A Travellerspoint blog

The Journey to the Tropics

Day 5, The Great Barrier Reef

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Woke up early to make our check in time. We get there and boarded and they have coffee and some muffins out for us, nice. Our ship today is a nice catamaran, very clean, sleek. We get underway around eight. Excitement is high. We meet some of our crew, Geordi, Mel, Ashley. Mel leads us through the safety demonstration, it shows she actually likes her job and she makes it fun. The wind has kicked up and we’re bouncing a little, but we stay out on the deck to enjoy the sight and the feel of the sea spray.

Near our first stop of the day we’re called inside for a short pep talk, I don’t like being inside, I feel a little seasick with the motions but not seeing them. We’re to get out fins and masks (and a wetsuit if you want for $7) and line up to board the glass bottom boat they keep out here to ferry us to the shore of the sand bar. We opt not for wetsuits, its windy, but warm, the water is around 25 degrees. Once reaching shore though we notice a problem, the wind is whipping the sand hard enough that it stings. Our time on land is brief then. We don our gear and dive in.

IT IS SO AWESOME.

The colours, the fish, the coral. There was one fish that was such a vivid rainbow, it had all the colours, but was primarily violet along its back. And out closer to the boat we saw Angel Fish. Back on the land the sounds of the birds is respectably around nightmares about Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” Estimates are that at any time there are about 70,000 birds on this spot of land. Back in the water some more, the giant clams, more fish, more coral, some of them move in the currents, others that look like brains or bumpy rocks.

Back to the boat for lunch. A nice buffet of warm and cold dishes. Hungry from the swimming. They have a license to feed the fish the left over seafood from lunch, we gather on the deck to watch the Angel Fish fight for it.

After lunch it is time to move to the other site. We are secured to some buoys and it is on again. Not many people take the plunge. By this time the wind is getting worse, we’re all wet and cold. The water is very choppy and you dive into deep water and swim to the reef. Jeff and I debate for a while but decide no, we came here to do this, and we’re going to do it. He goes first; I wait to see how it goes for him. He’s in and gives me the thumbs up. I follow soon after.

Don’t know why we hesitated, this is even better than the first site. You jump into water that is maybe 15-20m, it sounds daunting, but once you’re in, the water is so clear, you can see down there and its cool. The fins make a huge difference in swimming and in no time we’re at the reef. The fish here are so amazing. There was one that had to be 1 to 1.25m long! Thankfully it kept its distance. So many more fish here and they have no fear of us, in fact that they don’t even to notice we’re there. One passed right across my chest, I thought for sure it was going to hit me, but it didn’t. Its much deeper here, the coral is way bigger and more colourful too. We swim for a while, for those that don’t feel as comfortable in the deeper water some of the crew take the round life preservers and you can hold that and they’ll help guide you around. We don’t grab on, but we follow them a little to see if they’ll show us cool stuff. Plus it is a little apprehensive about being so far out there by myself. You don’t hear it much, and on a map it looks like the reef is right next to the mainland, but it is not! Its over thirty nautical miles out and we’re all that is around for many miles. We swim for about an hour this time. Start heading in when we each see, from different points a Sea Turtle! I almost ran into it before I saw it, Jeff was coming from the other direction, and watching to see if I’d hit the turtle. I didn’t hit it, but came close. It was so cool! We didn’t get a chance to ask how old it was, but we followed it until it went deep.

I don't know what else I can say about the reef, maybe Jeff will add something later, but its just incredible. So vivid and lively, you have to see it. Put it on your list of things to see. It'll be worth it, trust me. You can see pictures of it, and Finding Nemo, but you don't get the scale of it from them. You have to see it to get the whole picture. I would go back, if any of you are coming to see it, let me know, I'll go again.

