South Australia

The Nullarbor

After two months in Western Oz, we finally make it across the border, into a new territory! We also travel along the longest straight road in Australia, 146km long (although I can’t say it seemed different from most of the other drives we’ve done).

Best. Sign. Ever.
Best. Sign. Ever.

Right along the border between Western and South Australia, we visit Eucla National Park, famed for its old telegraph station ruins, half-buried in white sand dunes.

Eucla's Old Telegraph Station
Christina entering Eucla’s Old Telegraph Station

The road east takes us through our last expanse of emptiness, the Nullarbor. The name comes from “nullus arbor” meaning “no trees”, a fact we can confirm. It also looks uncannily like Nevada/Idaho. The reason for this treeless plain is the rock underneath: 200,000 square kms of limestone—the biggest, flattest piece of limestone in the world, up to 300m thick. Even more amazing is that this giant slab of limestone juts right up against the ocean, along the Great Australian Bight. The resulting cliffs are stunning.

Nullarbor cliffs
Nullarbor cliffs

All along this coast we looked for Southern Right Whales, but sadly we were a little late to the party. The whales spend the winter here giving birth and resting in the shallow waters, sometimes only a few meters away from the cliffs (which has created quite a tourist industry), and spend the rest of the year in Antarctica. However, we don’t feel as bad about missing them when we find out it’s been a bad year altogether. It used to be you could spot several dozen mother and calf pairs at peak season, but this year the most they saw at one time were six. And they didn’t come nearly as close as years past. I think it’s probably a combination of climate change and El Nino.

Whale (not to scale).
Whale (not to scale).

 

Eyre Peninsula

We made our way down along the Eyre Peninsula to Lincoln National Park at the very tip. We had a nice time here, with a quiet little beach next to our campground in Spalding Cove, and lots of kangaroos and emus running around to keep us entertained. This is also the best place in Australia to see Great White Sharks, so we basked in the warm, fuzzy feeling that they were nearby. However, we were also being tormented by a much more horrible and terror-inducing beast… the Great Australian Fly. Although we brought one fly-net with us, we were wise enough to buy a second in Esperance. Most of hikes from here on out would be overshadowed by them. Literally.

Christina & Paul putting s good face on for the camera
Christina & Paul putting s good face on for the camera

From here we drove north towards the mountains, through a town called Whyalla, but it’s also known in some circles (my kind of circles) as Cuttlefish Mecca. Yet again, we missed the season. But something tells me we’ll be here again… Hundreds of giant cuttlefish court, fight and mate here in the winter, all with dazzling color-changing flashes and shows. Yup, we’ll be here again, somehow.

 

Flinders Range

Here, the flies worsened. In case you haven’t experienced it yourself, camping with swarms of flies is one of the least-enjoyable things you could do. Cooking is a pain, everything has to be constantly covered and fanned. Eating is impossible with a fly-net on, so we end up sweltering in the car (after killing the 5-6 flies that inevitably get caught inside with us). Our only escape is the tent. So after a difficult night, we hoped by climbing a mountain maybe the wind would keep them away.

With our fly-nets on, we set out on the trail. Most of the hikers we passed also had nets, so at least we weren’t the only people who looked like idiots. We even passed a group of people with multicolor streamer-wands to swat them away. As we made our way toward the trailhead, we were stopped by a mob of juvenile delinquents:

With our spirits lifted by the friendly encounter, we hiked up Mt. Ohlssen-Bagge, and were rewarded with a spectacular view. And fewer flies!

Christina & Paul look out over the Flinders Range
Christina & Paul look out over the Flinders Range

And we had plenty of company from the reptiles running around, too. The trail was very steep and rocky, and it seemed like every time I laid my hand down on a rock, it ended up inches from a skink or dragon, who just looked at my wondering why I was trying to steal her sunbathing spot.

Don't wake the dragons
Don’t wake the dragons

At our campsite, we also had a deadly redback spider behind the toilet. I hoped she would at least eat some flies.

Friendly neighborhood fly-killer
Friendly neighborhood fly-killer

 

Mt. Remarkable

Remarkable for somehow having more flies than any other park. And with the weather taking a turn toward hellish (38C), our usual respite, the tent, was quite unbearable. Luckily, the next day was going to be much cooler, so we planned a long hike to keep ourselves busy. We chose the popular Hidden Gorge trail (18km) which turned out to be one of our absolute favorite hikes of the trip. Since we started early, we saw lots of kangaroos, and even a pretty yellow-footed rock wallaby hopping straight up a cliff.

