Cape Trib

After regaining our land legs, we headed north towards the end of our East Coast excursion and Cape Tribulation in Daintree National Park. It’s about two hours north of Cairns and requires a river crossing by car ferry.

The Daintree River via the ferry
The Daintree River via the ferry

But before we arrived at Daintree we stopped at Mossman Gorge. And that’s about all we did there. As we arrived it started to sprinkle. We ate some lunch and the sprinkle turned into a light rain. We went inside to see about going into the gorge and the light rain turned into a down pour. This prompted an immediate departure of Mossman and urged us farther north to, hopefully, better weather.

Once we arrived at our caravan park and setup our tent Christina and I decided to take a walk along the tracks in the jungle behind our campsite. No more than 200 meters along and we heard a rustle in the bushes. We stood still and Christina spotted it, our first cassowary! It crossed the path in front of us about 5 meters ahead and foraged among the trees making its way closer to the spot we were reluctant to vacate. But eventually we did vacate since the cassowary was too hidden by the trees to get a good picture, so we moved on.

The next day was even more exciting! It started out with us attempting to make pancakes. But we were rudely interrupted by a very inquisitive young cassowary. His dad was not too far behind (male cassowaries raise the chicks), but was staying amongst the bushes and trees. The young cassowary had not yet learned to fear humans and came straight for me –or really my jam covered pancake. Cassowaries can only be found in this region of the world because their diet mainly consists of a particular fruit called the cassowary plum, a very clever name, so I could see how this young one was confused. I got up, leaving Christina to become his main interest and took a photo, and our neighbors got a good shot too.

Paul and Christina being stalked by a juvenile cassowary
Paul and Christina being stalked by a juvenile cassowary
Christina and her new cassowary friend/living dinosaur
Christina and her new cassowary friend/living dinosaur

The rest of the day blew by all too quickly. We headed even farther north to actual Cape Tribulation and took a short walk on the beach and in the mangrove trees.

Paul in the tangled roots
Paul in the tangled roots
The beach was covered in tiny balls of sand created by little bubbler crabs (center) who filter out food and leave these dazzling arrangements.
The beach was covered in tiny balls of sand created by little bubbler crabs (center) who filter out the food and leave these dazzling arrangements.

Next we went as far North as we could go without 4WD, stoping at Emmagen Creek. We were trying to find a beach but couldn’t, so we decided to go to a swimming hole not too far away. Our first attempt at finding the swimming hole turned out to be a wrong turn but luckily we did because we briefly saw a snake and a lace monitor.

Lace monitor climbing a tree
Lace monitor climbing a tree
We also witnessed a huge parasitoid wasp dragging a paralyzed spider. She will lay her egg in it so the larva can have fresh food when it hatches. Yum.
We also witnessed a huge parasitoid wasp dragging a paralyzed spider across the trail. She will lay her egg in it so the larva can have fresh food when it hatches. Yum.

We did finally find the swimming hole. There was a rope swing there and we took full advantage. Luckily there was a guy there to show us how it was done.

Paul having a grand ol' time
Paul having a grand ol’ time
Christina dancing into the swimming hole
Christina dancing into the swimming hole

The swimming holes are a real treat up here because you can’t swim on any of the beaches or rivers, despite their beauty and the sweltering heat–because crocodiles will kill and eat you:

Swim at your own risk
Swim at your own risk

Later that afternoon we drove back toward camp and stopped at a boardwalk to see another beach. On this walk we saw yet another cassowary! For those of you counting that makes four.

Gorgeous cassowary
Gorgeous cassowary

The rest of the walk was pretty uneventful and so we decided to retire for the day. Upon returning to our camp we saw yet another cassowary and the same young cassowary we saw earlier. We know that it was a different cassowary because the young one’s parent was close behind and the new cassowary chased the young one and its parent into the forest behind the campsite. T’was very exciting.

Day 2 was much less eventful. We drove South of our campsite to Alexandra Range Lookout.

