Friday, August 20, 2010

Home sweet home

We're back. With our Australian adventure over it's quite a shock being back at home. Being in Chapel Hill at my house is pretty surreal.

I last left you in Brisbane with a flat tire so here are the highlights. We fixed the flat with the spare which was also nearly bald but it made it to Sydney. We got the hell out of Dodge (Brisbane) that afternoon with plans to either just drive through the night to Sydney or find somewhere to camp. Around 1am we pulled off at a rest stop that our ozcamp source claimed offered free "camping." We didn't see any signs opposed so we thew down the tent and got some rest. It was our last night in the tent. In the morning we packed up and finally got around to something we had been planning for a while. The burying of our "time machine" which is really just a time capsule that we made with junk from the boat and our respective piles of shit from moving off the boat. Pamphlets, score cards, maps, change, bottle caps, and tons of other odds and ends are now 6 feet under in the middle of nowhere in a plastic container for us to go dig up in 30 years. Will took down the GPS coordinates with his i-phone. Good luck little time machine.

We made it to Sydney around 11am WOOHOO we made it. We thanked the car and told it that it was free to break down, fall apart, or seize up now that it has performed it's duty. We found our hostel and got checked in and even managed to find parking for an hour or so. The hostel was nice but the first order of business was to get rid of our car. Don't get me wrong, I can't say enough about how great she was but with 1 day left in Australia I was more than ready to wash my hands of the old clunker.

The saga of THE CAR with all the licensing, rego, and ownership baloney is quite a story in itself so i'll keep it to the short version.... That evening we sold the car to a guy named Steve from Sydney for his little brother Adam to learn stick on.We did our absolute best not to seem desperate to sell, but he pretty much stole it from us. We got $325.00 AUD for the car all told. Considering that we put in 700 for the car, 20 for oil, and about 275 in gas all said and done we made out pretty damn well i'd say especially since we freed ourselves of the car the day we arrived leaving us all of tomorrow to explore the city. Thanks car.

Tuesday. Our last day in Australia. So what do two sailors do when they only have 1 day in Sydney, Australia you might ask? Go to the Maritime Museum of course!

The Australian National Maritime Museum is so far the best I have ever been to. My favorite exhibit would have to be the HMB Endeavor. This flawless replica of Captain Jame Cook's famous ship was parked center stage on the warf. I tried to soak it in as much as possible. We also got to talk to one of the full time crew members who is getting ready for the upcoming circumnavigation of Australia on the famous ship.

We were also just in time to see Plastiki tied up at the museum. This catamaran made entirely of plastic bottles and recycled plastic (except for the masts) was on display after having just ended its 130 day crossing of the pacific via Hawaii around the same time as us.

With our day coming to a close, we hopped on the harbor ferry and got a ride out to see the opera house. I was quite impressed by the speed and efficiency of the Sydney harbor ferries which are all catamarans. Our last stop was in honor of the sailors who came before us. A trip out to "the Rocks" to the first pub to be given a license to sell alcohol in Sydney in 1828 and the ONLY pub of the original few to attain this license that is still in business, Fortune of War. Quite a bit of sailing history in there.

That night we made the most of our last hours in Australia by heading out with some others from the hostel to "Pirate Night" at a local pub with free drinks for those who dressed like pirates and free champagne for girls or guys who dressed like girls. We chose pirates, ARGHHH.

The following morning we successfully made it (with our bags, passports and wallets) onto the airport shuttle to the Sydney airport. Shortly thereafter, I began a 36 hour blurr of airport terminals, cramped seats, airplane blankets, and bags of pretzels which included missing my connection flight in LA and having to wait around in a jet lagged haze for 8 hours to catch the next one. At that point, any flight was a red-eye. But I made it mostly unscathed and with all my belongings to RDU airport Thursday morning to be greeted by my parents.

What a ride.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sydney or Bust...

We have made it to the Gold Coast but with just three days left including today were going to start booking it down to Sydney so we are sure to see the city a little. This morning I lightened the load a little also by selling my scuba tanks and scuba gear that I had been lugging around to a guy here. Also, for a little excitement, this morning we noticed we have a flat tire which we have to change out before leaving. Yesterday we thought we heard a little bump bump bump in our ride and this morning revealed that the back tire was totally bald and wore right through leaking out completely overnight. The adventure continues. For brevity's sake, here are some of the highlights of the last six days....

On Monday, realizing at 2pm that there was a red dress hash run on the Sunshine coast that started at 6:15. We ran to the salvation army, bought some red dresses and drove 4 hours straight there to participate. We were fortunate to meet Dave there 'Skunk' who graciously offered to put us up for the night at his apartment AND in the morning gave us a grand tour of Moloolaba beach and pretty much the entire sunshine coast. Afterwards, he helped us break into the car to retrieve the car keys that were left on the passenger seat. oops. We had a great time enjoying the company of the Noosa and Sunshine Coast hash groups and raising money for a local cancer hospital to boot! The photo at left is courtesy of the Noosa hash group website.

