A Travellerspoint blog

Fraser Island

World Heritage listed Great Sandy National Park

sunny 27 °C

Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world and stretches 123 kilometres in length and 22 kilometres at its widest point. It is the biggest island on the Australian East Coast and forms part of the Great Sandy National Park which was World Heritage listed in 1992. The island has a diverse landscape which includes rainforests, eucalyptus woodland, mangrove forests, wallum and peat swamps, sand dunes and coastal heaths.

Fraser Island is a place of exceptional beauty, with its long uninterrupted white beaches flanked by strikingly coloured sand cliffs, and over 100 freshwater lakes, some tea-coloured and others clear and blue all ringed by white sandy beaches. Ancient, cool rainforests grow in sand (the only palce in the world) along the banks of fast-flowing, crystal-clear creeks.

The Butchulla people are the indigenous people of Fraser Island and their name for Fraser Island was K'gari which means paradise. According to Butchulla legend, Fraser Island was named K'gari after the beautiful spirit who helped Yindingie, messenger of the great god Beeral, create the land. As a reward to K'gari for her help Beeral changed her into an idyllic island with trees, flowers and lakes. He put birds, animals and people on the island to keep her company. Captain Cook first sighted the Fraser Island Butchulla people during 1770 when he sailed close past the island and named Indian Head on the eastern beach after them.

We took the Land Cruiser and Quantum over on a vehicle ferry and deflated the tyres before we cruised because all roads on Fraser are sandy 4WD tracks, some of them very rough and boggy. On the east coast of Fraser Island the 75 Mile Beach is used as a highway and you can travel up to 80km/h around low tide. The island is a 4WD paradise but also treacherous as we learned on our last day.

Our fist stay was for a couple of nights at a campsite in the middle of the island called Central Station, right in the middle of an ancient rainforest. This is close to Lake McKenzie, Lake Birrabeen and Lake Waddy and we took the scenic drives to visit the central lakes.

From Central Station we travelled north on the beach "highway" on Seventy-Five Mile Beach to Dundubara where we camped for three nights. On the way to Dundubara we stopped at the famous wreck of the Maheno. Built in 1905 in Scotland, the SS Maheno was one of the first turbine-driven steamers. She steamed a regular route between Sydney and Auckland until she was commissioned as a hospital ship in Europe during World War One. In 1935, she and her sister ship the Oonah were sold to Japan for scrap. The rudders of the boats were removed and they were being towed to Japan when a cyclonic storm snapped the tow chain and the Maheno drifted helplessly onto Fraser Island's Seventy-Five Mile Beach where she is still lying today. During the Second World War she served as target bombing practice for the RAAF which accelarated her destruction.

Behind the Dundubara campgrounds is the Wungul Sandblow, one of 43 large sandblows on the island. There is a walking trail to the sandblow and once on the sand it feels as if you are in a desert. These sandblows advancesa at a rate of one meter a year and engulf everything in their path even very tall trees.

From Dundubara we travelled north (only with the Land Cruiser) on the beach to Indian Head to check out the boggy inland track arounfd Indian Head to Waddy Point where we were booked to camp for the last four nights. It turned out to be too soft and boggy to risk taking the Quantum through it and we decided to change to a beach campsite just south of Dundubarra. The weather was ideal with no wind, just a gentle sea breeze to cool you down, making beach camping a fantastic experience. We saw Humpback Whales everyday and they entertained us for hours on end with their breaching and pec slapping.

During our stay on Fraser Island we saw dingoes on the eastern beach on four occasions. Whilst camping on the beach one dingo came very close for an inspection of the Quantum. Fraser Island dingoes are the purest strain of this fine predator in Australia.

On the 10th day of our stay on the island we packed up and travelled 80 km south on the beach to the most southern point Hook Point, to take the vehicle barge to Inskip Point on the mainland. A south-easterly wind was blowing at gale force and the low tide turned into high tide due to the sea surge. The last 10 km on the beach is very narrow and only recommended at low tide so we decided to take the inland track to Hook Point to be safe. On our first attempt to get off the beach and on to the ramp we got bogged down in soft sand. We decided to reverse and after shoveling for an hour we got the vehicles unbogged and I tried to go up the ramp again at higher speed but got bogged again. I tried to winch the vehicles out but we only moved about 10 meters before they became bogged solid in the the soft sand. A local tour operator from Sunshine Beach stopped to help us (many other vehicles just drove past without an offer to help) and he and the guys on his tour helped us to unhitch the Landcruiser, winch it out, turn it around and winch the Quantum out with the guys keeping the jockey wheel on the roller tracks that I bought for an occasion like this. After two hours we finally got the vehicles unbogged and we drove to the barge to get to the mainland, relieved again that we did not need to call for a recovery vehicle to rescue us.

We were supposed to continue our travel in the Great Sandy National Park (Cooloola section) today and drive south on the beach to camp at Teewha Beach but the tides were not in our favour due to the delay getting bogged. We are staying over at Rainbow Beach for the night and will attempt the beach drive to Teewha Beach tomorrow morning at low tide.

Lake McKenzie beach

Lake McKenzie beach


Lake Birrabeen

Lake Birrabeen

Lake Wabby

Lake Wabby

Central Station campsite

Central Station campsite

75 Mile Beach highway

75 Mile Beach highway

Dingo on the beach

Dingo on the beach

Forest scenic drive

Forest scenic drive

Forest canopy

Forest canopy

Maheno Wreck

Maheno Wreck


Beach relaxing

Beach relaxing

Boomerang Lakes

Boomerang Lakes

Sandblow casualty

Sandblow casualty

Turtle in Lake Allom

Turtle in Lake Allom

Wanggoolba Creek

Wanggoolba Creek


Campsite on 75 Mile Beach

Campsite on 75 Mile Beach


Sand pattern on 75 Mile Beach

Sand pattern on 75 Mile Beach


Humpback Whale breaching

Humpback Whale breaching

Winching the Quantum

Winching the Quantum

Posted by KobusM 00:02 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

Town of 1770 and Lady Musgrave Island

James Cook's first landing in Queensland

sunny 26 °C

The Town of 1770 is a holiday village built on the site of the second landing in Australia by Lt. James Cook and the crew of the Endeavour in May 1770. This was Cook's first landing in what is now the state of Queensland. The second landing was in Cooktown after the Edeavour struck a reef and they were forced to make a landing. Originally known as Round Hill – after the creek it sits on – the name was changed in 1970 to commemorate the bicentennial of Cook's visit.

