North Queensland - Reef, Crocs and the Atherton Tablelands
A day trip to the reef
We’ve now driven 2,800 kilometres, and arrived
in Cairns, nearly the most northerly point of our journey – with a combination
of long driving days and quite a few stops, its not been to bad a journey
for us all. Cairns is the starting point for trips to the Great Barrier
Reef, and other things for thrill-seekers to get up to (bungy jumping,
white water rafting, crocodile safaris, helicopter trips etc). Our time
in Cairns is a good example of how things are different for us travelling
as a family, rather than just 2 adults. Last time in Cairns we learnt
to dive, and spent 4 days on a live aboard boat diving on the outer
reef. This time we wanted to find a one day trip that didn’t involve
a long transfer time, and where the girls had plenty to do rather than
just sitting on a boat watching Sarah and me snorkel. So we opted for
the day trip to Green Island, just an hour and a quarter out of Cairns,
and we also went for the ‘full tour’ options, with glass bottom boat,
semi-submersible, BBQ lunch etc, rather than the cheapest option. It
meant that we had a packed day and one which the girls really enjoyed.
We boarded the catamaran just before 9am, to find all the seats occupied
by a Chinese, Japanese or Taiwanese tourist. Good start – we sat there
amongst the early morning sounds of Asia – lots of phlegmy coughs and
the smell of green tea. But still, travel broadens the mind, doesn’t
it? Anyway, we arrived at Green Island an hour later, to take part in
the disembarking process (the Chinese must play good rugby, because
they can certainly form a good scrum in a queue!), and then the general
rush down the jetty to the beach.
most of the others turned left at the end, to the swimming beach, while
we turned right to go snorkelling. Charlotte has become steadily more
comfortable with her snorkel, playing with it in the pools, and so charged
straight out into the water with Sarah. Within a few minutes they were
a good 150 metres off the beach, amongst corals and lots of fish. Charlotte’s
a really strong swimmer now, and it meant she could see so much more.
She came back excited about parrot fish, clown fish, rays and wrasse.
We had a couple of hours on the beach, all getting a chance to snorkel
(even Emily, although of course she told us “I don’t need a mask”, and
promptly swam underwater for 10 seconds before announcing she’d finished
snorkelling as was going to build a sandcastle), before heading back
up the jetty to get our lunch on board the catamaran.
afternoon was a whirlwind of organised activities – first of all a trip
in a semi-submersible, sitting below water level looking out sideways
at the coral and fish through the big windows. Both girls loved that,
as they could see lots more fish, and we saw two turtles too. And then
we went onto the glass-bottom boat, which allowed us to see some of
the coral more clearly, as well as more turtles. By the time we were
back on the boat heading home, we were all filled full of the wonder
of the reef, and the girls were keen enough to sit and watch a reef
video the whole way back to Cairns.
All in all the day cost us AU$210 (about £90), which seems reasonable
value for what we did and saw. When Sarah and I travelled on our own
we’d have never spent that much on a single day, nor enjoyed the ‘tourist’
side to the trip, but have really learnt to appreciate the kinds of
days and activities which make the trip special for the girls, and which
make them keen to learn more about what they are seeing.
David Blaine – what’s all the fuss about?
Over the last week the Australian newspapers
have been writing about David Blaine’s experience in a box suspended
over the Thames. We can’t believe its a big deal – after all, we’re
a whole family confined to a 2.5m x 2m x 1.5m white box, with wheels
and windows, for up to 20 hours a day. Mind you, we have been a bit
more sensible than David. Our box contains a kettle, a microwave, a
fridge, two gas hobs, a fan, and 2 double beds. When we arrive on a
site, the first thing we do is hook up to the mains, and boil the kettle.
Oh, and we’ve not just limited ourselves to drinking water and tea,
as we’ve been stocking up our cupboards regularly at Woolworths (which
in Oz is a supermarket like Tesco, rather than a general store your
granny likes), and refreshed our memories of Australian wine boxes.
Many backpackers carry their backpacks and a wine box around
Oz, but because we’ve got our van, we’ve managed to carry two - a red
and a white box. We’ve realised that after a day cooped up in
the campervan, a drink helps to relax us a bit – mind you, having finished
off two 4L boxes since we arrived (so that’s, er, the equivalent of
11 bottles in three weeks) we’d better ease off a bit (not because of
the budget, because at the equivalent of 70p a bottle, it fits our budget
Anyway, David Blaine, get a life – or a camper van.
