The whole thing is very sensitively handled; you're only allowed to take photos at certain times, and not get too close etc so the turtle isn't disturbed. The conservation project people take measurements and make notes about each turtle they see – ours came in at a hefty 90cm long, she was certainly a large lady, and they estimate she'd weigh in the region of 90kg.
What's incredible is that, from their tracking, they can monitor that turtles that were born at Mon Repos come back there 30-odd years later to lay their own eggs (having travelled as far as South America in between). Something to do with having the earth's magnetic field imprinted in their brains as they make their first scurry down to sea as hatchlings.
From Bundaberg, we headed further South to Noosa – a really nice, chilled beach resort where we had three days of glorious sunshine - that's more the ticket!! Camped at a great place with a huge pool so took full advantage of that. Thankfully, we'd kept a close eye on the forecast and had decided to go for bricks and mortar accommodation for last night. Good job, as the rain was of biblical proportions and I think we'd have woken up sever miles downstream in our tent!
Today, we're off to a pub/ hotel in the outback (a tiny place called Kin Kin) which we'd read about in The Observer back home, to hang out with the locals for a hog roast and live music.
Hope all good back home and that you're all enjoying the festive season – we're hearing more and more Christmas songs and seeing Christmas lights etc but it just feels wrong when everyone's wandering around in shorts and flip flops (or 'thongs' as they insist on calling them here)!
Finally: A very happy birthday to Janet who's just arrived in Texas for a very well-deserved holiday – hope you all have a lovely time.
Take care, lots of love
Helene and Roland xxx