Tuesday, afternoon we picked up some fish and chips form a fresh fish market on the water in Maloolaba (delicious) and later stopped into an info booth where we found a pamphlet with 2 free camping spots we weren't aware of. Did I mention it was raining. Yes, our stay with Dave coincided wonderfully with the first rain we have had while camping. But Tuesday night we were on our own and heading out of town we stopped to check out the free camping rest stop. We arrived in drizzle and found a picnic table shelter which our tent just perfectly fit under. Around midnight i awoke to hear someone blowing up an air mattress and they set up right beside our tent and we were happy to share the shelter.

In the morning we met Murray, a local Brisbanian who has been travelling recently out of his car (like us) and is planning a trip to the US and asked us many questions about hiking trails such as the Appalachian trail and places out west generally revealing how badly we know the geography of our own country. Hope to work on that when i get back some time. He gave us some great tips on what to see in Brisbane as well as some places to camp. He told us about the Ekka, a huge state fair that was going on this week, and recommended we drive out to Mt. Glorious.

Wednesday we had a day at the Australia Zoo. Founded by Steve Irwin's dad in 1972, the zoo was celebrating its 40th year and Steve Irwin and the Irwin family is a big deal in the zoo to put it lightly. Posters of Steve, Bindi, Terry and even a bronze statue of the family adorn the park. We really enjoyed the Koalas, the Tiger show, feeding the elephants, petting Kangaroos, and watching a huge crocodile get fed by a very scared looking "trainer" in a giant fenced in ring called the Crocoseum. After the zoo we picked up some chow in Beerwah, Steve Irwin's home town, before returning to the same free camp spot and another night in the dry shelter with Murray.

In the morning, Murray suggested that we climb Mt. Tibrogargan and offered to be our guide so to speak as he has climbed it dozens of times. We got there early and climbed to the top which looks daunting on the way up but in the end wasn't all that bad despite a few bouldering sessions and rock faces along the way. The view of the Glass House Mountains (named by none other than Captain Cook) from the top was well worth it.

After the climb we parted ways but not before we tasted some Vegemite that Murray had in his car. We had been wanting to try it but didn't want to to spring for a whole jar. We drove down into Brisbane and found ourselves getting chewed up by one way streets, traffic light, and bustling city centers. Finally we pulled into a parking spot and took some deep breaths. We payed for an hour and walked around the botanical gardens (really more of a large park) and decided to try and make the Brisbane Thirsty Hash run that evening at 6pm. For 17 dollars we got to run with the hash (about 5k on the road) and enjoy some good company around a campfire in the hosts backyard as well as all the lamb curry and rice we could eat. They even sent us home with 3 trays of it.

At the hash we met Waga Rod, (real name Rod). This guy was 65 years old, from Australia, and in September him and his wife are travelling to the US so that he can participate in the Double Decathalon (thats 20 track and field events in 2 days) at the 2010 Ultra Muli Events World Championship in Lynchburg, Virgina. Needless to say this guy was in shape and blew right past us on the hash run (before beer, in case you were wondering). After the run he got word that our plan that evening was to drive out toward Mt. Glorious and camp "somewhere". "THATS BULLSHIT!" Rod exclaimed. "Your coming home with me!", "Your in my country, you'll do what I say!". To which we replied, "yes SIR".

We stayed up Rod and his wife talking about our travels and Will was an endless source of information for them being a DC local. Their US tour will include, Washington DC, Lynchburg, VA (of course), New York, Niagara Falls, and Vegas. Will gave them the low down on the cheap air fare into DC and what to do in the city. We are so greatfull for their hospitality and wish Rod all the best in Virginia.

Friday Morning we drove up to Mt. Glorious and discovered not too surprisingly that that it is indeed appropriately named. Beautiful views, winding mountain roads and thick forest resembled a drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina except that they are only 20 minutes drive away from Brisbane City Center!

We went back into the heart of Brisbane and found a cheap hostel with free parking and a free shuttle to the train station. We got tickets for the Ekka and spent the rest of the day wandering around the maze of rides, food stands, cattle, sheep, and various judging events. The Ekka's is all about "bringing the bush to the city" and cattle, sheep, and horses are a large part of the event. Our favorites included the Wood chop competition, Monster Truck, Precision driving demonstration, dirt bike jumping in the arena, and the fireworks display. Also of note... a corndog in Australia is called a dagwood dog and tastes about the same...delicious! and cotton candy is called Fairy Floss. Whatever.

