|I can't believe it's 11 days since I last wrote anything - things have been busy, and we've been having an amazing time. As I write this we're in Mission Beach, in a fabulous room in an "Eco Village" resort. But I guess I'd better start at the beginning of what I've missed, with Kev's wedding. The stag night, which was basically just a few of Kev's mates going out for beers the night before the wedding, involved us heading to a huge pub/hotel thing called the Regatta, which had numerous bars, a resturant, and a club all in one place, to save us having to move around at all. We had a few beers, Kev drank a lot of VB (Victoria Bitter), and went home at about 10:30pm. No bad thing considering he had to get married the next day!
Unfortunately he was still a little under the weather the next day, but we (Kev's dad, Joe, me and Jon) sorted him out, and got him to the church on time, which was our major job. The wedding was fabulous, Victoria looked wonderful, in that way that brides always seem to, and it all went off without a hitch. The reception was also great - the only hiccup was that a rather elderly lady who was (I hope I get this right) Victoria's Mum's Dad's second wife fainted, which caused much concern, abulances were called, etc, but I'm glad to say all was fine in the end. I guess the excitement got to her! Sadly this meant that Jon didn't get to give his best man speach, but he's promised to wirte it up when we get home and send it to Kev & Victoria so they can read it.
The next day we made a swift departure as we had to get to Hervey Bay in time to get a ferry across to Fraiser Island. On our way out of Brisbane, we saw a rather discouraging sign saying "Cairns, 1760km" or something of that ilk - given that we will eventually be driving to Cairns, we had a long way to go! But this first bit to Hervey Bay shouldn't be too bad. From the UK we'd been given an estimate of ~200km, and several ppl in Brisbane had said it was about 2 hrs drive, so we weren't too worried. We set off at about 2pm, intending to make the 7pm ferry, and decided to stop off in Noosa en route, as several people had said it was lovely.
It took us a little longer to get to Noosa than we had origionally thought, and en route we began to get the impression that Hervey Bay might be a little further up the coast than we had origionally thought. We arrived in Noosa at about 3:30pm, which, given that it was about half way, didn't bode well for 2 hrs to Hervey Bay! Nevertheless, we decided to stop off for a little while, thinking we had plenty of time. Luckily we stopped in a tourist info place to ask what would be the best thing to do with only a short afternoon in Noosa, and the lady there told us she would expect it to take a further 2 1/2 hours to Hervey Bay from there! By this point we were somewhat unimpressed with the sense of distance and time of most Australians! Still, we went for a quick walk along the beach and into the fringes of the Noosa National park, and saw a wild Koala in a tree, which was an added, unexpected bonus.
By 4:30 we were on the road, thinking that we had plenty of time to make the 7pm ferry, as surely the lady in Noosa must have been overestimating the time from there by at least half an hour.... Unfortunately, she was right on the money. We would have still made it, except that we got lost coming out of Noosa (their signposting was worse than attrocious, and because of the distances were were covering we only had a very small scale map that didn't show the tangle of roads right inside Noosa), which added an extra 20 mins to our journey, meaning that we arrived in Hervey Bay about 10 past 7. The 7pm ferry had left at 5 past! Still, it was dark already so we wouldn't have seen anything of the Island that night, so we had dinner at Hervey Bay and caught the 10pm ferry, which was totally empty, so we chatted to the captain and crew and got to go up into the wheelhouse, which was fun. We finally arrived at the Kingfisher Bay resort on Fraiser Island rather late, and went straight to bed!
