Tag Archives: Queensland

Top 5: Natural Queensland, Australia

www.travelola.org5. Camp outs within the National Parks and State Forests, such as Brooyar State Forest and Cape Hillsborough National Park offered peaceful, beautiful stop offs that were affordable (starting at $6). Granted, there was a lack of facilities (and people) but what more do you need beyond fire pits and  ‘pit dunnies’?!

www.travelola.org4. For a Brit like me, Aussie beaches and rainforests are full of exotic appeal. Digging my toes into the sands at Smalleys’ Beach in Cape Hillsborough National Park was a great, calming way to end a day of driving whilst a hasty dip in the river at Mossman Gorge  whetted my appetite for future wanderings through strangler figs and soul-stirring greens.

Queensland Low Isles Great Barrier Reef3. Although I may have been somewhat spoilt by documentaries and coffee table books full of intensely coloured imagery, the Great Barrier Reef was still, undeniably, stunning. With only a half day to spare, I took the shorter trip out to the Low Isles where I snorkelled and splashed about, circumnavigated the island on foot (okay, it took all of fifteen minutes) and feasted on a smorgasbord of seafood delights. Literally.

Queensland desolate landscapes2. My first taste of desolate landscapes was on the drive out of Cairns towards the Eclipse 2012 festival in Far North Queensland. It intrigued me that anyone would live up tracks that disappeared away from dusty roadsides, further into environments where only the odd spindly bush and termite mounds survived.

www.travelola.org1. After days of driving through inland Queensland, particularly around Charters Towersbig skies have to come top of the crop. I felt fully surrounded, 360° around me, 180° over me – by a spread of resplendent blue skies, of fluffy, bouncy clouds, of stars piercing a blanket of blackness. I felt  my place in the universe: alive and conscious enough to observe it but little, tiny, insignificant overall.

To read my Queensland road trip in its entirety, join the journey here.

To readers who’ve joined me from Cruising Helmsman (and anyone else interested in reading my sailing adventures), click here to rewind to my time in the Galapagos islands and the beginning of a South Pacific adventure.

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Queensland goodbyes and mischief making

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Queensland Roadtrip Day 10: Isla Gorge National Park – Ballina (693km)

There was no sign of the boys when I awoke.

The sun was shining light on another blue sky day and I saw that we’d pitched the tents on dusty, rocky road, the route into the Isla Gorge lookout. As with many of the Queensland National Parks that we’d stopped off at in the last two weeks there was an undercover area and a seated long drop, fairly recently completed, it would seem.

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Camp wake-up

I heard voices. The boys had returned.

‘The views are amazing’, said D-man, pointing me in the direction of the lookout. Breath hung in the still morning air.

I took the camera and went for an early morning wander, past the lookout, along a pathway that seemed to lead to a forever that was tempting me on and on.  I didn’t have any water. I was wearing flip-flops. I had no phone (and no reception had I even had a phone in my possession). In Australia, a land full of snakes and spiders and sun that can kill, I disappointingly had to be measured. Boring and responsible. I headed back to camp, away from a precipice walk and vast views across a gaping gorge.

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Isla Gorge

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And the path goes on…

Back on the road we cut through rocky hillsides and rolling landscapes dotted with tall, lightly canopied trees and past trucks pulling trailers of oversized tires until we arrived in Taroom, where we pleasantly breakfasted at BJ Coffee Shop before starting the journey reenergised and suitably caffeinated.

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Heavy load

But I was drained, and whilst I hate to admit that I missed out on moments of Australian countryside splendour, I happily spent the next section of the journey dropping in and out of a light sleep. Maybe I was sensing the end of this trip – this travel adventure – and my mind was digesting the sights and sounds of the last ten days? Chinchilla and Dalby, with their farm machinery and posh utes did little to deter me from dozing some more, and my response to the sign stating Watch for 36 metre road trains was simply (and unusually) a shrug of fate acceptance.

It was unfortunate timing, but by the time I was awake and chatty and ready to observe the changing scenery we seemed to have arrived into a monotony of recently flooded farm land and continuous roadworks. So far, this inland route through Queensland had been full of well-maintained roads cutting across a quiet and striking isolation, but between Waru and Dalby we inched along past yet more empty fields to the tune of road repair trucks and the whir of a struggling air conditioning system. It wasn’t a moment for travel awe.