On Saturday, we checked out of the Hostel but were able to leave our car there and went to check out the Queensland Museum (which is FREE). The coolest exhibit, i had while camping. But Tuesdayloor almost hidden amongst other museumy things still boxed up waiting to be put on display. It's called the 'Investigator Tree' this tree (now just a trunk) is on display because of what is carved into it. Namely the words 'INVESTIGATOR' and 'BEAGLE 1841'. This Investigator was an Australian survey ship which, in 1801, traveled along the coast of Australia under the command of Matthew Flinders. He carved the ships name into this very trunk! But thats not all. The Beagle of course is the famous ship which carried Charles Darwin across the Pacific and to the Galapagos where his famed work on evolution has it's beginnings. In 1841 however, the Beagle had already done this and Captain Fitzroy was off governing New Zealand or something. Whickam and Stokes were in command for the survey mission of Australia on the Beagle for it's third trip out and they added their vessel's name to the great tree. Also on the tree were found..."a large number of other names, including some dating from A.C. Gregory's North Australian Expedition in 1856, and some from the Burke and Wills Search Expedition under William Landsborough in 1861". It is debatable if the carvings seen today are the original ones. Likely, they have been re-carved to preserve but it's still freaking cool nonetheless as far as I'm concerned. You can read more about it here: The Investigator Tree.

After the Museum we got our internet fix a the Brisbane Library before heading back to the hostel and getting out of dodge. We found lodging in a hostel on the Gold Coast at Surfers Paradise but were not staying here long as we still have about 900km to cover to get to Sydney. Time to go change a tire.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Promised Land...for Campers

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.

Crab Sangas?

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.

Sign Sign, Everywhere a Sign…

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!

Miles to go before I sleep…

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.

Rise and Shine, it’s Move on or a Fine…

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.

Enter the Great Greenway...

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

Daintree Rainforest and Beyond

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.

On the Road, Headed North?

We decided to go up North to check out the rain forest before heading south on our way to Sydney. After stopping at the grocery for some food we left Cairns headed north with no real plan other than that we were going to camp somewhere for the night and preferably not pay anything. We filled up at a gas station (passing by a BP) and checked the oil (she needed some) and coolant and topped off the tire pressure. We were surprised to see that the air compressor at the gas station was not only FREE but filled your tires automatically up to whatever pressure you punch into the LCD screen on the front of the machine. Very cool. It took a little while to figure out highway roundabouts and fortunately for us, keep left, signs are plastered everywhere. We stopped at a campground RV Park but at 13 dollars per person per night we decided to move along. We made it to Mossman around 7pm and stopped to look for the flashlight we had bought since it was dark but we had lost it. A guy working at a coin laundry place looked at our car and said, "Couldn't have found a smaller one could you?" to which I replied, "we really tried, but no". I asked him about a real cheap campground in the area and he asked if I had read the local paper lately.

Apparently the stereotypical young car campers are the bane of Australia's east coast small towns and communities hold meetings where citizens complain about them. He told us however about a rest stop area with toilets and picnic tables about a 1 km down the road over a bridge that he figured we could just throw up our tent in. He had a very serious look on his face when he warned us not to go near the river due to crocodiles. When we got there, there were about 4 other camper vans (Volkswagen type) already parked and a sign indicating no tents allowed. We decided that it was a good bed and it was already dark so if we got up early enough we shouldn't have a problem. While cooking dinner (sausages and onions with garlic bread and pasta and chicken for tomorrow's drive) a police car drove through the park and said a friendly "hello" to us and didn't stop. We took this to be a good sign but wondered if they were just checking for tents. In any case, we had an uneventful sleep until around 5am when a garbage truck rumbled through about 6 feet...sorry, i mean about 2 meters, away from the tent and woke us up wondering where the swat team was to haul us away.

We were up by 6:30 and put away the tent post haste just in time for a town council "patrol" van to drive through and speak to all the campers in the park. "Did you sleep here last night?", he asked, "Yes" I replied. "But we didn't have a tent, we saw the sign" I said with a perfectly straight face. He handed me a piece of paper detailing the rules of the the park which was basically NO CAMPING and took down our license plate, my name and license number. He wasn't authorized to give tickets and I probably could have refused to show my license but I figured that just humoring him for whatever he wanted save for money would help out the next guys he comes across and we're never going to be here again. He was very friendly and offered me a list of RV parks that we could stay at. After he spoke to the other "campers" (who were not using tents, sleeping in their vans) I asked him about cheaper camping like "tent camping" that was free and he recommended a national park on Noah's beach which we ended up staying in that night.

Many young car/van backpackers/campers we have met have been met with similar warnings about camping. They fill up the parking lots but aren't technically "allowed" to sleep in their cars and must use window shades to avoid giving probable cause that someone is sleeping in the vehicle. It seems that cheap tent camping is hard to come by and must be booked in advance over the phone. Other differences are that fires seem to be generally disallowed in all parks and amenities are very basic with just a toilet and no shower house in the "tent camping" campgrounds.

It's not the SIZE that's how you USE IT

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.

Terra Firma

I Herby revive this blog.

My last post was from Virgina before heading on a journey that took me south and across the very large pacific ocean. Yes the plan was to go all the way around but shit happens. I'm in Australia, I bought a very small car with my friend Will, and we're headed down to Sydney from Cairns to catch a flight back to the US. But until then, we hope to experience some of this wild country. So far we're doing pretty good...knock on wood.

This is a fish we saw on the dock when we arrived. Even if I didn't know there were man eating crocodiles EVERYWHERE here this alone might keep me out of the water.