North from Brisbane
Apr 22, 2010
|After a couple of quiet days in Brisbane, we picked up another campervan and headed north in glorious sunshine. The original idea was to get as far as Cairns, but that didn’t happen. Anyone surprised? When you head out of Brisbane northbound, things thin out very quickly. Less people, less towns, less traffic, less of everything. Except sugarcane, miles and miles, hour after hour of cane fields. The harvest is just about to start, unfortunately we won’t see it. Some of the farms are huge, they have their own railway system that runs from the farms to the processing mills on very narrow gauge track with wire sided cars. They also use trucks and the signs were everywhere about slow moving vehicles, bet they’re a bit different than the ones they use around Tepic. And millions upon millions of butterflies, they were even talking about it on the radio. It was sad to see these beautiful blue and yellow creatures plastered all over the front of our van. Some of the blue ones were over 3 inches across. Apparently the rains have had an effect on everything here from the tiniest plants on up to the larger animals. After many years of drought, the country is thriving, alive and green.
Anyway, we drove north for 3 days. We stopped off at Hervey Bay to pick up info on a tour of Fraser Island to do on the way back down, then at Rockhampton because it was a convenient place before the long stretch to Airlie Beach. Unlike the area south of Brisbane, the road up here runs mostly inland, not on the coast. Nice area but, not much to see. Once we were closer to Mackay, we started seeing evidence of damage from Cyclone Ului. Lots of bent and broken signs, downed fences and trees. Whole groups of large trees laying down pointed in the same direction, kind of eerie. But certainly not as much damage as we had expected.
Airlie Beach itself suffered very little damage on the surface. The holiday park we stayed in said they lost a few trees and a lot of leaves, but that was all. Unfortunately, the boats in the area didn’t fare as well. On the news during and just after the cyclone, we had seen repeated clips of this one poor boat being bashed onto the breakwater. She was still there when we arrived. The Anaconda II is about 80’ long and had her storm mooring break. What the news reports didn’t say was she took 2 others boats with her onto the rocks. If you look closely at the picture we posted, you’ll see the bow of a smaller boat, and another forestay with a green sail on it, between the Anaconda and the rocks. Over on the other side of the point, Shoal Harbour had a large mangrove forest where a number of boats ended up. It was hard for us to see all these lovely boats so badly damaged. Because of the storm, a number of the charter boats were out of the water being fixed or awaiting work. The charter boats left were discounting heavily and we took advantage of it. Our main reason for going to Airlie Beach was to go sailing in the Whitsunday Islands. We settled on a loved 130 foot, 3 masted schooner named Whitsunday Magic. Three days and 3 nights of luxury with someone else making all the decisions. Where we went, what we did, where we anchored for the night. The only decision we had to make was which of the 2 choices we wanted for dinner. We even got upgraded to a suite!! Fabulous! The Whitsundays are really lovely, right in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef, a short 2 hours from the mainland. Unfortunately, it started to rain off and on. Didn’t care!! We enjoyed ourselves immensely. We met some interesting people from all over Europe, another couple from Canada and a few Australians. Did some snorkeling, some hiking and a lot of just watching the world slide by. All in all, we spent 6 days in the area, 3 on the boat, 3 on land. In the town of Airlie Beach we found a Rum Bar with Pussers’ on the menu. Had to have a Painkiller, should have asked the price first. $14.50 each! YIKES!! Half our time was gone, so we didn’t even try to get to Cairns, just turned back towards Brisbane.
Once we started south, we thought we’d take a slower route back since we had 6 days left for a 3 day drive. The first day of the drive was still a long, easy drive through cane country. Once back in Rockhampton, we started serious dawdling. It took all of one day just to go 80 kms. We stopped at a Crocodile farm for a tour and lunch, 3000 crocodiles at this one farm. They raise them for both meat and the leather, so they have a nice gift shop and restaurant. Bought a couple of things and had croc burgers for lunch. No, it doesn’t taste like chicken, more like pork. Wandered down the coast to a little town called Yappoon, a Dutch couple we met at Airlie Beach had raved about the place. It was lovely, on a sunny day it would probably be spectacular, but the clouds were back. We did take a bit of a walk and stopped at the yacht club for a beer on the terrace. They had a great windbreak around the covered deck so it was very pleasant to sip a drink and watch the surfboarders roaring around.