Hidden Gorge Trail
Hidden Gorge Trail

We also saw at least five goannas, one of whom wasn’t the least bit concerned about us and went about digging for food right in front of us.

Happy Goanna
Happy Goanna

And yes, the flies followed us the whole time. The photo below shows how many flies we typically carry around with us, but at their peak there were easily three times as many.

Paul and his flies
Paul and his flies

 

Adelaide

After a brutal week of flies, we were so excited to be in a city (and indoors at an Airbnb) that we completely forgot to take any pictures. We did manage to eat some fantastic indian food, though.

Fleurieu Peninsula

The marine emblem of South Australia is the extraordinary leafy sea-dragon. A spectacular animal (related to sea horses) they are native to these seaweed-rich coasts, and nowhere else in the world. And although we desperately wanted to see them in their natural home, the weather and water was pretty cold, and another scuba-diving trip was not in our budget. But at least we scoped out the dive site for in case we come back (Rapid Bay Jetty, in case you’re wondering).

On the southern side of this peninsula is Granite Island, a little island connected to the town of Victor Harbor via a 630m wooden boardwalk. Turns out it’s also South Australia’s most-visited national park, and it’s home to a small colony of Little Penguins (they come ashore in the evening).

Christina headed for Granite Island
Christina headed for Granite Island

The large granite boulders are what’s left after the limestone around it eroded, and has the same geology as “Remarkable Rocks” on Kangaroo Island to the west (which I visited 10 years ago). Although not as large and strangely-shaped as those of Kangaroo Island, these granite rocks still had some character.

Paul and Granite
Paul and Granite

The wooden boardwalk that connects the island can also be travelled by horse-drawn tram, which has been in service since 1894.

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Stare down

 

Naracoorte Caves

From the coast, we travelled inland to several other parks, including Cox Scrub (where we went on a rainy 4km hike through sandy terrain), Padthaway (where we searched unsuccessfully for koalas on a 4WD adventure…pushing our poor Subaru to the limit), the Naracoorte Caves and Bool Lagoon.

Naracoorte Caves fossil skeletons
Naracoorte Caves fossil skeletons

South Australia’s only World Heritage Site, this cave system was excavated in 1969, and was found to hold some of the best fossils of ancient megafauna marsupials from 200,000 years ago. They have a strange old museum/animatronic display with recreations of these bizarre animals…which sounded too intriguing to pass up. It was meant to bring the creatures back to life and give visitors a chance to walk back in time, but now it just “frightens small children” as the receptionist said. And he was right. Even for a 28-year-old, the creepy jolty-movements of the moving stuffed animals was enough to give me scary flash-backs…especially the snub-nosed kangaroo that looked like an evil, giant Tim Burton-esque rabbit… Most of the displays were clearly 30 years old, showing wear and tear and molting fake fur underneath a good deal of dust. Unforgettable, I suppose.

Wonambi Fossil Museum
Wonambi Fossil Center –  Thylacoleo carnifex (Marsupial Lion)

After shaking-off the strange experience of the museum, we then made our way to the Wet Cave, where we explored the various caverns at our leisure.

Entrance to the Wet Cave
Entrance to the Wet Cave
Paul in the shadows
Paul in the shadows
Large Cave, with interesting roof bubbles from CO2
Interesting roof bubbles from CO2

Just as we where about the leave, we were graced with the presence of an animal we’ve been desperately searching for, and had nearly given up hunting. They are nocturnal, timid and yet fairly common across the whole country (which made us even more annoyed), and here we found one in the middle of the afternoon only a few meters from the parking lot, and happy to walk right up to us. Relative of the platypus, the echidna is the only other egg-laying mammal alive today. And again, impossibly cute.

Echidna, being cute as a button.
Echidna, being cute as a button.
More echidna
More echidna

 

Bool Lagoon

After the caves we drove over to our next campsite, at Bool Lagoon, and immediately made a new friend. This turtle was trying to cross the road (wisely doing so right past the turtle-crossing sign). After snapping the photo, I decided Paul needed a better look (he was waiting in the car), so I picked her up and brought her over to the car window. He was not amused.