Alexander Lookout in Daintree National Park
Alexander Lookout in Daintree National Park

Then made our way back toward camp to Jindalba boardwalk. Not knowing what we were getting ourselves into, we parked farther away than we needed. Did the short boardwalk, saw a cassowary (num six), and decided to walk the longer loop as well. All in all a pretty good walk. After working up a sweat we headed north again to another swimming hole. This one also had a rope swing but was not as deep as the previous one, so only one swing for me. I banged my toes pretty well on some rocks and didn’t want to repeat the experience.

The next morning we took the ferry back across the river and started heading southwest toward Darwin. Our Savannah Way adventures begin!

GBR

We have finally arrived in Cairns, gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. We found another couchsurfing host, Levi –this was his first time hosting, and he’s never surfed before (!)– but he was fantastic. Our topics of discussion included AFL (footy/aussie rules/the most intense game ever), the NBA (he’s super keen), traveling in South America (he’s planning a trip), the Royal Australian Navy (he’s a member) and each of our future life plans. His roommate happened to get getting scuba certified that very weekend, so we had plenty of advice to share.

Couchsurfing in Cairns (Levi is second from the left)
Couchsurfing in Cairns (Levi is second from the left)

During our one day in Cairns before boarding our ship, we visited the Esplanade which has a lovely public swimming area and heaps of shops and markets. We relished the sun and soaked it in for a few hours.

The Cairns Esplanade swimming pool (with sand!)
The Cairns Esplanade swimming pool (with sand on one side, cement of the other)

On our way back, we noticed signs for–of all things– the Great Moscow Circus! In Cairns! We pulled over to take some pictures (we could see camels and zebra in the back), and just then a family walked out of the tent asking if we wanted free tickets because their daughter got too scared. Free tickets to the circus, right now, why not?! And so Christina got to relive her childhood birthdays and Paul got to see his first circus ever (I still can’t believe it myself).

The Great Moscow Circus tent in the middle of tropical Cairns
The Great Moscow Circus tent in the middle of tropical Cairns…Christina holding free tickets

With an early start, we jumped on the Reefkist for a two-hour ride out to sea to our new home away from home (away from car/tent), the Kangaroo Explorer:

The liveaboard dive boat Kangaroo Explorer (operated by Cairns Dive Center)
The liveaboard dive boat Kangaroo Explorer (operated by Cairns Dive Center)

For five days and four nights we got to hop between reefs and scuba dive as much as our bodies would allow (9 for Paul and 15 for Christina).

Christina in her element, about to jump into the ocean
Christina in her element, about to jump into the ocean at Milln Reef

We were also fortunate enough to have a Minke whale swim right past our boat (two of the instructors jumped in to snorkel with her), as well as have some dolphins bow ride right below us. And yes, we saw sharks (only a couple little guys).

Our fellow shipmates included Dana and her dad Joe (from Toronto), a New Zealand high school class, 2 Germans, 3 Americans, 1 Frenchman, 3 Brits, as well as many others we didn’t meet, and a seemingly endless rotation of international crew & dive masters (the Reefkist met up with us everyday to swap guests and crew, since you could stay for any number of nights you wished). Dana and Joe are avid world travelers (and dive masters themselves) and made for great dive buddies, so we had plenty to talk about over meals.

Dana, Joe, Christina & Paul on the Kangaroo Explorer, on the Great Barrier Reef
Dana, Joe, Christina & Paul on the Kangaroo Explorer, on the Great Barrier Reef

Speaking of food– being served 3 warm meals a day was a welcome break from our little camp stove and having to do dishes hunched over with a cold water trickle from our water jug… but it turned out that five days was just enough time to get through the meal cycle without it repeating. Turns out five days is also the perfect amount of time to get your sea legs… so naturally when we got back to land, our bodies were a tad confused and needed another few days to re-adjust back to solid land…

So why not re-adjust in the rainforest?… next stop Daintree National Park.

Island Birthday

Whitsundays

For my 28th birthday, we planned a lovely island camping trip in the Whitsunday Islands, renowned for their golden beaches and clear blue waters. We arrived in Arlie Beach (another touristy/backpacker mecca) and enjoyed the warm climate and funny tall ducks wandering around the caravan park. As a testament to the endlessly friendly nature of Australians, when I asked the lady at the front desk where I could buy some simple beach towels (not the over-priced ones downtown), she gave me some ideas and then hesitated, and promptly confessed, as long as I didn’t tell anyone, that they had some clean ones left behind that should could give me. Free towels! Woo hoo!