Back on the boat we get our spots on the deck from before and settle in for trip to shore. The wind has turned the water into a field of rolling swell, on average around 1-2m. It makes for a fun ride home, but we don’t get to sail. They raise the sail for us anyway, but we continue on the motors. We’re bounding on the seas and at a few times it does push our stomachs into our throats. I stare at a point on the horizon to calm my stomach. That really works. Pick a spot out there, take some deep breaths, and the upset feeling goes away even while you're bouncing around. We get soaked with spray. There is whale spotted a ways away from us. All we can see is the spray when it clears the blowhole. Another boat traveling closer to the whale has to change course so they don’t collide. As we get closer to shore the sea does calm and the ride becomes smooth and relaxing. We go inside for afternoon tea, coffee and some biscuits.

The crew gets off and stands in line to shake all of our hands when we disembark, it feels a little weird, like being in kid's sports again, but a nice gesture. They all were a joy, they all actually seem to enjoy their work and it makes for a much better experience for us.

One thing we were not prepared for was the salt. Ok, we all know the oceans are salt, but have you ever spent a day snorkeling in it? Being drenched by it? When the water evaporates there is so much salt left on everything, our clothes, our towels, us, even our sunglasses. Okay, it might not have been just from the swimming. We probably would of been okay from just that, but getting drenched on the way back from the spray is the likelier culprit. First thing we do is each take showers when we return. That’s when I find out how bad it is on our towels, trying to use my towel from earlier just smears salt back on me. I do a load of laundry, our stuff from today, to get the salt out and to keep it from smelling. We go out and have some pretty bad fish and chips at the Night Markets. Back to the room, I finish a book and Jeff looks into how our trip into the Daintree is going to work. We’ll drive into it tomorrow and come back to our room in Cairns, there are not any rooms up closer or farther down, as we thought we might start out trip back towards Brisbane tomorrow. Looks like we’re setting out for that on Monday, hope to stop in Airlie Beach again for the night.

Posted by owensj11 03:03 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

The Journey to the Tropics

Day 4, Cairns

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We wake up late; feeling way better than we have in days, today there is no driving going on. We devise a plan for keeping the car in free parking. A nearby shopping center has free parking for the first three hours. Every two and half hours we take the car out and bring it back in. We go shopping at the shopping center, picking up a few supplies. Jeff decides to go lounge around the lagoon, I’ve been sitting in the common area reading a book. While he’s off doing that I decide to wander around town, focused around the waterfront. Find a sign advertising a replica of the 15th century Dutch trading vessel, the first to land at Australia. I go to where it’s supposed to be, but its not there. I am disappointed; I had so hoped to see the ship.

Coming back to the room later we move the car one last time and then try to knock out our plan for the next few days. We’ve called some more places, got a hold of some people down near Brisbane looking for help putting up grape vines. Only thing we’ve heard from lately. Think we might head that way if we can’t find anything up here, that doesn’t start until the end of next week. We’ve got some days up here to fill then, decide to do the Reef tomorrow and the rainforest on Sunday. Looked into different Reef packages, decided on one that advertising two sites, one sand bar that’s also a bird sanctuary and the other at the deeper outer Reef, plus they sail the way back rather than use the motors. Went out for a little but, caught the end of the Rugby World Cup watch between New Zealand and Tonga, The All Blacks won. Sat out in the common area playing cards and drinking “The Beer from Up Here,” Great Northern (actually owned by the Carlton Brewing company and brewed down by Brisbane, we were so disappointed learning this and we felt lied to by all the billboards we passed).

