Friday, August 20, 2010
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Sunday, August 08, 2010
Aug. 8th Sunday. We were on the road by 9am and filled up the tank in the morning. Our milage has been about 17.4 kilometers/Liter which works out to right around 40mph. Not too shabby. We detoured about 55k to Agnes Waters and the Town of 1770 situated on Round Hill just East of Miriam Vale.
The Town of 1770 is the historical site of Captain Cooks second landing in Australia and his first ever landing in Queensland. Bustard Bay, so named because Cook shot and ate a Bustard Bird there and claimed it the best meal he had had since leaving England, is a maze of sand bars with a large tidal range. We found a concrete and stone monument to Cook on Round Hill with a plaque. My parents gave me a book before leaving for the Pacific called “Blue Lattitudes,"by Tony Horwitz in which the author, a self proclaimed, Cook aficionado travels to many of the places that Cook made landfall across the pacific including in Australia and fills his chapters with personal accounts as well as interesting journal excerpts from Cooks personal journal while painting a picture of what a bad ass Cook really was. It was very interesting following the book as we sailed across stopping in many of the same islands (Tahiti, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, and now Australia) and being in many of the same places where Cook made landfall for the first time, sometimes as the first European ever to visit! Very mind blowing.
A sign indicating beach access drew us to the water and after checking out the surf (there wasn't much) Will was keen on getting out the recently aquired boogy board and taking it for a spin. The water was pretty cold and I wasn’t much interested in donning the wetsuit for some small fry waves but Will was gung ho. We’re looking forward to some bigger waves on the Sunshine Coast in a few days however.
It was a bumpy road to Bundaberg and entering the town the first thing we saw was none other than an AVIATION MUSEUM! What are the odds. The museum, called the “Hinkler Hall of Aviation”, is dedicated to Bert Hinkler who grew up in Bundaberg and is famous in Australia for his solo nonstop flights back in the early days of aviation. The museum is actually a state of the art facility just opened in 2008 with all manner of flight simulators, interactive touch screens and theatres. That’s what the nice lady at the counter told us at least. It was 25 bucks a person and they were closing in a half hour so we asked about campsites in the area instead. Oh well.
We were told about a great free campsite called “Sharon Gorge” just outside of Bundaberg on the way to Gin Gin. We were surprised when she said it was free with bathrooms and water. Maybe we’re missing something here. Hmmm
On the way out of town we got our pictures with Bundaberg’s Giant Barrel and Bundaberg Rum Bottle at the Bundaberg Rum Distillery (too late in the day for a rum tour). We filled up on gas and found FREE WIFI! at a shell station which kept us until dark checking email and downloading more maps. We planned to return in the morning to update the blog. Traveling in a “Land Boat” does not solve the internet problem it seems. Wifi is still something we have to hunt out and we never know where our next “fix” will come from.
We made it to Shannon Nature park and low and behold a wonderful sign greeted us “Free 24 hour Camping”…”Overnight Stays ONLY” we had found the promised land!!! Were there other places like this we wondered?
Another cold night followed…BUT…. Having only two fleece blankets and a pillow to my name for sleeping, this time I went all out. Fleece pants, jeans, long sleeve fleece shirt, t-shirt, fleece jacket, socks and shoes ON. Fleece hat check. I had wetsuit booties with me but they were a little damp. But I did have my foulie pants and jacket. They were thick and WARM and I slept in them all night. I wrapped my feet in a blanket and used the other over top of me. Success, no cold feet and a warm night. Australia seems to have almost no atmosphere since as soon as the sun goes down the temperature plummets and in the morning at soon as it comes up it’s back to a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops.
In the morning we rolled over to upload posts (like this one) and made a major leap in camping technology with the discovery of a website called OZcamp that has a downloadable GPS coordinate file of all the free campsites in Australia!!! We are now equipped with over 300 free campsites within our grasp. No more sketchy nights at highway pull offs for us we hope.
Aug. 7th Saturday. If your wondering why we haven’t been killed yet, well you’re not alone, we wonder the same thing on an almost hourly basis. Australia is so far the wildest and awesomest place I’ve been in my travels and what a great way to end my trip before coming home. The odds are certainly against us. The worlds top 10 deadly snakes, poisonous spiders, salt water crocs, driving on the wrong side of the road, highway roundabouts, kangaroo strikes, and nothing but our tiny car to get us across hundreds of miles of scorched grassland and dried out floodways.