Unfortunately, my beach snorkeling birthday turned into a windy, rainy, stuck-on-an-island adventure. We had to wake up at 4:45am to catch the Island Taxi (our campsite can only be reached during high tide), and it was dark, cold, wet and gusty. We wondered whether or not to cancel, but decided that what the hell, it might clear up… There were a few other people on our boat, a trio of Aussie blokes going kayaking/camping and a Canadian couple taking a break from school in Melbourne. At least we weren’t the only fools going out in the nasty weather.

Our beach home for two days
Our beach home for two days

We camped on Sandy Bay on South Molle Island for two days and two nights. A French couple was there the first night, but we had the whole place to ourselves the second day and night. Not that it mattered because we spent most of the time cowering in our poorly-made tarp shelter or in the tent. I did enjoy some tide-pooling, finding lots of crabs, a shrimp and what I think was a baby eel (only 5 inches long). We walked up and down the coral-rubble beach and poked at the strange green ants that occupied the picnic table. Day two we decided that it was time to jump in the water and attempt some snorkeling while the sun was out (peaking through clouds for more than 5 minutes at a time). When I say “snorkeling” I mean that we had booties and masks on, walking waist-deep carefully between rocks with just our faces in the water. Ridiculous. Cold water and terrible visibility, but we saw a few fish and some pretty corals.

Here’s a little timelapse of the tide coming in. You can see all the crabs running about, too:

Townsville

We were so happy to be off that island, and more happy to finally be couchsurfing! Our host for the night was Katie and Irish husband Andy. She said she accepted our request because she was excited to meet a science/nature documentary filmmaker (glad by degree is paying off!). She was incredibly welcoming and even made a roast chicken dinner. We also got some local beer and ginger beer (it’s alcoholic here!) and talked for 4 hours straight about wildlife, politics, traveling and the universe. Our conversation was only interrupted by flying foxes (giant bats) whizzing by the balcony and by the little possum that visits regularly, named Delilah (she scurried across the railing and tried to eat her potted jalapenos).

Eating dinner on Katie's balcony
Eating dinner on Katie’s balcony in Townsville
Christina and Paul on The Strand after breakfast
Christina and Paul on The Strand after breakfast

Yungaburra

The next morning we took a beautiful drive back inland (recommended by Katie) to a town in the Atherton Tablelands called Yungaburra, through rolling hills of bananas and sugar cane. We setup camp by a lake and satisfied our craving for mexican food with delicious quesadillas.

Quesadilla time! Yes, that's TAPATIO.
Quesadilla time! Yes, that’s TAPATIO.

That night we went on a nocturnal wildlife tour in the rainforest, that I had been looking forward to for weeks. It was just us and our guide Alan, and we managed to see at least a dozen possums (green possums & coppery brushtails) and a bandicoot.

Coppery brushtail possum
Coppery brushtail possum
Green ringtail possum
Green ringtail possum

The next day we visited Crater Lakes National Park (both smaller than the one in Oregon). We strolled around Lake Barrine (6km) and spotted several rat-kangaroos hopping along the forest floor.

Lake Barrine
Lake Barrine
Paul under a strangler fig
Paul under a fallen strangler fig

Then we headed over to Lake Eacham, which turns out to a great swimming spot, so after some sandwiches and the 3km walk, we donned our swimmers and jumped into the crisp fresh water (it was actually sunny, too!). Since there were fishies swimming about, I grabbed my snorkel and GoPro and stalked them.

Lake Eacham swimming
Lake Eacham swimming

On our way back, we spotted a little bookshop based out of a garage, so we had to stop.

Booklark bookstore in Yungaburra, QLD.
Booklark bookstore in Yungaburra, QLD.
Christina weaving her way through bookcases...a familiar feeling
Christina weaving her way through bookcases…a familiar feeling

Next stop, Cairns!