We stayed in Agnes Water Beach Caravan Park with a nice ocean view. Agnes Water has the most northerly surfing beach on Australia's east coast and also a holiday village close to the Town of 1770.

1770 is ideally situated to take a day trip to one of the most southern cays in the Great Barrier Reef, called Lady Musgrave Island, which is part of the Capricornia Cays National Park. Lady Musgrave Island and Lagoon is the only island and lagoon combined in the outer Great Barrier Reef where big ferries can enter the lagoon. I did the day trip with two dives and Lorraine stayed in the caravan to catch up with her studies. The dives were not as good as on Heron Island bust still above average.

From here we will travel south to World Heritage listed Fraser Island which we expect to be another highlight of our tour. We will be camping in three different locations on Fraser Island over the next ten days.

Bustard Bay from 1770

Bustard Bay from 1770


Cook monument in 1770

Cook monument in 1770

Agnes Water

Agnes Water

Agnes Water beach

Agnes Water beach

1770 Marina

1770 Marina

Lady Musgrave Island

Lady Musgrave Island


Lined Rabbitfish

Lined Rabbitfish


Sea snake

Sea snake

Green Sergeants

Green Sergeants

Coral hills

Coral hills

Aquarium

Aquarium

Green turtle

Green turtle

Posted by KobusM 01:55 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Heron Island

Coral cay in the Great Barrier Reef

sunny 26 °C

Heron Island is a coral cay located near the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Great Barrier Reef, 72 kilometers north-east of Gladstone. The island is situated on the leeward side of Heron Reef, a fringing platform reef of significant biodiversity and is about 800 meters long and 300 meters at its widest. The island began forming around 6,000 years ago but was only discovered in 1843 by Francis Blackwood on the H.M.S Fly while looking for shipping channels through the Great Barrier Reef. The ship's geologist named it Heron Island after he noticed the large number of reef herons feeding on the cay's reef, but in my view it should have been named Noddy Island as Black Noddy Terns dominate the island. The island did not become inhabited until the early 20th century when a turtle cannery was established, aiming to profit from the seasonal influx of green turtles, but the venture soon found it difficult to keep the business afloat. Fortunately for nature lovers other attempts at establishing fisheries were abandoned and in the 1930s the lease was taken over by Captain Christian Poulsen who saw the island's potential as a holiday destination. Poulsen built the resort and organised the ferrying of tourists firstly by boat, then, after purchasing ex-RAAF seaplanes, by plane. In 1943 Poulsen noticed a damaged naval vessel abandoned on a beach near Gladstone and decided it would make a useful breakwater and bought the ship (HMCS Protector, circa 1884) for 10 pounds and towed it to the island. The wreck is one of the first things visitors to the island see and it's a popular spot for one of the island's visiting birds, the large Brown Booby, to roost. On 11 September 1943 the entire island was declared a National Park, called the Carpricornia Cays National Park. Five years later Poulsen went missing in in a dingy in nearby waters.

Heron Island Resort is a fantastic place to wind down and to enjoy the Great Barrier Reef. We have come here to celebrate the half-way mark of our Big Lap of Australia and to take a break from camping and caravan life. We left the Land Cruiser and the Quantum in Gladstone and boarded the luxurious catamaran ferry for a two hour cruise to the island. The island is not accessible for day-trippers and is a haven for scuba divers and snorkelers. Strangely, the island is in a different time-zone than Queensland, one hour ahead, maybe to demonstrate the isolation from the mainland. We arrived in perfect conditions and the weather was great the rest of the time.

I have read that Jacques Cousteau had named Heron Island as one of the top 10 dive spots in the world, and I was eager to slip below the surface to test this. Heron has 60% of the 1500 species of fish and about 70% of the hard and soft coral varieties of the Barrier Reef, making the underwater world a feast of colour and life. The visibility underwater was amazing at 25-30 meter and the coral gardens breathtaking. I enjoyed all five dives and will rate them high on my top list of dives. But you don't have to scuba dive to enjoy the reef. Snorkeling is just as good and can be done in the shallow water from the beach at the resort.

We loved Heron Island and is certainly one of the highlights of our Big Lap trip. We will depart for the Town of 1770 tomorrow and hopefully get a chance to visit the most southern cay of the Capricornia Cays National Park and the Great Barrier Reef on a day trip from 1770.

Heron Island airial view

Heron Island airial view


Heron Island crystal clear water

Heron Island crystal clear water


Pristine beaches on Heron Island

Pristine beaches on Heron Island

Heron Island harbour

Heron Island harbour

Wreck of the HMCS Protector

Wreck of the HMCS Protector

Black Noddy Tern

Black Noddy Tern

Barramundi Cod

Barramundi Cod

Coral wonderland

Coral wonderland

Fuseliers

Fuseliers

Green Turtle

Green Turtle

Lionfish

Lionfish

Scorpionfish

Scorpionfish

Spotted Sweetlips

Spotted Sweetlips


Longfin Batfish

Longfin Batfish


Semicircle Angelfish

Semicircle Angelfish


Nudibranch

Nudibranch

Posted by KobusM 02:06 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Cape Hillsborough National Park

Volcanic headlands, rainforests and mangroves

overcast 27 °C

Cape Hillsborough National Park is 50 km north of Mackay and combines rainforests with volcanic headlands and broad sandy beaches. Captain James Cook named Cape Hillsborough during his voyage in 1770 as he sailed up the Queensland coast. Today, diverse habitats make up this small, but interesting, national park. Lowland rainforest and vine forest grow along creeks, valleys and hillside gullies. A large mangrove forest along Sand Bay is an important breeding area for marine animals. Hills and headlands support grass trees and eucalypt forests; and the striking rock formations are evidence of the area’s volcanic past.

