|Townsville on a Monday morning was quiet; we headed for the ferry dock to visit Magnetic Island, named by Captain Cook as the islands interfered with his ship's compasses. There is also a Mount Cook, at 493m, the highest part of the island. The ferry dock is at Nelly Bay, where we caught the local bus to Picnic Bay for lunch. We were told by the bus driver it was low season and not much would be open, and he was right. He did point us at what he called the pub but was a large bar, serving food. So, lunch.
The bay was quite pretty but the water was murky, so we couldn't see any turtles or dugong, supposed to live in the area. So, we caught the bus to Horseshoe Bay, at the opposite end of the island. The bus ground its way slowly up and over a pass and dropped us at the head of 'The Forts' walking track. It was now very hot and humid, with the sun poking through the thick clouds every so often, so we decided against the walk uphill to the Forts, the site of some WW2 gun emplacements (the Japanese did bomb Townsville during the war) and instead set off for the coastal walk.
Well it was downhill to start with, but the road, hugely potholed and with bits washed out, twisted and turned, rose and fell, as it wound its way parallel to the coast. The little bays, Arthur Bay and Florence Bay, along the way were pretty and completely deserted. As we approached Radical Bay at the top of the island, the road became a track and swung inland to cross the back of the headland. Now, the track was very narrow, and climbed steeply through the bush and huge boulders, it was hard going in the heat and humidity but we bravely battled on. We saw some green tree ants and the nests they had made out of leaves, still,attached to the tree. No snakes, though we had been warned about the deadly adder, whose bite is invariable fatal unless the anti-venom can be given 'soon', but also no koalas, who were also supposed to be there.
After about three hours walking we made it to Horseshoe Bay and walked straight up to the pub and downed a jug of Great Northern Beer. That didn't take long. The bus took us back to Nelly Bay for the Ferry, thence to Townsville. We didn't fancy the drive back to Alligator Creek (anyway, they lock the gates at 6.30 and it was 6.15 already) so we headed across town to a commercial campsite at Rowes Bay. It was dark when we got there and the office was shut, after ringing the bell someone came and let us in. We drove in, dinner, bed.
Townsville looked a bit run down when we drove through yesterday so we decided to have a closer look to see if there were any nice bits. Well we didn't find any, even though there were a number of 18th century buildings near the port. We visited the Museum of Tropical Queensland, which was in an impressive new building alongside Ross Creek. The exhibits on the tropical flora and fauna were good, though we felt it was all aimed at children; there were several school parties making their way through. I found the geological exhibits good, they had a cyclone experience, again for the kids, and a replica of a British warship, HMS Pandora, sent to track down the Bounty and her crew, and later wrecked off Townsville. Overall we found the museum to be wanting, and definitely aimed at people of school age.
Ok, Ruth wanted another try at croc watching, so we headed off for Bohl boat ramp, just up the highway by Bushland Beach. This looked much more promising, the river wound through mangrove-lined banks and looked suitably murky and slow moving. We watched, from the safety of the camper cab, for about half an hour but no crocs. Did see what I thought might be a lungfish, it was hauled halfway out of the water. They closest we got to crocodiles was the large notice at the creek side warning of estuarine and salt-water crocs. On the way out we saw a huge eagle perched at the top of a dead tree; looked really impressive!
So, time to find a campsite for the night. We drove about 50km north to the Paluma National Reserve and found the campsite at Big Crystal Creek. But, just before it, we found the fruit stall! Miles from anywhere, a local farmer set up a stall selling fruit harvested from his farm, not a huge selection, but we bought passion fruit, a pomelo, what he called lemonade fruit and a yellow fruit whose name I have forgotten, but they didn't taste too good, so probably best forgotten. We ate the lemonade fruit as soon as we camped; they were delicious and tasted like nothing else we had tasted before, very refreshing, slightly sweet with a hint of citrus. They looked like large limes but definitely were not limes. After dinner we ate the last of the mangos we had bought a couple of weeks before. Then they were like rocks, but now absolutely delicious, yummy.
The creek had a swimming hole, called Paradise Waterhole, that was large and looked fairly deep, the water was indeed crystal clear, but as it was getting dark we decided against a swim; maybe tomorrow?
A bright and sunny morning, lovely birdsong - together with some brightly coloured lorikeets screeching away. The passion fruit we bought yesterday were divine. Not the tired wrinkled fruit we get in the UK, they were the size of tennis balls and so juicy; when we left we bought another bag!
We drove up to the rock slides, a couple of kilometres past the campsite. We parked and thought, there's not too many mossies here, we'll go without deet. Big mistake, we were halfway to the slides and were being attacked constantly, so a quick look at the huge granite boulders, over which the creek tumbled. It was very pretty but we had to bail out as we were being eaten alive.
We had read about Paluma, the village in the clouds, high above the valley we had camped in, so we drove up a long windy steep,road to the village which was at 1,000 metres. Wow! It was much cooler, and no mossies. We walked the rain forest track, it was dark and very green and lush. Interesting to see the forest plants, huge in comparison to the house plants we had seen in the UK! A lovely walk and at the end we saw a huge butterfly, the Ulysses butterfly, with vivid blue colours.
The rain came in so we stopped for lunch at McLennans Lookout which normally offered great views out to the coast, but today not so. On down the road to the plain and the Bruce Highway, heading North again through the wet tropical forest region, miles of very green forest along the highway. We stopped again at a lookout, recently built above the highway looking out across the rainforest to Hinchinbrooke Island, quite a view.
We drove on to Cardwell, recently the focus for the potential cyclone, where we found a campsite for the night. We stopped at the I-site where we were accosted by the local nutter who told us all sorts of things, all random and all nonsense. We were rescued by the I-site staff who proudly showed us around their wet tropics exhibit, quite interesting but a little amateur. The beach was beautiful, long and golden sands. The locals talked of a 5 metre saltie lurking in the area but we did not see him.
The campsite was ok, many mango trees had been planted some years ago but some had been badly damaged by the cyclone that hit the area in 2011. It was good to be away from the mosquitos although it was still very hot and humid. We saw some beautiful large butterflies - the blue Apollo, and some black cockatoos. Laundry, dinner and bed. Dinner was steak (again), it was really good value and very tasty cooked on the barbecue.
Next morning it was bright and sunny; the remnants of the cyclone that never was had finally drifted away. This was the first day for almost a week that we did not have a thick blanket of cloud, fantastic.