Platypus & Pancakes

Carnarvon Gorge

Carnarvon Gorge is the farthest west that we’ve traveled so far. It’s about an 9 hour drive from Brisbane and we had to stop for a night in a small town called Injune which is self proclaimed to be the “gateway to the gorge”. The long drive and the very cold evening in Injune were all worth it. Carnarvon Gorge is not the largest gorge in the area, but the by far the most accessible. We set up camp in a caravan park called Takarakka. The accommodations included hot showers (woot!), camping kitchen (basically a place to do dishes), AND a platypus viewing area. After setting up shop we decided to take a walk around camp to see what’s what and then we stumble upon a mob of eastern grey kangaroos. Unfortunately, neither Christina nor I had a camera on us, so this animal sighting was for the personal memory banks. After seeing our first Marsupials I was eager to go on a walk that suggested hikers might see a swamp wallaby if lucky. The hike is called Mickey’s Creek and is unsuspecting at first, but turns into a beautiful walk if you take the right path. One of the most memorable parts of the hike was the cacophony of birds high in the eucalyptus. Every now and then you would catch a glimpse of a king parrot, but not much else. But the thing that made this hike so amazing was a side track called Warrumbuh Gorge. The gorge begins as a wide opening with steep cliffs on either side and quickly closes in as the hiker goes deeper into the gorge. There is a small creek running in the middle causing us to scramble from bank to narrowing bank to keep dry.

Christina

Paul being a cave spider
Paul being a cave spider

On our drive back we stopped at another short walk, which truly was not that memorable except that as we returned to the car we saw a very timid swamp wallaby close to the path. Again we set off for camp, but were stopped again by spotting another Eastern Grey Kangaroo and this time it was a single female who had a joey in her pouch. Christina was very excited and we stopped to take photos. This was just the first day.

Eastern grey kangaroo with joey in pouch!

The next day Christina got up early and braved the frosty morning air to look for platypus at our Caravan parks viewing area (I was much too tired to rise with her). Much to her delight, and mine once I forced myself out of bed, we saw our first platypus! Well, technically multiple for Christina and singular for me.

Platypus!

After breakfast we packed our bags and we head out on a 14km hike. The gorge has several off shoot tracks that are really the main attraction for most hikers and the first four are the most visited.

Christina crossing the river

The first attraction along the track is called Moss Garden, named for the moss that hangs off of the sandstone cliffs. If you didn’t know, sandstone is extremely porous and so rain water continuously gets filtered through the many layers until it reaches an opening and flows out the side of a cliff or into a stream (this takes thousands of years). The water comes out when it hits the shale rock layer, where the plants can then use it. The effect produces some extremely stunning scenery.

Moss Gardens
Moss Gardens

The next stop is called Amphitheater. This feature was created by one large sandstone boulder getting stuck between two sandstone cliffs, water running down either side and eroding the boulder (and spinning it in place) until the boulder is gone leaving a large hole between two cliffs. The amphitheater is only accessible by climbing several flights of narrow iron stairs.

Paul climbing the stairs into the natural Amphitheater
Paul climbing the stairs into the natural Amphitheater

The third stop for us is called Art Gallery, named for the aboriginal art that has been preserved in the sandstone rock. Most of the art is of stenciled hands, boomerangs, clubs/hand axes, and other various items.

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The fourth and last stop off the main track was on our way back to the car. It is called Ward’s Gorge. This side trek was the steepest by far, but extremely rewarding once we got the the top. The highlights of Ward’s Gorge are the steep sandstone cliffs that are about 3 meters at the narrowest and 7 meters at it’s widest and the small creek that created the gorge. In the creek are a multitude of blood red and orange colored rocks many of them covered in green moss creating a beautiful scenery.

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Back at camp we met some more friends:

Swamp wallaby
Swamp wallaby
Swamp wallabies fighting. Two minutes later they were happily grooming each other.
Swamp wallabies fighting. Two minutes later they were happily grooming each other.