We camped at the Cape Hillsborough Nature Resort at Andrews Point where there are a number of walking tracks to explore the national park. It was very windy and rainy the first couple of days but it cleared on the third day, allowing us to do a couple of the walking tracks with sweeping views of the area. The camp area was also frequented by kangaroos, possums and brush-turkeys.

We are now roughly half-way through our Big Lap tour and decided to spoil ourselves with a 4 day stay in a cabin on Heron Island in the Great Barrier Reef. We travelled down to Gladstone today to park the Land Cruiser and Quantum and then take a ferry to Heron Island tomorrow morning.

Cape Hillsborough

Cape Hillsborough


Cape Hillsborough beach

Cape Hillsborough beach

Fungi in the forest

Fungi in the forest

Cycads

Cycads

Grass trees

Grass trees

Mangrove forest

Mangrove forest

Australian Brush-turkey on its nest

Australian Brush-turkey on its nest

Volcanic rock formations

Volcanic rock formations

Ugly Possum

Ugly Possum

Cute Possums

Cute Possums

Posted by KobusM 00:52 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Hydeaway Bay

Quieter than Airlie Beach

semi-overcast 28 °C

We travelled south from Ayr to Airlie Beach and when we arrived in Airlie Beach found it to be heaving with tourists. Although we knew it was a long weekend in school holidays we were still surprised how busy this little holiday village was. We booked into the Big4 Airlie Cove Caravan Park in Airlie Beach and battled to get the Quantum parked into a very tight spot. We eventually got it parked but then realised the angle was too steep to get the jockey wheel out without jacking the Quantum up. We asked for a bigger site but the ladies at reception were not very helpful, so we decided to get a refund and look for a camp site elsewhere.

We found a nice secluded caravan park in Hydeaway Bay, named after a local surveyor called Hyde. Hydeaway Bay is 65 km from Airlie Beach at the tip of the peninsula south of Gloucester Island National Park, with Dingo Beach close by.

The Cape Gloucester Eco Resort is just around the tip on the western side of the peninsula and we enjoyed a relaxing Sunday lunch there, listening to live music and enjoying the views over the bay and Gloucester Island. The next day we went back there to watch the sun set over the Port of Bowen Edgecumbe Bay.

Hydeaway Bay

Hydeaway Bay


Hydeaway Bay beach

Hydeaway Bay beach

Hydeaway Bay

Hydeaway Bay

Dingo Beach

Dingo Beach

Stinger barrier on Dingo Beach

Stinger barrier on Dingo Beach

Cape Gloucester Resort

Cape Gloucester Resort

Cape Gloucester

Cape Gloucester


Sunset at Cape Gloucester

Sunset at Cape Gloucester

Posted by KobusM 17:45 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

SS Yongala

Internationally acclaimed wreck dive

sunny 29 °C

The passenger ship SS Yongala was built in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, from 1902-1903. It was launched on 29 April 1903 and commissioned, along with a sister-ship Grantala, by the Adelaide Steamship Co, to meet the demand of the Gold Rush coastal routes around Australia in the early 1900s. En route from Melbourne to Cairns she steamed into a cyclone without a radio and sank south of Townsville on 23 March 1911. Traces of the ship were found days later as cargo and pieces of wreckage washed ashore, but no live rafts were found suggesting that the ship struck a reef and the ship sank almost immediately. All 122 people on board perished in what is considered one of the most tragic incidents in Australian maritime history. The only body ever found was that of the racehorse Moonshine that was on board, washed up at the mouth of Gordon Creek, not far from Ross Creek, Townsville. In the years that followed the disappearance of the Yongala, rumours began to surface about a ghost ship, exactly resembling the Yongala, being frequently seen moving in the distance in seas between Bowen and Townsville. It was only in 1958 that the wreck of the Yongala was discovered lying in waters south of Townsville, and it has since become renowned as an internationally acclaimed wreck diving destination.

I dived on the Yongala in 1998 as part of a 3 night live aboard dive trip out of Townsville and I remember it to be one of my best diving experiences. I was therefore keen to get back on the wreck and decided to do it from Ayr which is a shorter trip to get to the wreck than from Townsville. The dive boat launched from Alva Beach which is a 15 minute drive from Ayr, where we were staying, and reached the wreck 45 mintes later after a very rough ride to allow us to do two dives with a surface interval of an hour.

The Yongala lies in approximitely 30 meters of water with the upper sections of the wreck 16 meters below the surface. The wreck is 109 meters long and lays listing to starboard at an angle of about 60-70 degrees. This enchanted wreck has become home to an incredible array of marine life. As we decended to the wreck we saw giant gropers beneath the stern; schools of giant trevally and barracuda congregated around the wreck whilst sea snakes glided harmlessly past us on their way to the surface. We spotted many gracefully rays gliding past us and thousands of other creatures on the coral-encrusted structure. The wreckage is completely covered by a hundred years of coral growth but Cyclone Yasi has taken its toll on the Yongala with corals ripped from the wreckage, exposing the steel hull and the name. Penetration of the wreck is forbidden due to its fragility, but you can peer in from outside with a torch. It felt a little eerie diving on what is fundamentally a graveyard, although the only trace of human remains is the single femur bone that can be seen in the forward cargo hold. As we ascended to cover the port side, it was possible to peer into the bowels of the wreck to observe the cast-iron bath and toilets decorated with anemone, before gliding past the First Class dining-room which is now a huge coral grotto.

