So our last entry had us in Cairns and we were about to head south.......
On Friday 13th December we picked up the hire car which was another supermini size car this time a white Hyundai Getz. We did a bit of shopping and headed to our first campsite which was just over 4 hours drive away. We stopped for lunch at Cardwell, a picturesque coastal hamlet that had recently recovered after being the victim of Cyclone Yasi on 3rd February 2011. However on viewing the beautiful palm fringed pier there was a warning sign for saltwater croc's and jelly fish. (Photo)
We continued to Townsville where we spent the night. Sometimes you're a little unlucky with a campsite and this was our turn.
We had a group of young Germans who were up talking very loudly past midnight and kept us awake. The two of us being very British just tutted to ourselves as there were more of them than us.
It was another very humid night so no sleeping bags were required.
The following morning we drove to a campsite near Nigel's dive centre at Alva beach. We were keeping our fingers crossed in the hope that the weather would be good enough to dive on Sunday. On reaching a very tranquil site Nigel drove to the dive centre and returned with a big grin on his face. He had good news that the dive was going to go ahead.
After this good news we started to make our evening meal in a large open communal kitchen, these are called "camp kitchens" and very poplar at Australian campsites. As we started to prepare our meal we were surrounded by a group of Samoan migrant workers who were apparently clearing mangrove. What a hard job to do that we thought these men must be really tough! We later learned that they were in fact picking Mangos, not as tough and an easy mistake to make?
By the time these workers had finished gathering in the camp kitchen there was enough for a rugby team and with their build they could have been serious contenders. Their food looked amazing - unfortunately we didn't get an invite to join them.
The night was a little cooler but several mosquitos managed to get into our tent undetected and we woke to several bites each.
Nigel went diving and Helen relaxed about the pool, reading War and Peace.
Helen is on book eleven of War and Peace and Nigel is stuck on level 100 of Candy Crush.
The dives on the wreck of the SS Yongala (Unfortunately no photos as Nigel would probably have lost the camera overboard)
There were 12 divers in total in a boat that resembled a large inshore lifeboat. We all climbed aboard a large land rover type vehicle and drove down onto and about a mile down the beach to the launching point.
The boat was launched from the beach from a trailer pushed into the sea by a tractor and then 40 minutes later after a journey where the boat leapt into the air frequently and occasionally smashed through a wave we reached the marker buoy for he wreck where we were about to dive.
On the first dive Nigel had to complete a training deep dive and descended to 29 meters with Tim the instructor. We did a colour chart test which demonstrates how the reduction of light changes colours underwater. Then we moved off and immediately came across a massive turtle (about the size of a table tennis table) that was just sitting on the seabed. We then gradually reduced our depth and swam up onto the wreck and saw large fish of various types as we traversed the wreck which was 180 meters? long. The wreck is now over 100 years old, has been claimed by the sea and is a living reef.
After a very slow ascent we returned to the boat for a break and a snack.
The second dive was more of a tour of the wreck to see where the engine room, the bath tub and the anchor were. We saw a massive grouper fish that made Nigel the fish from the Great Barrier Reef look like a minnow. We saw one small shark but that was from a long distance which is possibly the best way to see a shark.
When we surfaced and returned to the boat the swell had increased considerably and getting back into the boat was very interesting. It required a little timing as the ladder rose and fell with the swell. On speaking to the skipper he explained that we were now nearing the safety limits for the dive. After securing everything we had a 40 minute return journey through the larger waves back to the beach and a spot of lunch.
I would suggest this is not a trip for anyone remotely prone to sea sickness.
A very good YouTube entry gives you an idea of the dive, the link is below, the sharks Nigel saw were much further away and there were no rays.
Helen picked Nigel up at about 3pm and after more relaxing by the pool we decided to have a beer in the camp kitchen,we have found a bottled beer that isn't lager and is quite passable. While we were there three residents of the campsite joined us and we struck up a conversation while they were drinking copious amounts of brandy and cola. Scott, Tom and Deirdre had basically retired to fish and live at the campsite in semi permanent caravans. Scott was one of the sages of the campsite and shared his wisdom whether you wanted it or not - mainly about other residents and the world in general. He had been a photographer attached to the Australian prime minister and had travelled extensively.
The owner of the campsite came over to see if we were getting up to any mischief and the conversation turned to the three's failure to invite another resident to their social gathering. We had wondered who the woman was who was skulking around the camp kitchen dressed only in her pyjamas, the mystery was solved!