Long necked-turtle trying o cross the road
Long necked-turtle trying to cross the road

The next day we walked along the many boardwalks in the reserve. There’s usually water under them, but with the drought everything was very dry and there were barely any birds at all.

Bool Lagoon Boardwalk
Christina on the Bool Lagoon Boardwalk

 

Canunda National Park

We thought we’d visit SA’s coast one last time, so we spent a few nights in Canunda National Park, where we went on a nice 10km walk along the cliffs and beaches on the Seaview Hike.

Seaview Hike
Seaview Hike
Cliffs
Cliffs

We then headed south toward the border, for a visit to our last parks in South Australia.

Piccaninnie Ponds

This little park (along with Ewans Ponds, nearby) is special because of its crystal-clear limestone pools, which you can snorkel and scuba dive in. We opted for a just a little walk around, which turned out be a boon for snakes! We saw 4 snakes within an hour (3 red-bellied black snakes, one eastern brown), all highly venomous, of course. Three of them were shy, and disappeared off the narrow grassy trail as soon as they saw us, but one of them was a bit more nervous. She stayed perfectly still, but she started flattening her neck (a sign of unease or aggression in snakes). We had to pass by her to get back to the car, so we waited a minute, and slide by her VERY slowly, and made it out without any trouble. Sure got our hearts pumping, though.

 

Red-Bellied Black Snake - highly venomous!
Red-Bellied Black Snake – Beautiful! -iridescent purple black on top, and red-orange belly. Lovely creature. One of the most venomous land snakes in the world.
Paul at the ponds
Paul at the ponds

Although we didn’t jump in the water ourselves, we got a glimpse of the strange underwater world thanks to the GoPro. Here’s a little video of what the ponds look like underwater:

 

That wraps up South Australia! Victoria here we come!

 

 

Ningaloo Blue

The Ningaloo Marine Sanctuary is a barrier and fringe reef that spans 260km on the north west coast of Western Australia. It also has long been high on our list of places we couldn’t wait to see in Australia. During our live-aboard trip at the Great Barrier Reef we talked to one of the crew who claimed that Ningaloo was better than the GBR, more pristine, what the GBR had been like 10-15 years ago. With that testimony, plus our own ideas of what Ningaloo would be like from our previous research, we developed some very high expectations. Simply said, our imagination did not even come close to the actual experience.

Turquoise Bay - voted #2 beach in Australia
Turquoise Bay – voted #2 beach in Australia

Cape Range

One of the great things about the Ningaloo reef is that a lot of it is accessible from shore and is in relatively shallow water. Meaning you don’t need a boat or scuba equipment to enjoy the natural wonders under the water. All it you need is snorkel gear. Some of the best snorkeling is off the shores of Cape Range National Park. So naturally we camped out there for a couple days. Little did we know, but Cape Range is a very popular National Park. Which means you have to queue up early in the morning just to get a camping spot. It was all worth it.

Gorgeous wildflowers. Sturt's Desert Pea
Gorgeous wildflowers. Sturt’s Desert Pea

Our first day of snorkeling was bittersweet. Sweet because we saw more fish on the first snorkel than our whole trip at the GBR. No, not really. But we did see a lot of fish, in large schools. And they were HUGE! On our second snorkel we saw blue spotted sting rays, an octopus (it changed colors right in-front of us!), and a couple of lionfish. The bitter part of the day was that some how, I got sea-sick while snorkeling and vomited up my lunch while on our second snorkel. It was extremely disgusting for me, but extra food for the fish. Ew. Gross. I know.

Snorkeling off the beach. The water was this color everywhere!
Snorkeling off the beach. The water was this color everywhere!

Our second day was equally cool with the addition of seeing a gigantic sting ray. It freaked us out since we swam almost right over where it had been hiding (and we were only in a meter of water). That day I took precautions and took some Dramamine before getting in the water so no seasickness. We also saw our first turtle during our second snorkel.

Exmouth

The next couple of days we laid low and enjoyed some beach time. This also gave me time to recover from the seasickness before our scuba trip. As we were sitting on the beach, I was staring out over the water and then all of the sudden I see the spouting of water, a whale’s back, and then a fluke. In shock and excitement, I called out to Christina, “WHALES! Christina, whales!!” The rest of that day we spent whale watching. They were migrating Humpback whales heading south for the summer and there were plenty of pods for us to watch. They put on quite a show too. We saw many breaches, tail and fin slaps. A truly unexpected treat.