Thank goodness, then, for walkie talkies, a boy gadget that D-man had gleefully bought for our Eclipse 2012 festival excursion which now proved to have other purposes: to provide entertainment and speed on our journey. At a stop sign we looked towards another sign and then switched our walkie talkies to Channel 78.

‘We’ve got a white Mazda at the north end, happy to authorise access? Over.’ We tested.

‘Come on through. Over.’

It worked, which was somewhat unfortunate for those labourers because for the next few hours we probably caused all sorts of innocent chaos and confusion.  We immersed ourselves in local road building culture. We asked questions about progress and demanded timescales. We waved at the authorising workmen and thanked them, via walkie talkie, as we drove on by. We should have (maybe) known better and behaved far more maturely but time on the road can do funny things to your attitude and behaviour so that you end up doing things you might never do back when you had a responsible job and a mortgage and were functioning in a society of consideration.

Ah, cut us some slack. No one was hurt.

And so, with some mischief and a raft of memories from our Queensland road trip, we arrived back to New South Wales, homeward bound for Ballina. Just like that, it was over.

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Queensland local legends

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Queensland Roadtrip Day 8: Palm Cove – Charters Towers (via Cardwell and Townsville) (510km)

I’m not really someone who gets excited about meeting anyone famous, but this wasn’t just anyone, this was Robert Jesse, acknowledged by those well-regarded folk over at The National Geographic, Robert Jesse, local commentator on both the Cyclone Yasi aftermath and the subsequent  Prince William 2011 trip to Cardwell in Queensland, Australia.

Buying a pie in Cardwell had been one of the few things that me and my travelling crew wanted to do as we road tripped the Queensland coast up to the Eclipse 2012 festival. But, alas, on the journey north it was not meant to be. We had driven slowly through Cardwell, eyes scouting the main strip, but nothing. No pie van. No pie man.

We settled for a sub-standard snack alternative (although this harsh judgment can possibly be attributed to the discovery that my wallet was lying in Townsville service station toilets some 180km away).

This southwards return journey, however, delivered. Perseverance paid off. Here we were, parked under a tree and the Jesse’s Pies van was but five strides away.

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Jesse’s Pies, Cardwell, Queensland

 ‘Even the locals eat them!’ advertised the reputability of the cuisine, and I thought: if it’s good enough for the locals, it’s definitely good enough for three somewhat bedraggled travellers.

As you might expect, Robert Jesse himself was far more interesting than the actual pies.

I’m known now’, he said, ‘I’m famous’.  He dishes up a pie for each of us. Warm. Amply filled.

He asks what we’re doing, where we’re from, where we’re going. He’s happy to have his photo taken for the blog, all part of the fame game, I guess.

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Me and the piemeister

‘When do you think it will be up there?’ he asks as I write down my blog address. I wonder if he’s keeping track of his publicity, keeping a scrapbook for future grandkids. Local legend.

We talk about travelling and he asks about my journeying around the world and mock shudders when I talk about my sailing trip across the Pacific.

‘I travel in Cardwell’, he says, ‘I was born in Ingham’. To put things into context, Cardwell is a tropical coastal town in northeastern Queensland and has a population of 1,250. Ingham is all of 52km away, a little further south.

‘So you keep it local?’I ask. Silly question. Maybe.

‘Oh, I’ve been to Fiji’, he adds, ‘and once I visited Townsville and I was cold’. I can’t tell if he’s actually being serious but he goes on to tell me that he gets all the travel stimulation he needs from people passing through Cardwell, stopping to buy his pies. The world comes to him, see? He feels, he tells me, completely connected to the world, and totally content in his town.

‘It’s like I said in the National Geographic’, said Robert, ‘about this place being a postcard place’. I look around and think about the drive through and I keep my opinions quiet: I’m not blown away by the town. But then, as Robert goes on to tell us, Yasi has a lot to answer for and the post-cyclone clear up is evidently still in motion. Plus, today is a bit grey. Sunshine would undoubtedly put a different slant on things.

http://www.cairns.com.au/article/2011/02/03/147715_cyclone.html

Cardwell after Cyclone Yasi (pic from http://www.cairns.com.au)

It’s nearly 14:00 and Robert tells us he’ll soon be packing up and leaving for the day. He doesn’t want the local pub to think he might be stealing their customers. I can’t imagine it being a problem, and I’m sure people – like us – come to town specifically for the pies and not the pub; but his intentions are solid, rooted in caring for the Cardwell community.