Posted by owensj11 02:59 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

The Journey to the Tropics

Day 3, Airlie Beach to Cairns

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Our Hostel in Airlie Beach, heck the whole time there was so nice, we’re unsure if we should leave, but we decide to press on. We start out a little later, another breakfast of Champions from McD’s and by 8:30 we’re on our way north on the Bruce. We drive through all sorts of country, flat country, rolling hills, cows, even signs saying watch out for koala (though we didn’t see any). Around noon we’re to the “Capital of Northern Queensland” Townsville. We don’t stop, just skirt around it in a series of freeways that could be found around any large American city. More driving. Shortly outside of Townsville we stop for fuel. We each get a Pepsi to drink for the drive. Agree that the sodas here taste different, but Pepsi still tastes better than Coke. We press on. Somewhere outside of Townsville the road winds up into the mountains a little, but it’s under massive amounts of construction, something we’re beginning to tire of. It seems we can’t got 50km without stopping at construction. We do make it to Tully though, arriving sometime around four. We’re not sure what to make of it, the town seems very small and there isn’t much life in it, save for the sugar extraction plant that is going full bore. And the line of cars trying to get out of town, but are blocked up behind the road construction. We drive around town a few times, trying to find any of the places we have numbers for, Hostels we hope to put us up, and possibly help us find work. We find one; we walk through it, but find nothing resembling an office. Back at the car we start calling places, we find one that answers, but they have no rooms, nor do they know of anyplace looking for workers, they’ve all got what they need right now. In about a month or so it should start picking up again though.

Well Tully is a no go then. What do we do now? We’re not sure. It’s getting late, almost five, why don’t we push on to Cairns; maybe we can have better luck there. That’s another two hours in the car, but we do it. Driving into the town, on the outskirts, it could be anywhere; it’s just a jumbled mess of suburbs and strip malls. We get into the town center though and it’s different, nicer. We check into our hostel, very nice. Busy. This whole town is busy; it’s a tourist town. The beachfront is very built up, souvenir shops, at least two in every block. Nice hotels on the waterfront, another inland salt-water lagoon. We don’t do much since we got into town so late, dinner at an open-air pizza place on the main strip closest to the water. Quick tour stroll about town. Back to the room to sleep.

Posted by owensj11 02:56 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

The Journey to the Tropics

Day 2, Rockhampton to Airlie Beach

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Woke up to old American Animation, Pinky and the Brain and Animaniacs. Car burns oil, as we found out when we checked today to an empty dipstick, hastily bought some from the Shell station next door (4 Liters, we weren’t sure what the car took (note, about 2L). Hopefully avoided any catastophic problems.

Short breakfast of McD and we were on our way out of Rocky (and none to soon, nothing against Rockhampton, but for a couple of blokes on a Tuesday, it was dull). Drove through some rather boring landscape until MacKay, nearly 4hrs from our start. Got out to see what was there, as it was the first real town in 4hrs. Walked around, saw The Blue Lagoon, advertised as a popular place, it’s a nice water park right on the not so nice Pioneer River (it looked well enough, but it was running shallow. Or there’s a lot of unused beachfront). Bought some stuff at a Big W in a nice shopping center, then back in the car for the last 2 hours up to either Bowen, Airlie Beach, or Proserpine. On a whim went with Airlie Beach – do not regret it. Nice quieter beach town just down the road from a larger more resort town. Its geared towards backpackers, so its nice for us. Staying at a hostel just in from the beach. Went swimming in inland salt water lagoon. Ate at pub, going back out.

Went out, Jeff made a friend, Mel. A Sheila from the mines who had three days off and was making the most of it, she was pissed when we met her around 9 o’clock and still wanting to hit up other pubs. They have much stronger laws against selling alcohol to intoxicated people here though, so can only guess if she was successful or not, though from our meeting with her again later where she was being denied entry to another pub we can safely assume that she was not successful.