Down the coast a little farther, we drove out to a little place calleded 1770. So named, because Cook first came ashore there in 1770. The place has nothing except a campground, a little boat ramp, and a tour boat that goes out to Lady Musgrave Island. It is the most southerly island on the Great Barrier Reef and we had seen enough brochures on it that we decided it was worth a visit. The wind had been up and they said the crossing was a bit rough, but once there it would be great. We thought, no big deal, we’ve been in rough seas before. A bit rough was an understatement, it was some of the roughest we’ve ever seen, reminded us of the Zihua to Manzanillo run. Anyway, the staff was terrific and tried to make everyone as comfortable as possible and the rest of the day as enjoyable as possible. Lady Musgrave Island is completely enclosed by a coral reef and was full of coral, fish and turtles. Once again, the weather turned on us and rained so the scenery wasn’t as spectacular as it could have been. We walked on the island and found some amazing pieces of coral that wanted desperately to go home with us but couldn’t let them. The entire reef is protected and the fine is $1700 per shell or piece of coral you get caught with. So, we took pictures of the things we’d like to have taken home. The red coral was particularly beautiful and the staff was surprised how much of it was on the beach. The Cyclone tore up quite a bit of the area and tossed it up. The trip back was less noisy and jarring because we were running with the seas but that meant some serious surfing!
The next day we drove about 150 kms to Hervey Bay, with a stop at a great town called Bundaberg. They have 2 claims to fame, Bundaberg sugar mill and Bundaberg rum distillery. Guess which one we toured? Bundaberg rum has been produced in this town since the mid 1800’s and has a great history. 96% of the rum is consumed here, 3% goes to New Zealand and 1% for the rest of the world. The only place they export it to in North America is Alberta. Why, you ask? Because all of the white oak they use for their aging vats comes from Southern Alberta. 6 ½ tons per vat and they have hundred of them. The vats hold 75,000 litres each and they are in the process of building and filling 96 new ones. They said they’ve tried to increase production before so they could export more, but the Aussies just drink more! It was an interesting tour and ended in the tasting bar with 2 drinks each. Great rum, would recommend it if you see it anywhere.
When we arrived back in Hervey Bay, our plan was to go to Fraser Island, which is a world heritage site as it is the large sand island in the world. But, once again, it was supposed to be raining off and on all day so we didn’t bother. On our way out of town, we passed a tavern with a group of people on the terrace, beer in hand. It was only 10:30 and we commented that we thought it was a bit early for beer. Not 2 minutes down the road, we ran into a police roadblock. Would you believe, breath testing at 10:30AM? Amazing, every driver was checked. First time Kim’s ever had to blow.
Our final night was spent right on the edge of Brisbane, on the beach in the lovely seaside town of Scarborough. The rain let up late in the afternoon and we got out for a nice walk along the waterfront, beautiful park area with picnic tables, great play areas and a large covered BBQ pavilion. The homes in the area are a mix of small and old and large and new, a town in transition for sure. At least here, when it rains, it’s not cold.
Thursday morning we drove in and dropped the camper back at Apollo and called a cab. We had planned on driving to Jan & John’s to drop our stuff, drive back out and take public transit but changed our mind. It was raining and the thought of a bus, then a train, then 2 more buses wasn’t that appealing.
We are back in Brisbane for the last few days of our vacation here in Australia, have to go looking for that elusive Koala, haven’t seen one yet and figure out how to get all the stuff back into the suitcases. We fly to LA on Sunday afternoon and will be back in Pheonix later than night. A couple of days there for some shopping and visiting then we’ll be back in Mazatlan the 1st of May, we think. Once back in Maz, we’ll do a final journal entry with some numbers, how many kilometers flown and drove, a few of our favourite pictures, the price of fuel and such.
Thank you all so much for joining us on this trip, we have enjoyed it very much. It is a gorgeous and varied country (what little we’ve seen of it!!) with fabulous people. If you haven’t been here, we’d encourage you to see it, it’s well worth the long flight.