Fraiser Island is the largest island in the world that is made entirely of sand, without a scrap of rock to be seen. In spite of the usually low nutritional value of sand, it's covered in rain forrest, which surivives thanks to some rather complicated biological tricks. It's 126km long, although considerably thinner (I can't remember how wide), and we spent the next day doing a whirlwind tour of all the best bits, although I'm sure there was much more to see. We saw sand blows, where the sand is blown into huge dunes by the wind, which devour the forrests as they move, leaving dead trees sticking up from the sand. We drove along the amazing beach, which is a registered highway on the island - it's the only place you can drive at any speed, as the rest of the roads are just tracks in the sand. It's definitely 4WD territory only! I went for a scenic flight over the island in a tiny plane that took off and landed on the beach, which was a tad bumpy! We saw the wreck of a 1930s liner which was washed up on the beach, and mostly rusted away. We went for a walk through "pile valley", through which runs "silent creek" aka "invisible creek", so named because the water is crystal clear and flows without making a sound as there are no rocks for it to babble over. Finally we went for a swim in the marvelous lake MacKenzie, which is a large freshwater lake. The water is slightly acidic, which means it opens your pores right up, and the white sand is so fabulously soft if you scrub yourself all over with it the combination of sand and water leaves your skin feeling baby soft and smooth. This is probably the origin of the rumour that bathing there has youth restoring properties. We greatly enjoyed our swim, and then headed back to the hotel for dinner, in a resturant which, like the one we'd had lunch in that day, had some very sweet and highly acrobatic swallows nesting inside it.
After dinner we went on a night walk in an attempt to see some of the more nocturnal wildlife of the area. We didn't see anything big, and sadly didn't see any dingos (for which Fraiser Island is famous), but we did see any number of creepy crawlies, and a large number of frogs and toads! We even saw the Fraiser Island Funnelweb spider, which is 7 times more venomous than the Sydney version, but considered less deadly than the Sydney version, as it runs away from you rather than being aggressive!
Our day on Frasier Island complete we got an early night, as we had to catch the first ferry back to the mainland in the morning for the longest part of our drive yet....
Having got up at some ungodly hour to catch the 7:40am ferry back to the mainland, we settled in for a long stint into the car. We had to get to Airlie beach in time to catch a sailing boat by the name of the Corral Trekker, the following afternoon. We could have stopped off en route, but decided to push on and do the whole drive in one day, giving us time to chill out the following morning before getting on the boat. It was about 8 or 900 km, and took us about 10 or 11 hours, with the odd stop for refreshments. If we'd been driving in one direction on Great Britton for that long, we'd've run out of island! At some point during the day we passed through a town called Rockhampton, through which the tropic of Capricorn runs, and were officially in the tropics. We finally made it to our destination, found somewhere to kip in Airlie Beach, and promply passed out....
The next morning we picked up a few things in town we would need for the boat, and stepped on board at about 1pm. What followed were 4 of the best days of our trip. The Corral Trekker was an old fashioned wooden sailing ship, with both gaff rigged and square sails, with the sail material a lovely bright red colour, which is actually the main reason we booked this trip in the first place - we saw the ship in the brochure and fell in love! We spent the time on board reading, relaxing, watching the marvelous Whitsunday Islands go slowly by, and, most excitingly, snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef.
I was totally blown away by the snorkelling - I never imagined that there could be such a huge variety of corral, in size, shape and colour, or that there would be quite so many fish. At times the water was thick with them, as you swam through whole shoals. It was amazing!
Day one of the trip we motored our way to Black Island, where we did a bit of fabulous snorkelling (although the reef is spawning at this time of year, and the water at Black Island was quite murky), and moored for the night, watching a fabulous sunset. We then had a purgatorial night in our cabin, which was small and hot! I didn't get much sleep at all.....