The next morning we decided to get up early again to see more platypus and we were not disappointed. This time Christina had her camera and got a few good clips of a platypus swimming in the creek below. To celebrate we decided to try our hand at making pancakes. Not too surprisingly, they turned out delicious! Christina is quite the wizz’ at whipping up pancakes in a pinch. Tragically, we were not able to enjoy these tasty morsels with maple syrup because up until that point we had only found Golden Syrup in stores (we’re not quite sure what Golden Syrup is made from and are a little afraid to find out). We had to settle for just strawberry jam and butter. Not a terrible compromise.

At the base of Eungella National Park we spent the night at Platypus Bushcamp. We stopped here on a whim, but it turned out to be one of the best places we’ve camped at so far! The bushcamp is run by the long bearded, aged, hermit of a man named simply Wazza. He lives on the property and does most of the maintenance himself, but occasionally has people stay with him to help out. Wazza has a pet white cockatoo named Rocky, who can be quite talkative. The property is itself is quite stunning. It’s set along a rushing river, has it’s own swimming hole, hot showers (open to the rainforest), toilets, and is one of those places were you could see yourself staying for awhile if you had the chance. Unfortunately, we had reservations for the next night so we had to leave this jungle paradise.

 

Eungella National Park

Eungella Valley through the sky window
Eungella Valley through the sky window

When traveling one always seems to learn certain lessons along the way. Not all of the are universal, but all of them are useful. The lesson we learned at our next stop was two fold, you don’t always have to book accommodations ahead of time and things aren’t always as far as they look on a map.

We arrived at our next destination, Fern Flat, ready to do a little bit of backpacking. When we saw the sign for our campsite and the sign read 500m away I was, to say the least, a little disappointed. I was expecting a little bit further of a walk, but no worries, we’d still be packing in all of our food and water so it would be a mini backpacking adventure. Nope, turns out that we could drive our car right to the campsite. No backpacking. But again, not all was lost.

Campsite near the platypus-infested creek :)
Campsite near the platypus-infested creek 🙂

Fern Flat turned out to be an amazing place for viewing platypus. We saw a least three different platypus on three separate occasions! We felt very spoiled by the end of our stay.

 

Brisbane & Beyond

Ahhh Queensland…

It's basically their Miami...with a town called Miami
Driving up the Gold Coast. It’s basically their Miami…with a town called Miami

Made it to Brisbane, the capital of Queensland! We finally got a break in the weather and mad a gorgeous sunny day to explore the city. We took the Citycat river ferry all the way down the river, walked across several bridges and along Southbank park. Then we got to visit the oldest clocktower in Queensland (in City Hall), the botanical gardens and ended up in Fortitude Valley at a lovely beer garden (of which there are MANY). On our way out of town we managed to find a disc golf course (although it was totally unmarked so we just improvised the first 9 holes).

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Paul putting masterfully

Great Sandy

We spent two nights in Great Sandy National Park, which is a popular spot for 4WD excursions and the home of famous Fraser Island (largest sand island in the world). Although Fraser has been on my to-do list for a long time (learned about it from Steve Irwin, of course) we decided not to pay the exorbitant fees for a tour, and instead choose to hike the sandy rainforest.

Inskip Point in Great Sandy National Park. The island to the right across the bay is Fraser Island.
Inskip Point in Great Sandy National Park. The island to the right across the bay is Fraser Island.

We undertook our longest hike so far (17km roundtrip) which we accomplished in good time (5 hrs), passing a few lakes along the way.

Christina lugging her camera through the forest
Christina happily lugging her camera through the forest

After the hike we got to sit back and enjoy the last rays of sunshine

Sunset with pelicans
Sunset with pelicans

Thanks to the break in the weather we got to glimpse the stars in their full glory.

Milky Way Galaxy, from the southern hemisphere
Milky Way Galaxy, from the southern hemisphere

Choates of Oz

On our way inland from the coast we were driving through small towns and out of the corner of my eye I spotted the a family name on a building…

Choate's Curios: "Pre-loved items and local handicrafts" in Kilkivan, Queensland.
Choate’s Curios: “Pre-loved items and local handicrafts” in Kilkivan, Queensland.

Sadly, it was a Sunday and it was closed, but we peeped through the windows and enjoyed finding long lost relatives in the outback. Maybe we’ll go back one day and meet properly. Best unexpected find for sure.