For me the Yongala has again lived up to its reputation as the best dive in Australia and one of the top 10 dives in the world and I recommend any diver not to miss it when visiting the Townsville/Ayr area or diving the Great Barrier Reef. Top 10 best dive sites in the world

Tomorrow we will travel further south to Airlie Beach from where we will explore the Whitsunday Islands and hopefully do a couple of dives there as well.

large_Spectacular_wreck.jpg
Spadefish

Spadefish

Snubnose Pompano

Snubnose Pompano

Six-banded Angelfish

Six-banded Angelfish

Humphead Wrasse

Humphead Wrasse

Giant Trevally

Giant Trevally

Black-blotched Stingray

Black-blotched Stingray

Black-blotched Stingray gliding over the wreck

Black-blotched Stingray gliding over the wreck

Black-blotched Stingray

Black-blotched Stingray

Barracuda

Barracuda

SS Yongala

SS Yongala

Colorful soft corals

Colorful soft corals

Coral Grouper

Coral Grouper

Exposed by Yasi

Exposed by Yasi

Posted by KobusM 00:35 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Townsville

Unofficial capital of Northern Queensland

sunny 30 °C

The drive from Mission Beach to Townsville was interesting, with the landscape changing from wet rainforests to tropical savanna. Townsville is adjacent to the central section of the Great Barrier Reef and it is in the dry tropics region of Queensland.

We checked into the Rowes Bay Caravan Park, which is on the beachfront close to the city. The Strand area is just a couple of kilometers from the caravan park and is a nice place to visit but whilst we have been in town signs have been posted on the Rowes Bay and Strand beaches advising of the presence of a Red Tide or trichodesmium algae. The views from Castle Hill, the monolith towering over Townsville CBD, are stunning with Magnetic Island in the distance. Magnetic Island was named by Captain James Cook because of the apparent "magnetic" effect it had on his ship's compass as he passed the island when sailing up the east coast of Australia in 1770. Downtown Townsville reminds us of Fremantle with lots of colonial architecture close to the harbour.

I visited Townsville 14 years ago to do my first live aboard dive trip to the Great Barrier Reef and the city has grown considerably since then. Townsville is Australia's largest urban center north of the Sunshine Coast, with an estimated population of 186,000. Considered the unofficial capital of North Queensland, Townsville hosts a significant number of governmental, community and major business administrative offices for the northern half of the state but is also a vibrant tourist destination. Townsville enjoys on average 320 days of sunshine in a year.

From Townsville we will travel south to Ayr from where I will do a day trip to do wreck dives on the SS Yongala, regarded as one of the best dives in the world.

Views of Magnetic Island from Castle Hill

Views of Magnetic Island from Castle Hill


Townsville CBD from Castle Hill

Townsville CBD from Castle Hill

Magnetic House

Magnetic House

Molly Malones Hotel

Molly Malones Hotel

Old Brewery

Old Brewery

Townsville architecture

Townsville architecture

Townsville harbour

Townsville harbour

Posted by KobusM 22:44 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Mission Beach and Alison Reef

Recovering from Cyclone Yasi

sunny 30 °C

From Wooroonooran National Park we travelled down to the coast to Mission Beach and camped at the Beachcomber Caravan Village on the beachfront at South Mission Beach.

Mission Beach suffered a direct hit from category 5 Cyclone Yasi on 2 February 2011. Cyclone Yasi left a trail of destruction from Cairns to Townsville but the worst affected areas were around Mission Beach. Now, a year and a half later, some of the damage is still visable and many people are struggling to rebuild their lives and local businesses say they've been crippled by the loss of tourist infrastructure that hasn't been replaced, for example on Dunk Island. We saw many houses with shipping containers in the garden or in the garage, the only secure way to sit out a tropical storm of that magnitude. The storm caused an estimated 3.6 billion dollars in damage, making it the costliest tropical cyclone to hit Australia on record.

Mission Beach is a tourist town that has been able to maintain its small town feel. One reason for this is that the town is spread out along a thin strip of land between the ocean and the hills and farmland behind. This has spread out a large tourism market, and the village doesn't feel as busy as one might expect. We had a nice beachfront site 50 meters from the beach with views of the Coral Sea, Dunk Island and Bedarra Island.

I did a half-day dive trip to Alison Reef on the outer Great Barrier Reef with Calypso Adventures. It was not as spectacular as the Ribbon Reefs or Osprey Reef but there were lots of small creatures to observe. The Great Barrier Reef is only 38 kilometres from Mission Beach, thus making it the closest mainland point to the Great Barrier Reef at just over an hour away. The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system. Stretching for over 2300 kilometres along the Queensland coast, it is comprised of approximately 2900 individual reefs and over 900 sand cays and islands.

Tomorrow we will travel down to Townsville.

South Mission Beach

South Mission Beach


Dunk and Bedarra Islands

Dunk and Bedarra Islands


Cyclone Yasi damage

Cyclone Yasi damage


Blue Damselfish

Blue Damselfish


Blue Starfish

Blue Starfish

Damselfish on lovely coral

Damselfish on lovely coral

Blue Christmasworm

Blue Christmasworm


Blue staghorn coral

Blue staghorn coral

Posted by KobusM 04:05 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Wooroonooran National Park

Palmerston section

sunny 28 °C

From Cairns we travelled back up to the Atherton Tablelands on a very steep and winding road through the rainforests and camped at Henrietta Creek in the Palmerston section of the Wooroonooran National Park. This large park is in the heart of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area (WTWHA) and the Henrietta Creek campground is nestled in the rainforest next to the Henrietta Creek. From here you can go for walks in the rainforest and try to spot platypus in the creek or cassowary in the forest. We were not so lucky to spot either cassowary or platypus, but we saw cassowary poo, the size of a man’s foot and we were both grateful they can’t fly.

The 5 km return walking track to Nandroya Falls took us through ancient rainforests, past Silver Falls and past towering buttressed trees and huge ferns before we reached Nandroya Falls where we relaxed and I cooled off in the plunge pool. Another 2 km return walking track close by took us through the rainforest to two beautiful waterfalls, Tchupala and Wallicher.

