Wednesday, 29 January 2014

'Stralia Day and Cyclone Dylan Ruins my Plans

On January 25th I left Cape Hillsborough National Park to head north to Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, in order to find a place to stay for the Australia Day weekend.  I found a campsite right in town which was affiliated with Nomads Airlie Beach, a youth hostel.  The campsite was right in the heart of it all and had access to the hostel's bar, reception desk, tour booking office, pool, and even a slip 'n slide... that's how you know it's a youth hostel!  I immediately booked a day trip for Sunday the 26th...Australia Day!  The trip was with a company called Ocean Rafting to tour the Whitsunday Islands by boat, do some snorkelling, and spend some time on the beaches.  The day started out very rainy, windy and overcast and there were many warnings on the pier before the boat left that there could be waves up to 3m high and that anyone with a bad back should opt out because the ride would be very bumpy.  I decided to go despite the weather and am so glad I did!  It was an awesome day trip with a fast and fun boat ride, snorkeling stop, a short hike up to a viewpoint on Whitsunday Island with amazing views of Hope Inlet where sweeping curves of white sand (98% pure silica!) form a beautiful vista, and a lunch and swim stop on another beach.  I think it was the perfect way to spend Australia Day.
The best cool Australian treat on a hot day.

Whitsunday Island; Hope Inlet
Spectacular Hope Inlet.  You can see three yellow boats on the sand spit for scale.

I had to laugh at this sign on the trail.  I think it was to get seeds off your shoes so you don't introduce foreign species to Whitsunday Island but it reads more like a donation box ;)

98% pure silica sand.  The sand is soft and powdery and works great to exfoliate your skin!
Swarms of hundreds of these roly-poly looking blue crabs would run along the sand flats and bury themselves when I got too close.
It is "stinger season" in northern Queensland which means that there is a risk of stings from jellyfish, some which can require hospitalization or may even be fatal.  Thin lycra bodysuits called stinger suits can protect you so that you can still enter the water to snorkel, surf, swim etc....but they look ridiculous...hence the following "Spandy Andy Pose Montage". Enjoy.


This guy did NOT take the warnings about stingers seriously.  Instead of doing the Spandy-Andy-Dance he's doing the Nearly-No-Pants-Dance.  Yup, he's wearing a man-thong.  Ewwwww.  Sadly he was on holidays with his wife and Daughter who must have been mortified by his outfit.
I wrapped up Australia Day by doing my laundry at the hostel and sheltering from the heavy rain while grabbing a beer and free BBQ dinner at the bar while my laundry ran.  It was kind of a bust since I'm sure I was the oldest person at the hostel by at least 15 years!  All the "kids" were friendly though and I chatted with a few about mining, travelling, oil and gas, and how I was as old as their moms.  Ugh.  Needless to say I turned in early (as old ladies do).  The BBQ consisted of bread, salad, beetroot, fried onions and sausages.  I'm certain my sausage was raw and I spent most of the night wondering if there would be serious repurcussions...thankfully there were not. 

The next day (Jan 27) I drove towards Ayr, where I was booked to do a dive the following day (Jan 28) at the Yongala Wreck, a dive site which had been highly recommended.  Sadly, by the time I reached Bowen, about an hour away from Ayr I checked my voicemail and found out that the dive had been cancelled due to inclement weather.  I decided to make the most of my day and do some sightseeing while I drove a bit further north.  I saw the giant Mango in Bowen, tried some Mango Sorbet (yum), learned that Bowen was the site where the movie Australia was filmed, went to a viewpoint overlooking the ocean, and walked around a lagoon in the center of town which had abundant and diverse birdlife.  I drove on through torrential rain and high winds and decided to stop before the sun set at Paluma Range National Park at the Big Crystal Creek Campground.  There were great facilities at this campsite, nice private campsites, firepits, and "Paradise Pool" a lovely crystal clear swimming hole surrounded by rounded granite outcrops.