Cruising the Daintree River
staying in the Pinnacle caravan park, in Wonga Beach (yes, really, there
is a village called Wonga Beach), where we arrived on Sunday 26th. Its
been a chance to catch up again, for the girls to spend a lazy day recovering
from their exertions at Green Island (especially Charlotte, who probably
swam over half a mile), and for us to sort out the van a bit, after
nearly a month living in it. In such a small space things had started
to get into a state of disarray, and we’d accumulated all kinds of brochures,
flyers and newspapers as we’d travelled. Everything came out, onto a
big sheet on the ground, and then most of it was put back in, but this
time with the right things accessible easily (not much call for fleeces
here, so why did we pack them at the top of the clothes pile?). While
this was going on, we took turns supervising the girls while they swam
and lounged around the pool – easily done when its so luxurious. Many
of the pools here are impressive, but few have been as quiet as this
one – we had it to ourselves most of the day, and as well as this one
there are two children’s pools with waterslides.
afternoon we went on a Daintree Wildlife River Cruise, on an open decked
boat. There are half a dozen companies which run these trips, but we
opted for a short trip, because of the attention span of the girls.
We’d been advised to go at low tide, as that was the best time to spot
crocs, but obviously nobody else had followed that advice, as were the
only people on a boat built for 60! It meant that we had a really good
chance to talk to the guide, Lex, who’d lived on the river his whole
life. His 85 year old mum came on the trip too, so she was telling us
stories of yesteryear in Daintree, as well as the 9 foot python that
had tried to catch her cat last week on her back porch! We got to see
lots of different birds, very close, as they were used to the boats.
it wasn’t until three quarters of the way through the trip that we spotted
a croc, under a dense tree on the mud at the bank side. Everything else
was good, but spotting crocodiles was the real point of the trip (and
not ‘log-odiles’, which Charlotte and Emily had spotted every 2 minutes
since we’d left the jetty). After we’d spotted our second crocodile,
we then started to hear the story of the last person killed by a croc
on the river, in 1985. It was a woman who’d been standing on the jetty,
watching Lex’s brother swim in the river one evening. Pretty scary stuff,
and one which meant that Emily didn’t go anywhere near the edge of the
When we got back to the jetty, the girls spent half an hour torturing
the Archer fish with bits of bread. They shoot a jet of water out of
their mouths up 4 feet, to knock down insects from branches. Charlotte
kept holding out small bits of bread for them to shoot down from the
boat side, and then when that ran out, kept them shooting at her empty
We had been worried that they would get bored on a one hour boat trip,
but in fact we were on the boat for an hour and three quarters, and
wouldn’t leave the boat at the end, and then left with a real buzz.
(See Charlotte’s diary
for her view on it)
Doing a Burrell
It seems fashionable these days to publish private
correspondence between yourself and your friends. So I thought I’d follow
the trend by sharing with you a piece of correspondence which we received
by email yesterday. It will give you a feel for the kind of abuse which
we have to live with! I’m not going to tell you who wrote it – but unlike
Paul Burrell I’ve got the original!
This email arrived yesterday, and starts...
“You b*st**ds. Why, oh why, can’t you have a nasty day where it
hails stones the size of golf balls, where your fingers drop off with
frostbite, where the sea is brown and the sky is grey...pah!”
I think somebody’s been reading our website too often.
Moving away from the coast
Today, temporarily, we moved away from the coast,
and headed up into the Atherton Tablelands, which is a raised plateau
just inland from Cairns. The drive up took us from the lush, green coast
through an 800m winding climb, to a semi-arid area, dominated by red
soil and termite mounds. Normally it is a lot cooler than the coast,
but as we arrived there we found it had hit an unseasonal high of 41-degrees.
Fortunately it is a lot drier than the coast - which is very humid -
so in the shade it was still cool, whereas on the coast there's no escape
from the heat.
On the drive we passed "The Big Peanut", but sadly I was driving so
fast I couldn't stop to take a photo - I know that will spoil your day!