From here we continued our journey south to the coast to camp at Mission Beach.

Henrietta Creek

Henrietta Creek


Henrietta Creek campsite

Henrietta Creek campsite

Rainforest walk

Rainforest walk

Hideaway tree

Hideaway tree

Butterfly

Butterfly

Rainforest flowers

Rainforest flowers

Reaching for light

Reaching for light

Silver Falls

Silver Falls

Nandroya Falls

Nandroya Falls

Tchupala Falls

Tchupala Falls

Wallicher Falls

Wallicher Falls


Scenic drive

Scenic drive

Posted by KobusM 19:05 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Far Northern Great Barrier Reef and Osprey Reef

Adventure live aboard diving

semi-overcast 28 °C

Finally I boarded the live aboard boat named Spoilsport, departing from Cairns for a four day diving cruise on the far northern Great Barrier Reef and Osprey Reef. Lorraine did not join me as she is not a scuba diver and she stayed behind in Cairns to catch up with her studies. I did a similar three day live aboard trip from Townsville in 1998 with the same operator, Mike Ball Dive Expeditions, and it was the best diving experience I have had. I was looking forward to this trip for a long time. We left Cairns late on Thursday afternoon and the first evening was spent meeting everybody during drinks and snacks as well as briefings on the dives we are going to do over the next three days. Spoilsport is a twin hull, 30 x 10 m boat that cruises at 15 knots and carries maximum 23 passengers, mostly advanced divers, but on this trip we were only 16 divers.

I woke up early on Friday morning and I had a feeling of excitement as we cruised north in the shelter of the Great Barrier Reef. On deck we were greeted by the fabulous turquoise waters of the Ribbon Reefs. To port I recognised Cape Bedford and Cape Flattery and to starboard are the reefs and the vastness of the Coral Sea. Our first dives were at Cod Hole at the northern tip of the 10th Ribbon Reef. We dived with small diver size potato cod and spend the rest of the dive amongst shallow sunlit coral gardens of acropora coral and ventured deeper into the parallel gullies forming the front of the reef where huge Queensland groupers face into the current. These were many white tip reef sharks lying calmly on the sandy patches between the reefs.

After the dives at Cod Hole we moved down a few kilometers to the southern part of the 10th Ribbon Reef and did an afternoon and night dive at Gotham City, named after the many batfish that hang around the area. Gliding along, surrounded by schools of silver trevally, surgeon fish and yellow striped bream we explored pristine coral gardens in excellent visibility, except for the night dive of course.

That concluded our Great Barrier Reef dives and we departed for Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea and cruised out of the protection of the barrier reef into the open ocean. It was quite a bumpy and rocky night but I arrived at Osprey Reef without any sighs of sea sickness. Osprey Reef — a good example of an isolated oceanic reef — is located within the Coral Sea Islands Territory, situated around 330 km northeast from Cairns, Queensland. It lies some 125 km east from the Great Barrier Reef and 220 km due east from Queensland's Cape Melville. It is the northernmost reef on the Coral Sea Shelf. The reef is roughly oval in shape, measuring 25 km in length and up to 12 km in width, covering around 195 km². The lagoon, which is up to 30 m deep, is nearly completely enclosed, except for a narrow pass on its western side. The beak-like feature at the north end of Osprey Reef is known as North Horn.

We did a couple of dives at Fairy Grotto and Halfway, both fantastic dive sites with more than 30 meter visibility with spectacular walls disappearing to 1000 meters. The afternoon we cruised to a dive site called Admiralty Anchor, named after an anchor that is visible in one of the swim through tunnels. We again did an afternoon and a night dive. The following morning we did a very unique dive with Nautilus, made possible by two of the divers who are from the University of Cumbria and are busy doing research on Nautilus, which is considered to be a living fossil. These amazing creatures were around before the time of the dinosaurs and are still surviving without the need to evolve. The scientists trapped 14 nautiluses overnight in cages with chicken bait. Nautilus lives between 500-800 meters deep and ascent at night to about 40 meters to feed. Unfortunately their numbers are dwindling due to the trade in their beautiful shells. After the scientists did their measurements and took DNA samples, we took the Nautiluses with us on the dive to handle them underwater and photograph them. Afterwards they were released into the deep unscathed. What a unique opportunity to dive with these living fossils!

The next morning we cruised to the most northern point of Osprey Reef called North Horn and did an amazing shark feed dive. A bucket filled with fish heads was lowered to the reef where we all had taken up ring side "seats" in a natural amphitheater. Even before the bucket was lowered many sharks, mostly white tip and grey reef sharks, a potato cod and other predator fish were circling amongst us in anticipation of the feed. The numbers grew when the bucket was lowered and when it was finally opened remotely by one of the instructors it rapidly changed to a feeding frenzy with all the sharks having a frantic go at the fish heads. I estimate there must have been at least twenty to thirty sharks participating in the feed. Another amazing dive!

The last two dives were also on Osprey Reef called False Entrance and the coral and sheer walls that plummet to 1000 meters were just amazing. We glided past huge black coral trees, diver size soft coral trees and golden gorgonian fans. We saw huge schools of Bigeye Trevally (Jacks or Kingfish) and Bigeye Barracuda. Some divers saw a manta ray and there were many white-tip reef sharks around too.

That evening we celebrated the conclusion of a very enjoyable dive trip with an Aussie Barbeque and cruised overnight to Lizard Island in the Great Barrier Reef where we took a low level flight over the Great Barrier Reef back to Cairns.