We had had our trip up and down the main drive on Airlie Beach and was on our way back to the room when we saw some of our fellow guests sitting in the common lounge area. Being social creatures we decided to stop out and say hello. Three we’re townies, two staying at the hostel (a chick from Australia and a dude from England) for some unspecified amount of time (until they feel old and move on), one was living at the hostel but was in the process of moving into a house (a Kiwi, but she was nice anyway), and the fourth was from Germany and making his way up the coast as are we. While sitting there a woman out of nowhere comes in, sets down some tin foiled parcel, asks us to keep an eye on it, tells us the police are coming, then says she has to go to her room to do “something.” We were of course apprehensive, but enthralled at the same time. Upon her return (before the Police arrived, lending all our creative stories about the "crazy sheila who asked us to watch her tin foil parcel then ran" moot) proceeded to tell our new found friends about her life (something about never dating bikers). They spoke to her then left, it was anti climatic. Our three friends, the Englishman, Australian Sheila, and the Kiwi, we’re going to “hit the town,” after some debate we decided to “what the hell?” and go back out with them. Went back to our first stop, the pub we had dinner at, had a few beers, played oversized Jenga, they were staying longer, we planning to head out again tomorrow, called it in early, say 11 o’clock ish, and packed in to our room. Saw the mining chick again on our way, she didn't recognize us, we were upset. Our new friends, Bridget and Mason, the sheila and dude from England, say they'll be here probably when we get back, we'll need to remember their names. The Kiwi, we can't remember her name, only agree that it began with an A. No tv in this room, how will I sleep without the soothing sounds of Ted Danson>|?

Posted by owensj11 06:39 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

The Journey to the Tropics

Day 1, Gympie to Rockhampton

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Began the trip north today, having left Kyla and Adan’s around 9am. First stop was actually a bit of a detour, taking us off the main highway through AU, the M1, the Bruce. We took off from this main thorough fare, to the town of Bundaberg, home of Bundaberg Rum and Bundaberg Soft Drinks. Our destination was the Rum Distillery. To get there we passed through kilometers after kilometers of sugarcane fields, even had to stop for a sugarcane train to cross the road.
After a little over two hours in the car, the distillery sits next to a sugarcane crushing plant, where the sugar is extracted from cane, what is left over is molasses, which is used to create the rum. Nice right? The molasses is cleaned, mixed with yeast, sits for 2 years! and is then diluted with water to create the finished product. The tour lasts about an hour and cost $25 per person. Included in that price are two drinks at the end. They have quite the selection of their products to offer. They have their standard two-year rum; a red rum that is ran through a filter that is made from Australian Red Gum Tree, a clear two-year rum that is filtered five times to create a very smooth rum, a five-year rum, a rum mixed with chocolate and three other items, and then a variety of rums mixed with colas, or other things, such as lime. I tried the Legendary (the five-year), very smooth, good, potent. They recommended mixing it with Bundaberg Ginger Beer (a product of Bundaberg Soft Drinks down the road), which made it delicious. Jeff had the Red, then mixed it with Cola. We then wandered the connected store, which had a surprising amount of gear to offer, then went back for our second. We each tried one of the premixed drinks, I something called Black and Stormy, which was delicious, and Jeff the one with Lime and some other flavors, which was good, but the Stormy was better I think.
From there it was back into the car for another four hours to our next stop, Rockhampton, beef capital of AU. With only one detour to see Gladstone, some town on the coast that sounded cool, which it was. It was home to many roundabouts and the world’s largest Aluminum Smelter, as well as the largest port in AU, Oueenslands largest electric plant, and the largest cement factory in QLD. Worth the trip just to see that.
Rockhampton is a town of 60,000 or so our book says and tonight its home of many more, there is something going on tonight, we’re not sure what, but every hotel and motel room is booked, we were lucky to get one that shortly after arriving we saw that it too posted a no vacancy sign. No idea what’s going on in Rockhampton. Our room is a bed in the middle of a tiled floor, with a tv attached to one wall, and a completed puzzle hung above the bed. Had sushi (Jeff) and Pizza Hut (me) for dinner in our cell block of a motel room. They had put some nice tiles over the floor on 7ft up the wall, beyond that was straight cinder block. Ate dinner watching old American shows, not that old, Everybody Loves Raymond, an early episode of Mythbusters, Californication, The Late Late show with Craig, and Cheers. Fell asleep to Cheers.

Posted by owensj11 06:30 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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