We drive on southwards and pick up my erstwhile wallet from Townsville Woolworths Caltex, thanking Don King for keeping it in his care this past week. The money, unsurprisingly, is missing, something which Don takes very seriously. For the next ten minutes we scour through CCTV tapes and it is with some relief that we discover it is not one of his staff members next into the toilets. He is clearly relieved.

I am, however, clearly a bit peeved about the loss, but I try to be level. $80 may be a lot of money for a budgeting traveller but it’s also a lot of money for someone who feels the need to steal it from fuel station facilities. I like to imagine it was put to good use, maybe to buy nappies, or fruit and veg (my imagination has often served me well).

And then back in the car; turn to the west, hot sun baking the three of us into a tired slump as the air conditioning cuts out, again. We drive on along single lanes behind three carriage road trains, passed cows shading under a single billboard in the middle of nowhere roadside. Ominous skies split their guts with gusto as we arrive into a deserted Charters Towers and we use the heavy rain as an excuse to check in to a local caravan park.

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On towards Chaters Towers

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Follow the rainbow to the out of town motel

The rain, of course, stops barely a moment after we settle into our one-room house, but by then it’s too late to back out. We’ve paid up. Let’s suffer this punishment of curt landlords and a roof over our head, of a jacuzzi spa, of television movies and an equipped kitchen, of crisp, dust-free sheets and comfy beds. Ah, what a difficult life.

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Evening visitor

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And the heat and beat build

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Queensland Roadtrip Day 5: Cairns – Palmer River Roadhouse (via Mareeba) (218km)

There was something about Kurunda that caught my attention that was less about the cute, independent coffee bars and tourist shops of the compact town centre and more about everything else. Like the gorge at Barron Falls, and the dense lushness of greenery, an environment of the richest greens.

We were barely half an hour out of Cairns, car weighed down with a week’s worth of drinking water for three people. We wound our way up into the mountains, missed the stop-off for wide angle views down over Cairns and the Coral Sea, and made a brief stop at the gorge.

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Barron Falls, Kurunda, Far North Queensland

But now to face the matter in hand; the final inland stretch to Palmer River and the Eclipse 2012 festival.

We drove along straight roads towards more mountains and into a plateaued land of spindly trees, thirsty twigs and branches poking out of thin trunks, out into a vast, clear sky. Termite mounds rose up from the tarmac edge, dotted along into the far distance, some heading towards the two metre mark, traditional cone shapes alongside crazy distortions and face-like shapes, trip-like. No wonder the festival was being held out here. Mind enhancement seemed pretty unnecessary: let nature show you some magic instead.

A cow ambled along the roadside. Where was its nutrition?

Those far away mountains loomed close and once again we started to climb. With less than an hour to go, we pulled in at another scenic viewing spot and paused, looking out over a light brown landscape, a tinderbox of dryness.

One guy stops off to  take in the scenery. A moment of peace before the party.

One guy stops off to take in the scenery. A moment of peace before the party.

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Dry, dusty environment… a taste of things to come

And then the last filling station, a few souls milling around grabbing smokes and snacks, what was left. Bottle shops and convenience stores from Cairns to Mareeba to Palmer River were running low. Fuel needed bulk replacing. It would be a good week for this little area of Far North Queensland.

We turned into the festival site, waved in by two guys and a girl, big smiles and a jiggle dance. A girl walked towards us, little shorts showing smooth, tanned legs covered in a thick layer of dust. She pulled down the cloth that was tied around her mouth.

‘You already got tickets?’ she asked.

‘Yep.’ I dug around in my bag. ‘Have you seen any crocs?’ I asked.

‘Not for a bit. Some guys pulled a couple out. It should be fine.’

Armbands on, we passed the quick car check and drove on down a few more kilometres of bumps and dust alongside water holes bearing signs that read ‘No swimming’ until we reached civilisation in the form of a rocky, hard-ground campsite. Many rocky, hard-ground campsites.

My mind flipped. This was a city of tents and abodes and set-ups, established within what felt to be the most inhospitable natural environment I had ever found myself within. It would be like no other camping experience. Of that, I was sure.

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The final stretch into the festival site

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And we arrive! Some 2,307km later. Celebrate.

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Keeping it cheap in Cairns

Cairns surprised me.

Because despite a glitzy facelift of the esplanade area, Cairns hasn’t risen to big city status and gone down the ‘we’re-so-good-we’ll-rip-you-off’ route. At least from what I could tell.