Spoilsport

Spoilsport


Great Barrier Reef map

Great Barrier Reef map


Me in my favourite position

Me in my favourite position

Pristine corals

Pristine corals

Crescent-tail Bigeyes

Crescent-tail Bigeyes

Domino fish on an anemone

Domino fish on an anemone

Clown Triggerfish

Clown Triggerfish

Double-saddled butterfly fish with sharks in the background

Double-saddled butterfly fish with sharks in the background


Batfish

Batfish


Nautilius

Nautilius

Admiring Nautilus

Admiring Nautilus

Osprey Reef shark feed spectacular

Osprey Reef shark feed spectacular

Shark feed, Osprey Reef

Shark feed, Osprey Reef

Shark feed frenzy

Shark feed frenzy

Potato Cod at cleaning station

Potato Cod at cleaning station

Colourful coral

Colourful coral

Lovely soft corals at Osprey Reef

Lovely soft corals at Osprey Reef

Bigeye Trevally

Bigeye Trevally

Bigeye Barracuda

Bigeye Barracuda

Aussie barbeque

Aussie barbeque

Lizard Island

Lizard Island


Ribbon reefs

Ribbon reefs

Posted by KobusM 03:00 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

Cairns and Kuranda

Far northern tropical Queensland

semi-overcast 28 °C

Cairns is the first city we visit since we have been in Darwin three months ago and it feels like the "big smoke" after our bush trips to Cobourg Peninsula, the Red Centre and Cape York Peninsula. Cairns is a lush tropical city with a population of about 180,000 and is located 1,000 km south of Cape York and 1,700 km north of Brisbane. When gold was discovered at the Palmer River, east of Cooktown in 1872, thousands of miners arrived beginning a rush that would see Cairns eventually established in 1876.

Yesterday we went on a day trip to Kuranda, taking the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway to Kuranda and travelling back to Cairns on the Kuranda Scenic Railway. The Skyrail Cableway spans 7.5 km over a pristine rainforest which allows you to explore the wonders of this ancient tropical rainforest and learn about one of the most botanically fascinating and diverse areas on earth. You glide just meters above the rainforest canopy before descending through the canopy layers and deep into the heart of the forest at Skyrail’s two rainforest mid-stations, Red Peaks and Barron Falls. At each of these stations you are allowed to alight to explore the rainforest. At Red Peaks you can view the 400 year old Kauri Pine and many other rainforest plants. Barron Falls is just a trickle in the dry season but a raging torrent in the wet. From Barron Falls, the Skyrail experience continues through the mountains before gliding over the mighty Barron River and arriving at Skyrail’s Kuranda Terminal. Kuranda is a quaint little village with many tourist attractions, shops and restaurants to spend the rest of the day before departing on the Kuranda Scenic Railway trip back to Cairns in the afternoon. We visited Bird World and Koala Gardens and both were worth the visit, especially enjoying the interaction with the birds and watching the koalas' antics as some of them were quite active for koalas. We departed from Kuranda after a delightful day for our 90 minute return to Cairns. The locomotive power at the head of the train was a 1720 Class Diesel Electric Locomotive and the passenger carriages comprised of heritage style carriages. We spoiled ourselves and travelled Gold Class with a dedicated host service and individual seating in lounge-style chairs. The historical décor, including timber look flooring, historical photographs and cedar interior enhances the experience complemented by quality refreshments whilst enjoying the spectacular scenery as the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway meanders through the ancient rainforest and past two waterfalls to Cairns. This was a memorable day and highly recommended when you visit Cairns.

This afternoon I will depart on a 4 night live aboard dive expedition to the far northern Ribbon Reefs in the Great Barrier Reef as well as Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea whilst Lorraine plans to catch up with her studies. I suspect she is relieved to see me go on a trip for the first time this year. I will log this dive trip as a separate blog.

From Cairns we will travel inland to the tablelands for a while, past the crater lakes to Wooroonooran National Park.

Skyrail

Skyrail


400 Year old Kauri Pine

400 Year old Kauri Pine

Strangler fig

Strangler fig

Barron Falls

Barron Falls

Barron River

Barron River

Kuranda Hotel

Kuranda Hotel

Alexandrine Parrot

Alexandrine Parrot

Eclectus Parrot

Eclectus Parrot

Cassowary

Cassowary

Indian Ringneck

Indian Ringneck

Macaw Parrot

Macaw Parrot

Rainbow Lorikeet

Rainbow Lorikeet

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo

Friendly Alexandrine Parrot

Friendly Alexandrine Parrot

Long neck turtles

Long neck turtles

Koala gym

Koala gym

Kuranda Railway

Kuranda Railway

Maginficent views

Maginficent views

Posted by KobusM 14:57 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Agincourt Reef, Great Barrier Reef

World heritage underwater paradise

overcast 27 °C

I did a one day dive trip with ProDive from Port Douglas to the southern part of the Ribbon Reefs in the Great Barrier Reef, known as Agincourt reef. ProDive uses an ultra modern 29 metre catamaran called SilverSonic that cruises to the outer edge reef locations at Agincourt ribbon reef in superb style and comfort in just under an hour and a half. thye sea was very rough on the way to the reef and on the way back but the water was much calmer at the reef.

Agincourt Reef is at the very outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef about 20 nautical miles due east of Cape Tribulation and about 40 nautical miles from Port Douglas. Here, special reefs known as ‘ribbons’ run parallel to the Continental Shelf. Adjacent to the Coral Sea trench, these ribbon reefs are recognised as the most pristine eco-systems in the reef’s environment. Clear water provides the best possible underwater visibility, encourages rich coral growth and supports spectacular marine life.

Entering the dramatic beauty of the Great Barrier Reef is an extraordinary experience. It engages all your senses, lifts your spirit and takes you into another realm. My last dive on the Great Barrier Reef was in 1998 and I have forgotten how magnificent it is. We did 3 dives on three different sites on the reef and I enjoyed every minute of it. The day trip was intended as a refresher of my underwater photography skills that I will need when I do a 4 night live-aboard trip to the far northern Ribbon Reefs and Osprey Reef later in the week from Cairns. I also bought a new mask with stick-on bifocal lenses to allow me to see my gauges and my camera settings but they were not succesful, coming loose under water. All three dives were very nice, the first around a bommy, the second a drift dive and the third on the edge of the continental shelf. The most amazing sighting of fish was a huge local resident Napoleon Wrasse called Greg, that is is very tame and is a great model for photography. The Napoleon Wrasse is also called a Maori Wrasse here in Australia and the males can reach 2 meters in length and Greg is close to that.