Anyway, we headed to Yungaburra, a village in the middle of the Tablelands,
with a fantastic hostel. We are going to sleep in the carpark, and use
the hostel facilities - which costs us $20, about the same as a caravan
park. We have very fond memories of last time we stayed here, and tomorrow
we're going to be having an 'activity-tastic' day.
Our canoe-tastic day
was a day full of activities. We started with an early morning canoe
trip, starting at 5.45 am on Lake Tinaroo near Yungaburra. Steve,
the guide from the hostel, normally takes big groups out on canoe trips,
but he doesn’t normally take children under 10, so we presented a bit
of a problem. Added to that, it was his day off. However, he bent over
backwards to help us – he’d arranged a special early morning canoe trip
with us, so that we could all go, and he could find out what the early
morning canoeing is like (he normally takes groups in the middle of
the day and at night). By going so early in the morning it increased
our chances of seeing some of the wildlife, and allowed us to escape
the heat of the day. In fact, it was so cool that we went down to the
canoes with our fleeces on – the first time we’d worn them since arriving
got to share Steve’s canoe, and Emily, Sarah and I shared another one,
as we set off across the lake. The water level was very low – the lake
has fallen over 50 feet from its normal level due to the drought. The
lake was created in the 50’s by the construction of a huge dam, and
later on the neighbouring farmers were given the right to pump unlimited
irrigation water from the lake. So now, even though the lake is at 27%
of its normal level, the farmers keep on pumping water out 24 hours
a day to water their fields. Mind you, the water restrictions in place
all over Queensland seem very lax compared to European restrictions
– typically they limit garden watering to two hours a day – which hardly
seems like a sacrifice! So along the shores of the lake were the familiar
sights of dried and cracked mud that we see every time we start to run
out of water in Britain (seemingly every summer!).
trip took us an hour of gentle paddling, and the highlight came at the
end, when we were in a creek further up the lake (well, it’s a creek
now that the water is lower – its moved from being a 400m wide inlet
to a 10m wide creek). As we came around a corner we saw a circle of
ripples in the middle of the water, so we stopped and waited, and our
patience was rewarded with the sight of a duck-billed platypus surfacing
a minute later. It swam around in front of us, and each time it went
under we were able to paddle a little closer until we were about 3 metres
away from it. As we continued, we saw a few more, and the girls got
a real treat – they were thrilled to see them, as we’d talked about
them before the trip. Although they’re small animals, we’d got a really
good view from close up.
By the time we got back to the hostel at 9am, we were all feeling a
bit sleepy, so the rest of the morning was spent relaxing around the
hostel, and catching up with laundry etc. After lunch, we went out for
a walk around the rainforest and then for a swim in Lake Eacham, which
is a marvellously cool volcanic lake nearby. The day had gone from 27
degrees in the morning to 41 degrees in the afternoon, so a cold lake
was just the ticket!
In the evening Sarah and I went on a night canoeing trip, while the
girls stayed at the hostel with Laura, one of the other hostel guests.
After being with us 24 hours a day for 3 and a half months, the girls
were quite excited to be left on their own, and had no intention of
going to sleep while we were out. And for Sarah and I it was our first
significant break away from them in all that time too! We went canoeing
at 8pm, armed with huge spotlights, and spent 3 hours paddling across
the lake by moonlight, making our way up tiny creeks, and dragging our
canoes across mud banks. This time there were more of us in the group,
with 5 canoes, so we weren’t in any danger of getting lost. In fact,
the pair of Australian girls in one of the canoes even showed us where
not to stand in the mud, as they sank knee deep and lost their shoes
in the black yuck! The idea of canoeing at night is to see wildlife
in the trees along the banks, but unfortunately the water had dropped
so low that the trees were quite away from the shoreline, and we couldn’t
get into any of the areas with thick tree cover. Our sightings for the
night were one pair of orange eyeballs (possum) and one pair of red
eyeballs (tree kangaroo), and lots of frogs!
When we got back to the hostel at 11pm, the girls were still wide awake,
and poor old Laura had been made to sit through a puppet show, a game
of battleships, and listen to every story that they could think up.
She looked exhausted, which was the wrong way round, as the girls had
been up for 18 hours at this point!
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