Our current hypothesis is that it is our combined experience and skills that have given us an above average “survivability rating” here in Australia’s unforgiving outback. Will is one of the most easily distracted and forgetful people I have ever met. However, with his I-phone (when he isn’t looking for it) he is nearly invincible in most normal places and combined with his friendly nature, he has been successful in communicating with the locals who have been very helpful and sociable. With my outdoor skills and mechanical know how I have been successful in keeping our old car running (knock on wood) and keeping Will on the right, that is…correct side of the road. Having been cooped up in a tiny boat for days on end with nothing to see but water we have had no trouble adapting to living out of our “Land Boat” for a couple of weeks. Driving down the road in Australia with new towns popping up in front of us every couple of hours is still a great novelty.
We passed through Mackay and continued along a coastal road to "The Caves" and a sign on the side of the road advertising Crab Sangas. Well, we had to figure out what that was and check out the caves if possible so we stopped. While Will went to unlock the crabby mystery I stood in awe at the worlds largest crab pot...until proven otherwise. It turns out that a Crab Sanga (pronounced Zanga, with an Aussy accent) is a crab sandwich with about a full kilo of fresh crab meat with just enough bread to keep it from falling apart. Delicious. While the pictures of the Capricorn Caves looked interesting, we decided we saw enough of them in the excellent cave history section and got back on the road headed for Rockhampton.
The town of Rockhampton or "Rocky" as it is called had tons to do. Luckily we stopped at an information office. There was an electric tram museum, a free zoo and botanical gardens, various historical sites, shopping malls, a huge swap meet going on at the fairgrounds, and OH YEAH the Tropic of Capricorn! We headed for the swap meet first. I thought we might find a cheap car stereo (which we were lacking) and Will was looking for possibly a flashlight. At the gate we learned that it was 4 dollars a person and I was ready to say forget it. We decided to flip a coin. Heads we go in. Heads it was. In we went. It was a good experience and we left with a FREE radio and...a boogy board. Yes thats right we have a boogy board now. Must be fate.
Afterward, we hit up the free zoo and managed to arrive in time to watch a trainer feed two chimpanzees (aged 38 and 40) a bowl of yogurt, which they ate with their spoons, and a juice box (which they call poppers here) which they drank WITH THE STRAW! very impressive. We saw kangaroos, an Emu, Dingos, Lorakeets, Alligators and Koalas. We even got to pet a Koala. Over the Bruce Highway they have installed what they call Fauna Bridges over the road that connect sections of forest specifically designed for tree dwelling animals to be able to cross the road without coming down from the trees! Now that's cool. There are rumors of large snakes hiding in the rope bridges waiting for an easy meal but we suspect cars do a lot more damage.
On our way out of town we stopped at the monument indicating the location of the intersection of the Tropic of Capricorn for a photo. Back on the road, we saw a sign for camping and pulled off at what looked like a regular gas station. To our surprise however, there was an RV camping area behind the building with toilets and shower facilities to boot. We went inside and got a key to the showers and paid 12 dollars for a place to set up the tent for the night. Is this the answer to the camping problem, seems like a pretty good deal...the saga continues. We cooked up some pasta for dinner and got some sleep.
One thing we can’t help but notice is the incredible Australian road signage. While Australians might have some of the most wild outback around, they certainly don’t beat around the bush when it comes to driver safety at least where signs are concerned. Signs like…”No seatbelt, No Chance”…”Pull over if sleepy”…”Tired Drivers Die”...”Pull over Mate, your eyes are shot”…and…”Driver Fatigue Crash Zone, next 15 kilometers” line the monotonous highway though dry grasslands and creek beds. Rest stops are designed for just that. We figured that any official who didn’t like us camping at a rest stop couldn’t argue with us too much if we told them we had stopped to sleep because we were too tired to drive.
Australians also seem to love to put up signs indicating warnings or things that you can’t do in an area. Warning, Crocodiles live in these waters. Caution, Cassowaries utilize this land. Keep out of water, Marine stingers present. One sign we saw warned about box jellyfish and gave simple instructions on what to do with a victim of a sting and reassuring you that most victims recover and that you should not stop resuscitation after calling for medical help. Well that’s reassuring!
Aug. 6th Friday. After filling up we detoured out to Mission Beach. This was recommended to us as one of the best beaches so naturally we decided to have a look. It is also one of the best places to spot a wild Cassowary as the land behind it is a protected sanctuary for the large indigenous flightless bird. We have yet to spot one.
We got there and both agreed that it was indeed a very very nice beach and also that we weren’t really interested in swimming or sunbathing so we moved on. We also realized that we have seen some of the nicest beaches the world has to offer by now and perhaps we will maybe pass up the next one. From beach to mountain town all in spitting distance is pretty much how the next few hundreds miles went. We traveled down the Bruce Highway though floodway roads that are regularly underwater in the rainy season. There are even meter sticks on the side of the road to indicate to drivers how deep the water is over the road! Those snorkels sticking out of peoples hoods aren’t just for show. Realizing that our tiny car is really only useful in these parts for certain months out of the year kind of helps put into perspective how gnarly Australia is. And this is a major highway!