Giant Mango near Bowen
January 28th, I decided to work my way north doing some short hikes and sightseeing on the way.  I started with a walk to Jourama Falls (still in the Paluma Range National Park).  These falls were beautiful with bright blue butterflies near the water, smoothed granite boulders and outcrops shaped by water with crystal clear rock pools stacked one above another which I was able to swim in, climb up to the next rockpool, swim, and continue like that until I was satisfied.  I was the only person there.  How's the serenity? So much serenity! (Yes, I have watched "The Castle")
Jourama Falls rockpools

Jourama Falls 
Very cool Goanna on the trail
Jourama Falls Rockpools
Next I went to Girringun National Park to see Wallaman Falls, Australia's longest permanent single drop waterfall (268m freefalling water) which were spectacular especially on the foggy, misty, rainy day that I arrived.

Wallaman Falls
Less spectacular, and more disgusting than the falls.  I stepped on this marsupial when I got out of my van.  I'm sure he was already dead but I was revolted.
Next I went to Cardwell to catch a glimpse of Hinchinbrook Island

Cassowary are the largest animals in the forests in Queenslands Tropical North and can be dangerous!  I still would love to see one but I liked that there was an information sign about how to fend off a Cassowary if it "confronts" you.
After another rainy drive with lots of roadwork delays I decided to camp near the Babinda Boulders at a little campsite (<10 sites) which was free and had nice toilets and even cold water showers!  When I arrived I put on my raincoat to brave the light rain and to walk to see the "boulders" but after only about 20 steps the light rain became a torrential downpour which sent me scurrying back to my campervan where I hid out for the rest of the evening reading a good book and only emerging to fry a grilled cheese sandwich when the rainfall slackened briefly.  I also went on an expedition to the toilet and it was a real adventure!  There was a huge moth on the wall and a frog inside one of the toilet seats.  It poured rain all night long and the next day (Jan 29) but I found a window to walk to the Babinda Boulders when only a light rain was falling.  After all that rain the waterfall was thundering and even the "safe" swimming hole had a strong current making for a workout to keep from drifting downstream towards the falls.

Bathroom expedition find #1 - enormous moth

Bathroom expedition find #2 - toilet frog

Babinda Boulders 
Babinda Boulders 
A spiny, dangerous jungle plant! 
A soft, friendly jungle fern
Well camouflaged Katydid
Swimming area at Babinda Boulders
My original plan was to drive from Brisbane to Cairns in order to do one day of scuba diving near Townsville (the Yongala Wreck) and to do the dive trip of a lifetime aboard Mike Ball's Spoilsport which is a liveaboard dive boat that travels i4  nights and 3 days to the outer Great Barrier Reef including the oceanic Osprey Island, provides up to 14 dives, and then returns via a low-altitude flight from Lizard Island back to Cairns so that guests can see the Great Barrier Reef from above.  I was shattered to learn the morning of Jan 29th that my trip (scheduled to depart Jan 30th) was cancelled due to the development of a low pressure system offshore which is likely to develop into a Category 1 Cyclone, if it does develop, it will be dubbed Cyclone Dylan.  I am  understandably disappointed about the trip being cancelled but I decided to go to submit a claim to my travel insurance, drive to Cairns, and check into a nice hotel to stay dry, lick my wounds, and come up with a new plan of attack.

Pointy mountain on the way to Cairns with ominous rain-fattened clouds above
Tomorrow (Jan 30th) I will try to ship my scuba gear ahead of me to South Africa to avoid lugging it around domestic flights between Cairns-Melbourne-Perth and then an international flight to S.Africa...and to avoid paying excess baggage fees multiple times.  I will move the rest of my luggage to a hostel (this fancy hotel cost over nearly five times as much as the cute hostel I found) and return my van.  After that I will let someone else do the driving (though the rain and wind if the cyclone develops) and opt for tours rather than driving myself around.  I'm eyeballing an outback tour, a tour to Cape Tribulation and Daintree Forest National Park, and I may even try to get one day of diving in on the Barrier Reef if the weather shapes up before I have to leave for Melbourne on Feb. 5th.
Time to kiss my van goodbye ('s been lots of fun)

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