Around Cairns and Port Douglas

Townsville & Mission Beach

After Airlie Beach we visited Townsville and Mission Beach. In Townsville we went to Magnetic Island and spotted three koalas in the wild, lots of black cockatoos and rented a jetski. In Mission Beach Mike went white water rafting on the Tully river while I watched the latest season of The Crown – we both had a very nice day.

Atherton tablelands

In the mountains outside Cairns lie the Atherton tablelands, with beautiful rainforests and much cooler temperatures than on the coast, which was a big relief after the scorching temperatures in Townsville and Mission Beach. In the tablelands we did the ‘waterfall circuit’ and saw three waterfalls, as well as visiting an 850 year old curtain fig tree, which was awesome. One of the best trees yet!

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The curtain fig was massive!

We stayed the night by lake Eacham which is a lake created by a volcano, and is the home of a freshwater crocodile. As freshwater crocodiles are not aggressive in the same way estuarine crocs are, Mike went for a swim – he wasn’t concerned as there were lots of other people swimming there.

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No sign of the croc when we were there, only turtles

Next stop was the other crater lake in the area, lake Barrine. We went for a hike around the lake, but the rainforest was so overgrown you could hardly see anything. On our way into Cairns we stopped by Kuranda, which is a pretty unexciting market town, but the waterfall Barron Falls right outside town were pretty impressive! It’s a shame the wet season hasn’t properly started yet, as it would have been spectacular if the falls had more water.

Port Douglas & the Daintree rainforest  

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Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas

Port Douglas, further north, is smaller and more high-end than Cairns, and known for its proximity to the Daintree rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. Everything is within walking distance in town, which I really enjoyed.

One of the main things we wanted to do in this area was to go on a crocodile safari. Mike is obsessed with crocs, and the Daintree river is known to be the home of quite a few of them. We went with a local tour company on a small boat on the river to look for them, and there between the mangroves we saw two! Our first crocodiles in the wild! They are very hard to spot in the water if you don’t know exactly where to look.

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Can you spot the croc?

Another ‘must do’ around Port Douglas is visiting Mossman Gorge, which is a river running through the rainforest with hundreds and hundreds of big boulders in it. So we went for a walk in the rainforest, and Mike had a dip in the river.

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Mossman Gorge

Cape Tribulation 

Cape Tribulation is the last little outpost on the East Coast before the paved road stops, and you need a four wheel drive to continue. We drove up to have a look. The ‘town centre’ consists of four houses, and that’s it. The beaches and rainforest are beautiful, but you can’t swim in the ocean because of deadly jellyfish and crocodiles.

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View from the road to Cape Tribulation

One of the things to do there is to go ‘jungle surfing’ which is a course of six different ziplines through the rainforest. It was a lot of fun, and we learned some things about the rainforest as well, and even saw the Great Barrier Reef from one of the tree platforms!

Another little bonus of our trip to the Cape was that we saw a wild cassowary with three chicks. Cassowaries are quite shy as well as a threatened species, and we had never expected to see any in the wild, so it was quite exciting to see them crossing the road in front of us.

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Cassowary!

Cairns

Driving back to Cairns again today marks the end of our nine months in Australia. We’re handing the van back tomorrow and spending the night in a hotel, before flying out. We’ve had an exciting time here, we’ve seen an amazing amount of wildlife, experienced a lot of nature and thoroughly enjoyed our seven months in Sydney.

Life in the van has also been great, I thought I would get more tired of it than I am, I think I could have happily lived in it for another month! It’s so good, we really have everything that we need in here. But almost a year since we left home, it’s time for another adventure!

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The Whitsundays

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Swirling sands in the Whitsundays, by Whitehaven beach

Everyone we’ve spoken to about travelling the East Coast have said that the Whitsundays is one of their favourite destinations. After driving from Rockhampton for six hours, through very similar terrain, with nothing but cows and fields as far as the eye can see, arriving in Airlie Beach was like unexpectedly arriving in a Caribbean island paradise. The ocean is an unbelievable blue colour, the harbour is full of sailboats, the sun is shining, the water is crystal clear and the sand is white.

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The catamaran we stayed on for two nights

We had booked a two day, two night sailing trip, and were full of excitement. The trip did not disappoint. We had blazing sunshine the whole time (though not much wind so didn’t do much sailing) great food, did lots of fun activities and visited some amazing spots.

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Turtle visitor, captured by Mike

Snorkelling

The first morning we woke up on the boat we were visited by a turtle, who swam along the boat to check us out. It was very exciting, the first saltwater turtle I’ve seen in the wild. She was very friendly. She came back later and Mike and one of the other girls went for a little swim with her.

Then we put on some stinger suits to protect us against jellyfish in the water while we were snorkelling. They look really funny, but are thinner than normal wetsuits so they don’t get too hot. During our trip we snorkelled at two different coral reefs, and saw many cool fish. We also got to try an underwater scooter, which was of course great fun. It looks like a fan that drags you behind it under water, and it goes quite fast!