We wished the three of them a good night as they finished the bottle of brandy, started a bottle of rum and began thinking of cooking on the BBQ.
As the afternoon breeze continued into the evening the night was a little cooler and we had a good nights sleep.
On Monday morning we drove to Airlie beach which is close to the Whitsunday islands and a regular stop for backpackers and all the tour companies traveling along the east coast.
When we arrived we headed for the Kayaking offices to confirm our reservation. After a brief chat with Hayley the co-owner of "Salty Dog Sea Kayaking" it was obvious that the weather forecast wasn't looking favourable as it was going to be far too windy.
What do you do when its too windy to kayak we thought? What else but have a sailing trip on a tall ship called the "Derwent Hunter".This would be a day's sailing around the Whitsunday islands instead of our planned half day paddle in the kayaks.
We located our campsite which was away from the melee of the main town and a very family orientated campsite. We managed to catch a little of the cricket and saw the end of the forth day of the third test. It made us very pleased that we weren't following the team around Australia and paying loads of money to watch the cricket live. We have suffered from a little jovial banter but no more than we would have given had England been winning the test matches.
On Tuesday we were picked up by another enthusiastic coach driver at 6.55am outside the campsite. We were the first passengers he picked up and we got a free tour of Airlie beach and the surrounding area whilst picking the other thirty six passengers on the tall ship. We all climbed aboard and left the marina under the ships motor and then as soon as we were clear of the marina the crew asked us to assist in setting the sails. The brisk wind that had prevented us from Kayaking now came into its own and the ship lent to one side and ploughed through the water with surf coming over the deck. This was little bit like the Americas cup, which the Derwent Hunter has participated but only as a corporate hospitality vessel. After a couple of hours we reached our snorkelling sites and although the water was a little cloudy due to the silt being stirred up we saw several turtles. After a buffet lunch we set sail again and headed back to port. A very good day was had and considering our change of activity at the last minute we were very lucky to get the last two places on the Derwent Hunter that day.
The sailing company has a video which shows the sea a lot calmer but covers what we did very well. the link is below.
Wednesday and we were back on our road trip and heading to Engella National Park hopefully to get another big tick during our tour and see duck-billed platypus in the wild.
We drove further south down the A1 coastal road and turned inland and towards the mountains. We had been researching the route and thought this road may be too much for our little car, it had been described as tougher than the Hard Knot pass which is a single track road going through the Lake District. It proved to be a steep zig zag road with a couple of hairpin bends, the little car with Helen driving, no problem.
We found our next campsite and had already done our research on the owner who it seems either takes a liking or disliking to you almost immediately. We had no problems being extra nice and obeying the thirty or so signs telling you what to do or not to do.
In the afternoon we thought we would locate the area which is apparently the best in the world to see wild duck-billed platypus. After a short drive of about 5km we came to the Broken river and a small parking area where we located the viewing platform and read all the signs about the best times to be there. We were far too early but decided to have a quick look in the river and imagine our delight and surprise when we saw the tell tale bubbles of one of these odd creatures surfacing about 20 meters away from us. We stayed for about an hour but we really need a camera with a lens as long as your arm.(Photo). While making dinner we heard a flutter of wings and stepped out of the camp kitchen to see it was dusk but the sky was black with beating wings, about 10,000 or so fruit bats had taken to the air and were flying off the mountain and down into the valley, these bats are very big and have the local name of "flying foxes"
The temperature drop on rising a few meters had been noticeable and for only the second time in Australia we needed to crawl into our sleeping bags.
On Thursday morning we were going to get up early for what is apparently an amazing sunrise, looking down off the mountain towards the coast.
When we woke it was to the sound of rain drops hitting the tent and we had a quick glimpse out, saw the low cloud and went back to sleep.
Much, much later we sought shelter from the rain in the camp kitchen and had our first fry up of the tour of eggs, bacon, Heinz baked beans and toast.
Them rain continued all day and we watched day time TV until it stopped and then returned to the platypus viewing area where we saw two this time but it was much darker and heavy rain prevented a lengthy viewing.
Today (Friday) we managed to dry the tent out before setting off on a long day of driving.
We shared the driving which took over 5 hours and arrived at Rockhampton hostel to stay the night.
This day was to break up a very big drive to our next destination.
We plan to do an update on Christmas Eve but if don't get the chance Merry Christmas to all from Helen and Nigel.