View from the lighthouse, great whale watching stop. (Also some crazy antennas in the distance)
View from the lighthouse, great whale watching stop. (Also some crazy antennas in the distance)

There were also tons of emus all over the place, which was really fun.

Male emu with chicks!
Male emu with chicks!

Before our scuba trip we had to go out snorkeling one more time since we talked to a couple at our new caravan park who said that they saw sharks during their snorkeling adventures. On our next time out, what do you think we saw, a nurse shark! It was super cool, but also a little frightening. This was not small reef shark. It was at least two to three meters long. Christina assures me that nurse sharks are the puppy dogs of sharks. I trust her.

The next day we went on our scuba diving trip. First on our way to our dive site, we saw more whales. Some just swimming along peacefully, others breaching out of the water putting on a real show for us. Our two dives we very similar so here’s a run down of all the different sea life we saw: sea snakes, white tipped reef sharks, lion fish, nudibranchs (tiny flamboyant sea slugs–which are just incredibly beautiful), a frog fish, a wobbegong shark, beautiful soft and hard corals, a ton more fish, and an octopus. The shear diversity of aquatic life was just astounding. Best dive trip yet.

Coral Bay

First thing we did in Coral Bay was go to the daily free fish feeding on the beach. Everyone gets a few pellets of fish food (feeding them bread is very bad for their livers), and they come right up to your feet, and swim between your legs. Such a fun surprise!

Fish feeding in Coral Bay
Fish feeding in Coral Bay

After all that excitement you think things couldn’t get better, but they did. Ever since missing out on seeing Manta Rays in Japan, I’ve been looking forward to seeing and swimming with Mantas ever since. Luckily for us, Ningaloo is one of the best places to see Manta Rays in the world. Which means we used some of our scuba money for snorkel adventure with Manta Rays. The best place to see them is the southern part of Ningaloo Marine Park, off a town called Coral Bay.

Manta Ray!
Manta Ray!

The snorkel trip was equally stunning as the scuba diving trip. Not only did we get to swim with two Manta Rays, but we saw a bunch of white tipped reef sharks at a cleaning station (where little cleaner wrasse eat their parasites), some really gorgeous and abundant corals, a big tiger shark (we saw it from the boat), turtles, dolphins, and, again, a whole mess load of fish.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1012.

Snorkel Selfie
Snorkel Selfie

Overall, it was a truly awe inspiring week. I’m going to say it now: favorite part of the trip…so far. And to finish off, here is a video of our wonderful underwater adventures!

The Gulf Savannah

The route from Cairns, Queensland through the Northern Territory to Broome, Western Australia is called the Savannah Way, and it basically cuts across all of northern Australia.

Map 1

Undara

As we leave the East Coast, we quickly enter the outback, red roads and all. Our first stop on the journey west is Undara, home of some spectacular lava tubes. On the first night we took a sunset wildlife tour, complete with champagne and appetizers:

Sipping champagne on a volcano
Sipping champagne on a volcano
Paul's face says it all
Paul’s face says it all

The main event was sitting at the opening of one of the lava tubes while bats whizzed past us right above our heads, heading out into the night for their evening feed. Roughly 2,000 little micro bats came streaming out (in the wet season almost 20,000 bats flood out at once!)

Surreal photo of the microbats on the roof of the cave
Surreal photo of the microbats on the roof of the cave

The next morning we got to see the lava tubes in their full glory. The tubes we walked through were created about 190,000 years ago by the Undara Volcano, which boasts the longest flow of lava the world (the name Undara is aboriginal for “a long way”). They were gorgeous:

Paul under the giant lava tube archway
Paul under the giant lava tube archway
One of the biggest lava tubes
One of the biggest lava tubes
Our ranger guiding us into the abyss
Our ranger guiding us into the abyss
Map of the area's volcanic activity. The little star is where we camped.
Map of the area’s volcanic activity. The little star is where we camped.

 

Gulf of Carpentaria

As we continued our drive west, we went through some of the smallest, most remote towns of the entire trip. Many of the them just have a single roadhouse (gas station with some groceries), but others have some visitor centers with historical information. Croydon was one such stop, which had its very own little movie theater/screening room showing a film about the Australian gold rush in 1885. Next up was Normanton, which we thought would be a bustling town by comparison, but alas, it was still only a single street with a couple stores. As we loaded up on supplies, we were struck by certain items being kept in the refrigerator, like rice, pasta, flour, etc, (a hint to the temperatures they endure out here) and the very obvious lack of fresh produce. The most notable feature in town was the 30 foot crocodile statue, an exact replica of the beast caught in the river nearby. Yikes.