Cairns doesn’t seem to be an overly exciting place, with it’s a grid system of functionality, trimmed and watered grasses and all the anticipated visuals of palm city tropics. Before you shoot me for such a low impact first impression report, know that I’m not a city fan. It takes me to know a city to love a city. More on that later. But Cairns, well, on first impressions it seemed pleasant. Surprisingly so.

All I really knew of Cairns – previous to this short exposure – was that it happens to be where many people set off on Great Barrier Reef adventures.

L-man, D-man and me were on a different kind of adventure, a road trip drive-by exploration that had already seen us cover some 2,000km from Ballina in New South Wales. Our destination was the Eclipse 2012 festival, a few hours inland from Cairns, our food was cheap camping cook-ups and our accommodation a couple of mismatched tents.

But on our first night in Cairns we called a friend and crashed his family holiday. So strong was the call of a shower and a social.

‘If we get caught’, he said as we skulked down the side of the holiday apartment building, ‘you guys are gonna have to pay up’.

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$8.50 breakfast + a proper coffee from next door = sorted stowaways

The next morning we breakfasted with two other stowaways at a hole in the wall offering $8.50 big breakfasts before wandering around the free public pool on the ocean’s edge. Ah, the irony. All that salty water so close, a forbidden territory of jellyfish deadliness, and you have to make do with a man-made structure and a dose of chlorine. But at least there is a man-made structure, I guess. The heat of the day was rising and even a paddle in the shallows of the pool brought some cool-down comfort.

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Lagoon on the ocean’s edge

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Heaps* of paddle space (*loads for non-Aussie speakers)

Before leaving the pool area I noticed a sign and I realised that if I didn’t dislike organised aerobics quite so much, Cairns would be a great place to live. Here in the park, every day, were free fitness sessions. No ‘I’m too poor’ excuses for anyone. Aussies and their mission to stay on top of health and fitness, bold and in full colour. Gotta love it. Or at least appreciate the intention.

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What’s your punishment? What’s your happiness?

So what were the tricks to keeping Cairns cheap? Dishonesty in terms of accommodation, grease in terms of nutrition, killer chemical in terms of health and fitness and keeping cool.

More realistically, though, we barely spent any time in Cairns – half a day – so of course it was easy to keep it cheap in this compact city centre.

Why this blog post focused on budget, who knows? The main thing I realised is that I like Cairns enough to go back, maybe to spend some time exploring it’s surface normality a little deeper (whilst not doing zumba classes). It was that kind of place, and it surprised me.

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Going big

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Queensland Roadtrip Day 4: Cape Hillsborough National Park, Nr. Seaforth – Cairns (715km)

It all started with a giant mango. Sorry, a big mango. By all accounts, it was giant. It’s all relative. Or a matter of lexis. Or something.

Actually, the day started with a relaxed breakfast. Problems, of course, came later. But for now the three of us sat down to a fluffy banana and blueberry pancake feast and a mug of percolated coffee. Bursts of tastebud bliss.

Day 4 was about completing the bulk of our journey north and getting to the provincial city of Cairns. We knew it would be a long day but it had to be done: we were meeting people there that night.

Significant stops started with the Big Mango. Yep.

I’d heard and read about Australia’s quirky obsession with all things big – pineapples, prawns, and mangos (evidently) – so now was the time to immerse myself in some big stuff culture.

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Me and the giant… err… mango (but I’m thinking James and the Giant Peach…)

Ironically, we couldn’t buy any real size, real life mangos but hey, let’s not complain: I got a photo (ah, just get stuck into the silliness) and had a breather from cramped car time.

Across the road from a beach that without sunshine looked dull and grey, The Big Mango enjoyed a constant trickle of tourists taking two second photos before continuing on their journeys. We were now not too far from the town of Bowen whose role in Baz Lurhmann’s recent Australia film (starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman) had pushed up the profile of this small coastal hub.

But we had no time for film buff stuff, only Big Mangos and big cities. So onwards, to Cairns.

And then a bit of a  clearer run, just us and a lot of truckers, it seemed, cruising alongside train tracks and cane tracks, past coverings of yellow-brown grassy tufts and spindly trees, some of which boasted an attempt at a green-brown canopy explosion.

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Cane tracks or train tracks?