Whitehaven beach 

We also visited the famous Whitehaven beach, which really is as beautiful as it looks in pictures. The water is really shallow, and because it is very warm it acts as a nesting ground for many marine animals. We were lucky enough to see four baby lemon sharks swimming around in the shallows, and managed to get quite close to them.

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The beach, seen from the viewing point on Whitsunday island

We also got to try kayaks and standup paddleboards while on the boat. I was very proud that I managed to stand up on mine, even when I was going against the current. Other highlights included stargazing at night, and relaxing on deck while sailing from place to place. Sailing in the Whitsundays has really been one of the main highlights of the trip so far, and something I think we will both remember forever.

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Mike finally got his GoPro selfie stick out

Fraser Island highlights

Fraser Island, the biggest sand island in the world, has an average of 300 sunny days a year. Unfortunately for us, the first two days of our tour on the island were not any of those days. Upon arriving on the ferry from the mainland we drove into a massive rain cloud, and it pretty much poured down for two whole days. Considering all the things to do and see on Fraser are outside we still had a pretty good time – but we were really happy to see some sun on our third and last day.

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Our 4WD tour bus

As Fraser island is a sand island the only way to get around is with four wheel drive vehicles, and we were in a bus with 38 other backpackers. It was a fun if very bumpy experience driving through the rainforest and on the beach in a 4WD bus.

Champagne rock pools 

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The rock pools right before the rain started again

Due to sharks and strong currents, the champagne rock pools is the only place on the island where it’s safe to swim in the ocean. We went for a swim before the rain started again, the water was quite nice and warm and there was some very cool fish swimming around as well.

Scenic flight

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The plane

On day two of our tour we were offered a scenic flight over Fraser island for $80 which is a pretty good deal. The plane takes off and lands on the beach, and this is one of only two places in the world where this is possible. I was unsure whether I wanted to do it at first, but it seemed fun, so I decided to go for it. It was a great experience, we flew over the island and saw some of the lakes that can only be seen by air. It was really cool to be in such a small plane as well, flying out over the ocean.

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View from the sky

Lake Birrabeen

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Finally a sunny day

On the last day we went to lake Birrabeen, which is less famous than lake McKenzie, the main lake on the island, and we had it all to ourselves. Everyone got to try standup paddleboarding, and we all really enjoyed spending some time in the sun. But paddleboarding is a lot harder than it looks!

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Mike in activity mode

Eli creek 

The last thing we did before going back to the mainland was visit Eli creek. We had originally been there the day before, but it was so rainy that most people stayed on the bus, me included. We used the paddleboards to float down the creek, and had lots of fun crashing into the river banks and each other.

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Casually floating down the creek

Gold Coast to Brisbane

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View of the Gold Coast skyline from the Q1 tower

Gold Coast 

The Gold Coast looks exactly like it does in pictures, a skyline of skyscrapers and high rise apartment blocks along a never-ending beach, blue sky and surf. This is our first stop in Queensland. We had a BBQ on one of the public BBQs by the beach, and then went for drinks at Surfers Paradise. Unfortunately a lot of the area was cordoned off for Schoolies, which is a week-long end-of-year celebration for Australian high school students. It was still fun to watch the crowds.

The next morning we had breakfast on the Q1 SkyDeck, which has great views of the coast. It was a surprisingly fun experience, and the breakfast wasn’t too bad either.

The hinterlands – Lamington National Park

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Mike at the Python walk lookout point

Once you leave the coast and get up in the mountains and into the rainforest the temperature drops. We went to the Green Mountain area in the national park, and it was great. The area is especially known for its diverse bird life. My favourite part of our stay was the tree top walk, which is a suspended walkway that takes you high up into the tree canopy. At one point there was even a ladder all the way up to the top of a giant fig tree.

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Tree top walk

There were also a lot of birds who were very used to humans – one even flew right into the restaurant to beg for food. And there was lots of cute small quokkas bouncing around the campsite.

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Not sure if birds are meant to eat fries…

Brisbane

I was really interested to finally see Brisbane, as it is the city that we had originally planned to live in. It is bigger and nicer than I expected, and I was positively surprised. We walked through the botanical gardens, along the Southbank, saw the Streets Beach, which is smaller than I expected but still nice – though unsurprisingly very busy.

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Streets beach

The next day we went for a ferry cruise on the Brisbane River. It was nice and relaxing, but not the most exciting thing I have done. The most interesting fact we heard was that the river is very popular with sharks, bull sharks especially. That made me re-think whether I really wanted to hire a jet ski to drive on the river. (We didn’t.) Then we drove to Mount Coot-tha where there’s an excellent lookout point over the city.

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Brisbane skyline

Tomorrow we’re going to Australia Zoo, famous because of Steve Irwin the crocodile hunter who ran it with his parents and wife. Mike is very excited to see some big crocs.

Sydney to Byron Bay

We moved out of our house in Bondi and picked up the van on Saturday. Our new rented Apollo campervan is awesome, a million times nicer than the van we stayed in when we did the Great Ocean Road.