Christina with Kris the Croc
Christina with Kris the Croc

Ay Karumba!

Since we had driven all the way out here, we couldn’t skip the detour north to the actual coast, a little place called Karumba. We hopped out of the car and walked eagerly toward the water, hoping to be able to dip our toes into the Gulf of Carpentaria, but we were thwarted again by crocs hazard.

Paul on the beach in Karumba
Paul on the beach in Karumba

The beach itself, however, was pretty remarkable. The giant slabs of rock, upon closer inspection, were actually compressed sea shells—billions of shells. It was quite beautiful.

Countless seashells that make up the rocky beach
Countless seashells that make up the rocky beach

And then Paul found a dead pufferfish which was pretty awesome.

Dead pufferfish found in Karumba
Dead pufferfish found in Karumba

Boodjamulla

We heard wonderful things about this national park called Lawn Hill Gorge (whose original name is Boodjamulla), so we decided to check it out, even though it called for some off-roading. By off-roading I mean the sealed (paved) road ended half way and we got to endure 40km of rough, corrugated dirt:

Corrugated dirt roads. They don't look that bad, but boy are they terrible
Corrugated dirt roads. They don’t look that bad, but boy are they terrible

After a long, slow drive in, we finally made it. This gorge has been continuously inhabited for over 35,000 years. Let me just say that again: continuously inhabited for over 35,000 years. With year-round water in a near-desert, it’s easy to see why. It’s a true oasis.

Christina hiking up the escarpment
Christina hiking up the escarpment

 

Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) Gorge
Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) Gorge

 

Lizard basking in the sun
Lizard basking in the sun

 

Bower built by a bower bird. The male makes a little hut of twigs, then collects as of lots white and green colored objects to impress the female. Notice the bones, teeth and vertebrae.
Bower built by a bower bird. The male makes a little hut of twigs, then collects as of lots white and green colored objects to impress the female. Notice all the bones, teeth and vertebrae.
Christina taking a swim at Indarri Falls. The white stacks behind are tufa formations, like at Mono Lake in CA
Taking a swim at Indarri Falls. The white stacks are tufa formations, like at Mono Lake in CA
Indarri Falls lookout (looking down at where Christina was swimming). Very popular kayaking/canoeing spot
Indarri Falls lookout (looking down at where Christina was swimming). Very popular kayaking/canoeing spot

Mad Max

As we travel around the country, we meet some great folks: European backpackers, young aussie families (some with too many kids for our taste), lots of former teachers turned grey nomad, and they’ve all been incredibly friendly and helpful, ready to give advice and tips. However, we’ve also realized there are some people on the road who we’d prefer not to encounter again. One of them was Max. Paul and I were sitting at our campsite on our last evening in the park, about to start preparing dinner. As many grey nomads do, Max was walking around the campground, checking out other people’s setups and drinking a glass of wine (with a koozie). We waved hello and smiled, happy to have a chat with another human being, so he came over. Immediately I could tell something was different. He wouldn’t look me (Christina) in the eyes. It took a good 5 minutes of chitchat before he even glanced at me. Seemed strange, but whatever, I’ll give it a pass. But as the conversation continues, a few things start to stand out: he enjoys boasting about his successful career in agriculture (he apparently designed and built half the food factories in Oz, and has travelled internationally extensively meeting many agro hotshots and stealing trade secrets), he’s racist (he boasted about laying-off 999 asian workers –keeping one to drive the new labor-reducing tractor he designed…he laughed a good bit at this one hahaha, he’s vehemently against immigrants coming to Oz on those boats, he thinks the brahman cows from India are OK, but not the people), he loves to kill animals (on his last trip to Kakadu he shot over 50 donkeys (feral)—they’re so stupid he says because when you shoot one the rest just walk over to see what happened, he once shot 2000 kangaroos, supposedly for a meat cull, he even has a gun in his truck right now, “just in case” even though it’s illegal here), and he’s sexist too (the damned wife shouldn’t be in charge of navigation, and of course, the whole eye contact thing). So all in all, it was a very enlightening talk. We learned that Australia is a lot more like home than we imagined. Gulp.

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!