Day 2 we motored 'round to Blue Pearl Bay on Haymand Island, where we did the best snorkelling of the trip, even though there were a lot of other people around. The water was much clearer than the day before, which was good. We saw a resident Maori Wrasse fish, who was pretty big, and nicknamed Elvis by the locals, and Jon and I saw a turtle, who was awfully sweet, and let us swim with him for a bit, even touching his shell. After our snorkelling we put up the sails on the ship. The flying jib, the working jib, the staysail, the mainsail and the missen, and even two of the square rigged sails, the top sail and the top gallant, but not the bottom one, the coarse, as because of the way that the boat is rigged you can't use that and the mainsail at the same time. Anyway, after much hauling, belaying, sweating and tying off of ropes, we got the sails up, and went precisely nowhere! There just wasn't enough wind for them to do any good. But it was fun hoisting them, and to see the ship with her sails up. Eventually we gave in, dropped the sails again, and used good old motor power to get us down to the south end of Whitehaven beach (the really famous Whitsunday beach), which we walked along. En route we spotted some dolphins, although only for a second or two before they vanished. On the boeach we found small blubottle jellyfish on the sand - it's stinger season here at the moment, but we were all wearing stinger suits when we swam, so were perfectly safe. We moored there for the night, and had a lovely view of the moon rising. That night we slept on deck, on mats under a blanket, which was lovely as we got to watch the stars and the moon, much like we did in the red centre, only here it was nearly full moon rather than new so there weren't so many stars to see. Unforutnately I still didn't get much sleep, no idea why, but Jon fared much better.
Day 3 we made our way through Hook Island Passage to Scrub Hen beach, where again we snorkelled. This time there was very little to see beneath the waves (I think we'd been spoiled by the day before!), but we did find a monitor lizzard half way up a tree. We then went to Ian Point, had much fun using a make-shift swing to launch ourselves off the boat, and did yet more snorkelling. This was good snorkelling again, not quite as good as Blue Pearl Bay, but there were less people around, which made it nice. It was here that I think I might have seen a small reef shark, although it was a long way down and in murky water, so hard to tell for sure. But it might have been.... Finally we went to Nara Inlet, one of the best moorings in the world as it's well protected from the wind, and walked up the hill to see a cave with some aborigional paintings in it. This was also when we tried green ants - a type of ant who's bum you can lick and it tastes of lemon sherbert. No, really! We moored here for the night, watched the sun go down, and I slept on deck again beneath a full moon, in spite of warnings of storms and rain. Jon slept in the cabin, and was unfortunately rather ill all night, possibly because he swallowed quite a bit of sea water. He didn't have a good night!
The next day we made our way back to Airlie beach, said goodbye to everyone we'd met on the boat, and went on our way, collecting the car and driving up to Townsville, which is just a town, really, although a very hot one! The next morning we looked around Townsville a bit, went into the Museum of Tropical Queensland, which had some interesting bits, and then finished the journey to Mission Beach. En Route we stopped in a town called Ingham (honest!), and had a late lunch - a truly gorgeous pizza at a place called the Olive Tree Coffe Shop. If you're ever in Ingham, we recommend it!
And so we made our way to Mission Beach, where we are now, and found a lovely hotel called the Mission Beach Eco Village. It has individual chalets, and ours has a spa bath and a little stream (man made, but nicly done) running past the door.. It's lovely! This morning was mostly spent with me going in search of drugs for Jon, who still wasn't well. This didn't prove easy with today being a Sunday, but I managed it in the end, and I'm pleased to say he's now feeling much better. Then we had lunch in town (if Mission Beach can be called a town - it's a village really), and went for a walk along the beach, and then into the rain forres, where we were lucky enough to see a Cassowary, which was the major thing we were hoping for while we're here.
Cassowaries are large flightless birds, a bit like an emu or an ostrich, that are very endangered. Mission Beach is the place you're mosly likely to find them and there's only about 40 or 50 in the area. And one just stepped out onto the track in front of us as we were walking. He was absolutely magnificent, with shiny black feathers and a head and neck in the brightest blue and red. He walked down the path towards us - something we found mildly concerning, as cassowaries can be dangerous. The have a very powerful kick and sharp claws, so can do you some damage if they get irritated with you. But we backed away as instructed by the locals, and hid behind things (a tree in my case, the car in Jon's), and he went about his business, which was jumping in a most impressive fashion to get some fruit out of a tree, without paying us much attention at all. I twas quite magical.
Our Mission Beach mission complete we headed back to base, had a swim in the sea and in the pool, and walked into town for a lovely dinner. Tomorrow we intend to get up early to see the sun rise over the beach, and then it's back in the car to make our way north to our final stop in Cape Tribulation, just north of Cairns.