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The nicest van, on the beach in Newcastle

It has a fridge, sink, water pump, microwave, hob, a very nice seating area and you can stand up inside it. All our stuff fits perfectly, and we couldn’t be happier with it. It was so worth splashing out and getting a fancy van this time.

Newcastle – Yamba 

We stopped by Newcastle and spent the first night in Myall Lakes National Park. We saw a dingo that night, and went for a walk along the beautiful beach in the morning.

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Checking out the local wildlife

Then we drove to Seal Rocks, another part of the national park, with a historic lighthouse and lovely views. Spent our second night south of Port Macquarie. It rained a lot, and in the ladies shower, on the back of  a shower curtain, I saw the biggest spider I have ever seen. I think it was a huntsman. It was the size of a teacup.

The next day Mike tried out the surf in Port Macquarie. 15 minutes after leaving me with a book on the beach, he came back with a broken board – it turned out the waves were a bit too big.

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First day of surfing

Stopped in Coffs Harbour for a picture with the Big Banana – one of the original ‘big things’ on the coast.

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The picture says it all really

We camped in Woody Head near Yamba for the night. There was lots of little kangaroos jumping around on the site, and it had a beautiful view of the ocean.

Byron Bay 

When you roll into Byron Bay you get what they mean about the hippie vibe – there’s a lot of long hair, people walking around barefoot, buskers on the street, and people offering tarot card readings. The main street is lively and vibrant, and there seems to be a lot going on. On our first night we stayed within walking distance of town and the beach, and went out to have a look around.

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The beach at Byron, Mike’s going for a swim

The beach is great, but then so are almost all the beaches I have been to in Australia. I definitely think Australia has the best beaches in the world. It’s crazy, almost all of them are spectacular. Mike rented a surfboard in the morning.

Then we did the Cape Byron walking track, which is a little track that goes around the Cape and up to the lighthouse and with great coastal views. It also includes Australias most easterly point.

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Byron Bay in the background

Mike went for a dive in Julian Rocks Marine reserve, he said it was spectacular and they saw nurse sharks, turtles, cods and lots of other things. Then we drove on towards the Gold Coast.

Time for an East Coast adventure

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Sunset from Watsons Bay. Good bye Sydney, it’s been a pleasure.

After 7 months of living and working in Sydney (5 months in Potts Point and 2 months in Bondi) it’s time for the next part of our journey. We have rented a camper van for four and a half weeks, and on Saturday 18 November we’re setting off for our trip up the coast.

Stops include tourist classics such as Byron Bay, Gold Coast, Brisbane and Cairns, tours of Fraser Island and sailing in the Whitsundays, and explorations of Noosa National Park, the Atherton tablelands and the Daintree Rainforest.

Hopefully we’ll avoid the worst of the wet season, won’t come into contact with any stingers and keep well out of any crocodile territory.

Instead we’re hoping for lots of sunshine, more stunning beaches and lots of new adventures. Can’t wait!

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Waves near Manly – have a feeling there will be plenty more dangerous rips.

Hunter Valley

To celebrate my birthday this year, we rented a car and drove down to the Hunter Region on Friday night after work. The region is famous for its wineries and gourmet foods, and is a popular weekend destination. We rented a small bungalow in Polkolbin, which was lovely. The porch opened up to a lovely view of fields, a pond, and rows and rows of grape wine.

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Mike is an animal lover

There was a tiny Shetland pony walking around in the field, and Mike decided to open the gate and go to say hello. The pony seemed friendly at first, but when Mike stood up it bit him in the leg! He got a big bruise, but found it very funny.

Mike had arranged to have a couple of rental bikes dropped off at where we were staying, and after a lovely breakfast in the sun we got on the bikes and went on a little tour.

Wine tasting

There’s about 150 wineries in Hunter Valley, and a lot of them offer drop-in wine tastings, either for free or for a $5 fee. We found a nice little loop to do on our bikes that would take us past lots of them, as well as some nice food shops. We ended up tasting wine at 3 different wineries and I think we ended up tasting 15 different types of wine. However I can’t say I remember anything that we learnt – I know as little about wine now as I did before. But we did buy two very nice bottles of sparkling wine at the second winery – one of which I’m saving for my actual birthday on Tuesday.

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Bike trip and wine tasting

Fudge & chocolate factory

Right next to the second winery, there was a chocolate & fudge factory. The shop was huge, with lots of delicious sweets to choose from. Mike bought a chocolate and salted caramel fudge which didn’t taste like fudge at all, but rather like a very delicious soft chocolate.

Smelly Cheese Shop

Apparently the Smelly Cheese Shop is a famous in Polkolbin, and they had a very impressive selection of cheeses available. Mike did a little tasting, he loves cheeses with chili and other spicy flavours, and ended up buying three types of cheese. We also had lunch there, a sausage roll and a chili dog.

After that we biked home past lots of wallabies on a golf course. We ended the day with a lovely BBQ with some nice meat that Mike had bought specially from a butcher in Sydney.