On 4 September 2006, entertainer Steve Irwin a.k.a. "Crocodile Hunter" died at Batt Reef, off Port Douglas, after a stingray barb went through his chest into his heart while Irwin and his crew were filming a documentary called The Ocean's Deadliest. Irwin was filmed snorkelling directly above the stingray when it lashed him with its tail, embedding its toxic barb. Irwin died almost immediately. We only saw small stingrays on these dives but I must admit I have previously dived directly over huge stingrays before this incident with Steve. I will obviously not do that again.

SilverSonic

SilverSonic


Greg and I

Greg and I

Who's following me?

Who's following me?

Tame as a pet

Tame as a pet

Maori Wrasse

Maori Wrasse

Agincourt Reef

Agincourt Reef

Anemone Fish

Anemone Fish

Barracuda

Barracuda

Cuttle Fish

Cuttle Fish

Pristine corals

Pristine corals

Snorkellers

Snorkellers

Potato Rockcod

Potato Rockcod

Coral Rockod

Coral Rockod


Unicornfish  silhoutte

Unicornfish silhoutte

Posted by KobusM 01:58 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Port Douglas

Nestled between two world heritage areas

sunny 29 °C

From Cape Tribulation we travelled south to Port Douglas, stopped at Mount Alexander lookout for a magnificent view of the Coral Sea and the lush tropical rainforests along the coastline before we crossed the Daintree River by vehicle ferry.

Port Douglas is a picturesque seaside holiday village nestled between two world heritage areas: the crystal blue waters of the Great Barrier Reef and the rich green of the Wet Tropics rainforests. Port Douglas shares the same latitude as Tahiti or Angoche, Mozambique and is justifiably recognized internationally as one of Australia’s best holiday destinations. This sleepy fishing village has been tastefully transformed into the sophisticated yet casual playground of Far North Queensland’s most discerning visitors with many upmarket resorts in town, mainly along Four Mile Beach.

We stayed in Pandanus Caravan Park which is a comfortable nice van park and we enjoyed the luxuries of electricity, water on tap, clean amenities and good mobile internet coverage that was mostly unavailable during our trip in the Cape York Peninsula. The Marina in Port Douglas is home to many luxurious yachts and nice restaurants. We had lunch at Lures, at the Marina, and the food was nice and prices decent. The Sunday markets in Port Douglas are very popular and they are held right on the waterfront, next to the quaint little St Mary's on the Sea chapel.

Tomorrow I will do a one day dive trip with ProDive from Port Douglas to the southern part of the Ribbon Reefs in the Great Barrier Reef, known as Agincourt reef (see next blog entry)

From Port Douglas we will travel 70 km south to Cairns and stay there for seven days.

Mount Alexander Lookout

Mount Alexander Lookout

Port Douglas Marina

Port Douglas Marina

Four Mile Beach wind surfing

Four Mile Beach wind surfing

Four Mile Beach

Four Mile Beach

Port Douglas

Port Douglas

St Mary's by the Sea

St Mary's by the Sea


Inside of St Mary's by the Sea

Inside of St Mary's by the Sea

Sunday markets in Port Douglas

Sunday markets in Port Douglas

Posted by KobusM 00:47 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Daintree National Park

Lush tropical rainforests

semi-overcast 29 °C

We travelled south from Cooktown to Cape Tribulation and had a brief stop at Black Mountain National Park to take photos of the spectacular treeless mountain with its huge black boulders. From there we took the coastal shortcut through Bloomfield, crossing the Bloomfield River at Wujal Wujal. Up to Wujal Wujal the road was mostly sealed and the unsealed parts fairly good. That changed rapidly once we crossed the Bloomfield River. The road, called the Bloomfield Track, was narrow, very rough in places, winding through the rainforest and crossed numerous creeks with many very steep hills that took all the power of the Land Cruiser to tow the Quantum to the top without having to change to 4WL. The downhills were just as hairy and I was glad the Quantum had electric brakes. It is not the worst track we have travelled, but certainly the steepest.

We camped at Noah Beach, 7 km south of Cape Tribulation in the Daintree National Park for five nights. The campsite is situated 50 m from the beach beneath the dense rainforest canopy, which gives protection from both the wind and the sun, but that makes the use of solar panels more restrictive. We often saw lace monitors (goannas) and brush turkeys patrolling the campgrounds for food scraps.

Daintree National Park features long sandy beaches, rocky headlands, steep mountain ranges blanketed with dense tropical rainforests and intersected by numerous creeks and rivers. One of Australia's last extensive stands of lowland rainforest is found here. Daintree National Park is in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area (WTWHA). Proclaimed in 1988, the WTWHA extends for about 450 km between Cooktown and Townsville. Vegetation in the area's 900,000 ha includes tropical rainforest, open eucalypt forests, wetlands and mangrove forests. About 30% of Australia's reptile, marsupial and frog species, 65% of the country's bat and butterfly species, and 20% of Australia's native bird species can be found within the Daintree National Park. The Daintree Rainforest is the largest rainforest in Australia, covering an area of about 1,200 square kilometers. Around Cape Tribulation there are two boardwalk tracks that give you easy access to experience the rainforest.

Cape Tribulation was given its European name by Lieutenant James Cook after his ship, Endeavour, was damaged on a reef in the area in 1770. Cook wrote: 'I named the north point Cape Tribulation because here began all our troubles'.

From Noah Beach we travelled south through large parts of the Daintree rainforest and crossed the Daintree River by ferry on our way to Port Douglas.