Our next stop was Tully. The town of Tully is a small one situated on a slanting hill (good thing) and adjacent to a large sugar cane factory. Train tracks and small trains for transporting the cane dominate the landscape and we’ve probably driven over at least a hundred rail road crossings. Most of them with signs, watch for trains. Tully is special because it is one of the wettest towns in all of Australia with an average annual rainfall of something like 5 meters. A large fiberglass Gumboot (rubber boot) with a spiral staircase and lookout platform inside was erected outside of town. The tourist trap stands at a whopping 7 meters high which is the height of the highest recorded annual rainfall. On the inside of the boot are photographs of various parts of town under 1, 2, or 3 meters or so of water. Lucky for us, it is August and our stay in Tully was a dry one.
Ingham came into view and we stopped at the Tyto Wetlands information center. A very helpful woman helped us in our search for a nearby national park where we might camp for the night. It was almost noon and the site was quite a ways away. We stood in the wonderfully decorated building with informative exhibits on the flora and fauna of the wetlands all around us and rows and rows of brochures and pamphlets, maps and flyers for all the different activities, nature trails, hiking routes, waterfalls, beaches, mountain climbs, and animal sanctuaries that we could visit. Overloaded with possibilities for how to spend the rest of our day, we had to make a tough decision. In the end we decided to press on toward Townsville and pass up the 55 kilometer detour out West to some waterfall. Some waterfall was in fact Wallaman Falls, the highest waterfall in the southern hemisphere and the 3rd highest in the word at 305meters, according to its excellent brochure. But the last 18k indicated that a four wheel drive vehicle was recommended. What that really means is that if you want to get there, you had better have 4 wheel drive and not a refrigerator with 4 inches of ground clearance. I told Will that I hope to never have to pass on the 3rd highest, largest, longest, oldest or any other adjective whatever ever again. I marked Wallaman falls down on the list for my next trip to Australia.
We blasted through Townsville stopping only to admire the sailboats moored in the river and kept on going. One last detour as the sun started going down was to the top of a large hill with a steep drive but an amazing view from the top of farm land as far as the eye could see. 30 miles or more of farm plots with mountains in the far far distance and a view of the pacific to the east. A compass plate at the summit indicated the great circle bearings and distances for various other major world cities or ports.
We finally stopped to use a payphone after we were near where we thought the national park campground was only to find that we were off by about 60 km due to the poor detail on our road map and since we were both pretty tired, we just pulled off at the next “rest stop” to camp. Of course as luck would have it, the one we came across had a large sign. “No camping…No Overnight stays…No Tents…Penalties Apply”. Odd we though considering that signs on the road we had seen tell you to “pull over if sleepy”, and “take a rest and refresh”. Figuring that we were pretty well in the middle of nowhere still 20 k from the next town we pitched our tent anyway, in the dark, way in the back behind some trees. We set the alarm for 5:30am so we could be packed up before first light and went to bed. A cold cold night followed. Our coldest since leaving Cairns in fact but we suffered through the cold and highway noise and managed another free campsite. At least we tried.
This was the front page headline in the Cairns Post newspaper which greeted us in a small gas station outside of Mission Beach. The article addressed increasing concern for illegal camping in Cairns and noted that it is also a problem in Townsville and Mackay. Ironically the volunteer town council members who have been patrolling the areas frequented by illegal backpacker/campers call themselves the “DAWN PARTOL”. If you don’t know why that is ironic, turn the page and read back into this blog to catch up! They seek out illegally parked campervans and tents and request that sleeping campers move on and inform them that they are breaking the law. While they don’t have the authority to move people on, they seem to help deter repeat offenders according to the article. Also mentioned, police officers are powerless to challenge illegal camping on certain types of land noting that most people are pulled up by the side of the road or in a public car park.
It’s a complicated situation since Australia’s east coast beach towns are currently hurting with low tourist numbers. They don’t want to drive people away but at the same time they don’t want anyone breaking the law. While technically illegal camping can be punished with a fine up to 500 dollars or even vehicle confiscation, Cairn’s council thinks that handing out warnings and notices are the best plan of attack given the large number of offenders. In July they gave out 600 warnings (like the one we got outside of Mossman) mostly to illegal beach campers and 3500 notices have been given out this year alone. Yes there are RV and caravan “camping” parks but many times they are full up. Anyway, college aged German, French, and even American backpackers/campers would more likely eat road-kill than pay 25-30 bucks a night on such lodging.