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Cane train crossing

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Not too welcoming

Leaving my wallet in the bathroom in Townsville service station marked midday, although quietly because it wasn’t until we were 2 ½ hours on, right up by Cardwell, that I realised my loss. Or my stupidity. Well, both. Dammit. My improved health high had obviously impacted on my ability to stay switched on. It could have been worse. I could have, for example left my Eclipse festival tickets at home (yes, at the same time of my wallet realisation, someone, somewhere in Cairns – no names – had the horrible realisation that their tickets were tucked up in their bedside table draw some 1,800km away. It’s all relative).

Late afternoon we drove on towards mist covered mountains, through Euromo and Tully and still further on through plateaued valleys, Cairns feeling as far away as on any other day.

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The skies get ready to pour

Dark and damp kicked in until finally we were there: through winding roads and ineffective windscreen wipers we saw the approach to the relative calm of Cairns.

Parking down at the esplanade, we stepped out of the car. I felt too grubby to be in the city, somewhat unkempt after four days and nights camping and road tripping up the north coast of Australia, yet a little giddy shiver shot up my body as my feet touched down on the pavement. The Far North Coast. We’d made it.

I took in a deep lungful of Cairns’ warm breath and went to get lost in amongst sparkling lights and people spilling out of cafes and bars.

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The need to budget for health whilst travelling

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Queensland Roadtrip Day 3: Byfield State Forest – Cape Hillsborough National Park (430km)

It was an emergency that stopped me exploring our camp spot by light. Everything got thrown into the car; pots and unwashed coffee cups shoved into ill suited gaps, L-man’s backseat den more cramped than cosy.

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Post-Cyclone Oswald

A beautiful start to the day in Byron Bay

A beautiful start to the day in Byron Bay

A dad rips at semi-fallen branches, leaning his body back until great chunks of wood pull away and fall to the ground. He clears up the playground floor, strewn in bushy branches before pushing his young girl on a creaky swing.

A group of lads walk down to where high tide meets a slim stretch of sand and look out at a messy ocean, a stormy sea with waves pushing in from miles out and tumbling clumsily into a heavy expanse of white water.

A middle-aged woman sweeps the outside of hotel rooms whose doorways reveal rolled up towels. Her lips are set stern as she brushes away leaves and grasses so that her four star customers get their tidy experience. She has yet to notice all the spiky, little leaves and streaks of dirt splattered across the door of Room 19.

One of many dead beach birds

One of many dead beach birds

Swimming not advised... but under the watchful eye of the lifeguards, this guy was determined

Swimming not advised… but under the watchful eye of the lifeguards, this guy was determined

A bit of chop compared to usually calm, calm days

A bit of chop compared to usually calm, calm days

Wind fall

Wind fall

It’s 8.30AM on Tuesday 29th January and I’m in the heart of Byron Bay, writing this overlooking the main beach.

Earlier I woke to a stillness that I hadn’t heard in a few days. ‘Don’t get too excited’, said my housemate D, ‘it could just be a lull. We’ve been predicted rain.’

But the sprinkling of sunshine pushing through the early morning haze did excite me. It had been over a week of dampness, the washing was stacking up and inside living was starting to lose its appeal. And it had been three days since Oswald burst into town amidst a flurry of downpours and winds that whipped at Byron Bay life, smashing over glasses left outside from Australia Day parties, reducing traffic on the roads, forcing people to retreat indoors and momentarily live without television and mobile phones and think about what we used to do before electricity became such a necessity.

For those still connected, news stations switched to live feed emergency mode, looping high energy reports of damage and chaos in Queensland, predicting disaster for Brisbane (whose nerves are still raw after the 2011 floods) and urging Northern New South Wales to be on high alert as the beast travelled southwards.

‘The media make me so angry’, said a colleague, ‘it panics the old people so much. If I hear 100 kilometre per hour winds again I will screamWe get these storms every year.’ And although yesterday news stations retracted some of their most somber predictions for New South Wales, there has  still been flooding in some local areas and quite a mess to deal with and clean up. 

Queensland is where it did get really scary: communities have been left isolated, people have lost their homes and most tragically, three people died as a result of the storms. Down here, though, whilst there has undoubtedly been disruption and distress, more than anything Oswald offered a blustery reminder not to take the many, many calm and sunny days for granted.

Cyclone Oswald damage

Cyclone Oswald damage

And now, despite the debris scattered on roads and roofs and the occasional sighting of boarded up windows and dented car bonnets, this beautiful day signifies that we’re safely through the weathering.

Until next year, then. Not before, please. Oswald shook things up enough.

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