Black Mountain

Black Mountain


Noah Beach from Noah Range

Noah Beach from Noah Range


Noah Beach

Noah Beach


Forest canopy

Forest canopy


Daintree Rainforest

Daintree Rainforest


Mangroves

Mangroves


Reaching for light

Reaching for light

Basket fern

Basket fern

Boardwalk

Boardwalk

Fascinating tree

Fascinating tree

Scavenger goanna

Scavenger goanna


Hang in there!

Hang in there!


Australian brush-turkey

Australian brush-turkey

Posted by KobusM 00:58 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Cooktown

Replenishment, recovery and repair base

semi-overcast 28 °C

Cooktown is a small town located at the mouth of the Endeavour River, where Lieutenant James Cook beached his crippled ship, the Endeavour, for repairs to its hull in 1770. When the Endeavour struck the reef, 23 hours passed before she was floated off, everyone on board took their turn at manning the pumps, falling down exhausted before another took his place. This was a very desperate time for Endeavour’s men as most of them couldn’t swim and they would surely drown if she sank. They had to keep her afloat and that they did, finally warping her into the harbour 5 days later after fothering the ship by pulling a sail under her bottom so that she wouldn’t sink.

The British crew spent seven weeks on the site of present-day Cooktown, repairing their ship, replenishing food and water supplies, and caring for their sick. The British scientist, Joseph Banks, and Swedish naturalist Daniel Solander, who accompanied Cook on the expedition, collected, preserved and documented over 200 new species of plants along the Endeavor River. After some weeks, Joseph Banks met and spoke with the local people, recording about 50 Guugu Yimithirr words, including the name of the intriguing animal the natives called gangurru (which he transcribed as "Kangaru"). Cook recorded the local name as "Kangooroo". The first recorded sighting of kangaroos by Europeans was on Grassy Hill, which rises 500 meters above Cooktown. Cook climbed this hill to work out a safe passage for the Endeavour to sail through the surrounding reefs and sandbanks, after it was repaired. He commented that with the prevailing south-easterly winds he will not be able to sail back south (as there are numerous sandbanks and reefs towards the east and south) and will have to continue sailing north, close to the coast. This led to him finding the straits around Cape York and then landing at Possession Island.

Cooktown was founded more than 100 years later, originally named Cook's Town, on 25 October 1873 as a supply port for the busy goldfields along the Palmer River. During the Second World War, Cooktown became an important base for the war effort. The civilian population of Cooktown was encouraged to evacuate in the face of the Japanese advances and by 1942 the vast majority had left. Some 20,000 Australian and American troops were stationed in and around the town. The busy airfield played a key role in the crucial Battle of the Coral Sea when Japanese expansion towards the Australian mainland was finally halted.

Present day Cooktown is a quaint little town in beautiful surroundings. Wide streets with impressive handmade stone guttering, historic buildings that were once the hub of commercial activity, and graceful, well-preserved Queenslander architecture give a hint of days gone by. The bitumen paving of the Mulligan Highway, which reached Cooktown in 2006, now provides all-weather access by road.

We also used Cooktown as a replenishment, recovery and repair base after our grueling 2,900 km corrugated gravel roads and rough 4WD tracks trip through Cape York Peninsula for a month. I had to get urgent repairs done to the Land Cruiser (snapped UHF radio antenna and loose spot light) and Quantum (badly cut tyre wall) after the punishment they received on the badly corrugated roads and the Frenchmans Track. The rest of the repairs to the Quantum will have to wait until we reach the manufacturers in Caloundra at the end of October. Although both the Land Cruiser and Quantum are supposed to be dust proof, we had to do some serious cleaning to get all the settled dust out of the two vehicles. The powdery bull dust of Cape York gets into any small hole and crevice. The worst of the rough roads are now behind us but in a way the rough roads are also a blessing as they keep the crowds away and allow those who are suitably equipped to visit many stunning remote places.

We liked Cooktown and the caravan park (Cooktown Holiday Park) is the best carvan park we have stayed at so far, with big shady sites and nice clean amenities. We received visits by bandicoots every evening and they were tame enough to allow me to take some photographs. We liked the Fisherman's Wharf and had lunch and dinner there on the first and last day, watching the local fishermen try their luck and watching a magnificent sunset.

Unfortunately my stay in Cooktown was spoiled by a thief who pickpocketed me in one of the local shops. When I wanted to pay my wallet was gone and after a quick search we found it on the ground. I was relieved and paid by credit card but did not notice that my cash (about $200) was gone and only discovered that later in another shop. I was lucky the thief only took my cash and I wasn't knifed like Lorraine was in Fremantle some years ago. Ironically, we are now both victims of crime in Australia and we both escaped this fate whilst living in South Africa. I guess you become complacent living in a relatively safe country.

It is now 6 months since we arrived in Australia for this Big Lap and there are still 9 months to go. We have already travelled 23,500 km which is 60% of the original planned distance, due to detours and the vast distances in northern and central Australia. We have been to about 45% (77) of the places we plan to visit. From here the travelling should be relatively easier with less rough gravel roads and 4WD tracks as well as shorter distances.

From Cooktown we will travel down to Daintree National Park tomorrow and camp at Noah Beach, Cape Tribulation for seven days.

Captain Cook statue in Cooktown

Captain Cook statue in Cooktown


Cooktown architecture

Cooktown architecture


Canon supplied to Cooktown in 1885 to defend them against a possible Russian attack

Canon supplied to Cooktown in 1885 to defend them against a possible Russian attack


Old well in Cooktown

Old well in Cooktown


Cooktown from Grassy Hill

Cooktown from Grassy Hill

Endeavour River form Grassy Hill

Endeavour River form Grassy Hill

Grassy Hill lighthouse

Grassy Hill lighthouse


Bandicoot

Bandicoot


Finch Bay, Cooktown's beach, with Cape Bedford in the distance

Finch Bay, Cooktown's beach, with Cape Bedford in the distance


Finch Bay with Mt Cook in the background

Finch Bay with Mt Cook in the background


Sunset over Endeavour River

Sunset over Endeavour River

Posted by KobusM 17:30 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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