Public opinion is divided, some say that due to the tourist slump, backpacking visitors travelling on the cheap should be allowed to camp in public as long as they are in a safe place and are not an eyesore with cloths lines hanging up and such. Others see it as an untapped source of revenue and suggest a nominal fee for sleeping in a parking lot in a campervan in the heart of Cairns and other cities. Seems to me that a little planning by the cities and some friendly looking, “cheap tent camping for backpackers” sign would be a big hit and help draw visitors in to see some of the local tourist attractions. It takes some work to find the tent camping sites and phone in a reservation but we are at least doing our best to obey the law and camp in designated areas.
Aug 5th, Thursday. We got a late start today from Cairns after a rough night out at the pub with our friend Alan Witt who just flew in to join up with Eye of the World. As the saying goes, a sailor would sooner part with his life than with his grog, and despite being jetlagged a whole day and a half Alan was still up for all you can drink happy hour.
While recovering from Cairns nightlife Will downloaded some useful maps onto his I-phone which has proven to be an invaluable tool for adventuring. It serves as a GPS, internet device, calculator, dictionary, atlas, compass, the list goes on. It’s kind of like the electronic version of a Swiss army knife. As we left Cairns, finally headed north, we slowly made our way away from the rainforest, the wet tropics region, and into miles and miles of sugar cane fields and low lying floodways.
We passed through Gordonvale and Babinda, an RV “friendly” town which they boast on a large sign, and then on to Innisfail. We picked up some fresh foods and cheap sausages for dinner there as well as some fuel. It was getting late so we took a side road to Etty Bay that advertized camping. We found an RV park full up (this seems to be a common trend) beside a great swimming bay with jellyfish nets for the peak season. While it looked like a nice place, we weren’t going to be able to sleep there. We moved on up the road about 5k and found a “rest stop.” Although close to the road, it had some trees and grass next to a creek and a bridge and although it was pretty noisy with trucks driving overhead there was not a single no camping sign to be found. We cooked dinner on the provided pick nick tables and had an uneventful albeit noisy rest for the night in the tent beside the car. Another free campsite in the books and well on our way down the “Great Greenway”, from Cairns to Townsville.
Wednesday, August 04, 2010
Aug. 3rd. We were back on the road by 8am and headed into the Daintree Rainforest. It was around this time that we started to realize what a ridiculously small car we were travelling in. Almost every other car on the road here is a large land cruiser 4wd vehicle with a snorkel for traversing rivers, 2 spare tires, 4 spare jugs of fuel, a heavy duty car jack, a winch, “roo bar” on the bumper for deflecting the various road crossing marsupials, a shovel, and various other useful emergency equipment tied to the roof. We on the other hand have to be very very careful when driving over the 4 inch high speed humps on the paved road. Despite our off road deficiencies, we did manage to drive as far north from Cairns as is possible in a 2wd vehicle. Right up to where the paved road ends and 100km of dirt road, which is impassible during the rainy season, leading to Cooktown begins.
We booked our campsite over the phone. It was the last one available which we hope is a sign of good luck to come. Around 11am we pulled into the Discovery Center and stepped into (literally) the Daintree rainforest. The Discovery center is celebrating its 21st year of teaching people about the Australian rainforest. It features a “rainforest skywalk” which takes you through the forest about 30 ft off the ground and then up a tower to the very tops of the trees.
After exploring, we made it to the campground with time to spare for cooking up dinner before it got dark. The National Park campground is as basic as they come but at least we didn’t have to worry about someone telling us NO CAMPING.
Aug. 1st. We made an offer of 700 and there she was. Our nice, old, brand new car. We figured that we would at least: See more of Australia this way and somehow, we rationalized that this would be cheaper than staying in hostels and buying a plane ticket to Sydney. At least we agreed it would be more of an adventure. Trying not to jinx ourselves we found each other wondering "what's the worst that could happen". Since the acquisition of a car we have felt a great sense of freedom to go do whatever it is we want to do on no particular schedule and in no rush. As long as we make it to Sydney before our plane takes off everything will by groovy. As they say here... No Worries!
Our new car is a 1985 Honda CityPro2. Its about as long as a refrigerator and just big enough for the two of us to sit. It's a purely practical transportation machine, as cheap as they come. She has a bad CV joint that makes a loud popping clicking noise whenever we make a hard turn but we figure, most of our driving will be straight ahead to Sydney so NO WORRIES! However, we knock on wood quite often.
We've named our beloved vehicle Babe (after the pig in the movie) because every time we make it over a hill we found ourselves praising the car for not breaking. Then Will said, "That'll do car"...That'll do Babe...Babe it is. For 700 bucks, if the doors fall off when we get there (knock on wood) it will still all be worth it.