“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” –Mark Jenkins

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Day 230 – Sunday 20th December – Poshing it up at the Big4, Hervey Bay

Went for a stroll along the beach and collected some shells before driving the short hour long trip to Hervey Bay where we spent some time gift shopping at an outdoor market, arriving at the Point Vernon Big4 park mid morning. We arranged to have the pitch next to Paul and Monika as a surprise when they turned up after their stay on Lady Elliot Island – we got some beers and bubbles, had a swim, watched their plane fly overhead and waited. But unfortunately, by the time they arrived the heavens had opened, so when they turned up to park next to us, we were sheltering inside Betsy. We peeked out and saw Paul get in the back of his 4x4, so I jumped out, ran through the torrents and jumped into their drivers seat... Monika looked at me, smiled and then screamed, so I screamed and poor Cydney who was sitting in the middle of us and didn’t have a clue what was going on nearly ended up in tears!! Lol. Once everyone had got over the shock, and all belongings were stowed etc. we ate undercover in the camp kitchen. We did manage a few rums in the dry outside the vans before bed.

Day 229 – Saturday 19th December – Kroombit Cattle Station

If there’s one thing people should do before they die, it’s to go steaming across the outback on a quad bike; and we were lucky enough to be able to do it twice. Much drier and hotter the second time around and we returned to the station after two hours with a thick layer of red dust all over us, (with the exception of goggle-shaped patches on the eyes of course – hilarious). What a way to start the day – and cure a hangover!
Unfortunately the rest of the day involved driving, driving and more driving... about 6 hours in total. So when we arrived at Woodgate Beach campsite we pretty much had some food (sausages kindly donated by the couple next door!) and went to bed.

Day 228 – Friday 18th December – Kroombit Cattle Station

I don’t even know where to start describing today – It was non-stop from dawn until almost dawn again. We started with quad biking and since we were still the only guests we were taken out for two and a half hours as opposed to the usual one and a half – absolutely brilliant fun. We returned for showers and lunch which was when the new backpacker coaches started to arrive.
Once everyone had eaten, a load of us went to muster the goats for the afternoons goat rodeo which was probably the highlight of the day for me... or was it the ‘ring-of-fire’? (which involved an 11,000Vcattle prod!!). To enter the goat rodeo you needed a team of two; one to be the catcher/brander and the other to be the tipper. And you need a team name. Ant and I were the Hairy Chins (don’t ask... I haven’t found out yet either.) The team enters the ring with all the goats and stands in a small semi-circle to one side whilst the rodeo leader nominates a goat for the team to brand. The clock starts when the audience yells the question, “Hairy Chins, are you ready?” and the Hairy Chins reply... “F**k yeah”. The tipper must remain in his spot whilst the catcher (that’s me) catches (by the leg) and drags over (by the horns) the nominated goat, the tipper then ‘tips’ the goat onto it’s back and holds it steady whilst I rush over to get the brander and press it firmly onto the goats butt for 3 seconds, at which point the clock stops. All sounds very simple. There are 5sec time penalties for various faults such as body slamming the goat instead of tipping it, branding in the wrong place and the tipper leaving his post. I have to say it was the most hilarious thing I have seen in a long time. We watched a few teams go first... lots of running round in endless circles, goats kicking, goats peeing everywhere, goats wrestling the tippers and at least one goat being body-slammed into the ground! But we were outstanding and as the only team with no time penalties we took first place! Yeeee-Haaaa!!!

The day just didn’t stop there though; we learnt how to crack whips, to lasso and to shoot rifles. We watched Boss fall out of the tree, drank ‘giggle juice’ and laughed at everyone on the mechanical bull. We tasted goat meat, we drank local Rum, we won tug-of-war and we listened to Al’s talk about the history of the Kroombit area. We finally gave up and went to bed in the early hours after watching many rounds of a very lively outback drinking game and helping a slightly homesick Danish girl make drunken decisions about her love life. A truly awesome day. I want to be a cowgirl.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Day 227 - Thursday 17th December - Kroombit Cattle Station

Surprisingly it got a little chilly towards dawn sleeping outside, but as soon as the sun got up we were roasting again. We started our cattle station package with steak lunch followed by horse riding. Desperate for a drink afterwards, we ventured down to ‘Al’s bar’ mid afternoon but found no staff, only the local cockatoo known as Boss, who cannot fly, cannot serve beer and really doesn’t like Christmas decorations. So after some two-way radio action, Al arrived and gave us beer, which Boss promptly kicked over. Then Sam arrived and took us out to Andrew’s place (a proper cowboy and Al’s son) to shoot targets off his porch and drink plenty of his home brew beer. Very nice indeed.
Because all the backpacker coaches had left in the morning we were the only guests, so we joined the weekly ‘staff dinner’ and discovered that half of them are Danish and the other half come from Steyning in West Sussex!

Day 226 - Wednesday 16th December - Rockhampton to the Outback

Drove inland today on the way to Kroombit Cattle Station – we were a day earlier than planned, since we didn’t realise it was just as far from Gladstone as it is from Rocky, so we decided to go straight to Kroombit and save the fuel. We passed two huge Emu by the side of the road and plenty of Eucalyptus, but still haven’t seen any Koalas.

We arrived just as the cowboys and guests were having lunch – steak cooked on the open fire Barbie and plenty of salad. We were given keys to a double, air-conditioned room, but decided to park the van up and camp in Betsy instead. Spent the afternoon chilling out, sleeping and reading, all the while being entertained by families of Indian Peahens; I never knew they spent the night high up in the trees, or fought with Roosters come to that.

Day 225 - Tuesday 15th December - Rockhampton

Went into town and spent far too much money in the surf shop – shorts, top, hippie beads and such.
Then did a bit of Christmas shopping before rewarding ourselves with lunch and coffee before going back to the campsite for a swim.
The site has a games room with wireless internet access, so we ventured up there to check email etc. The seating arrangements were a little unique in that they were very old seventies aeroplane seats bolted to the floor in rows facing the TV set. I spent the afternoon either behind my bins or looking through my lens at a group of grey butcherbirds eating the remains of my lychees on the floor in front of us.

Day 224 - Monday 14th December - Rockhampton

The road to Rocky was long, fairly straight and quite boring to drive I have to say. At various points along the way there were signs saying things like; “still a long way to Rocky Kids!” and “Are we there yet?” – It’s nice to know there’s still a Government on this planet with a sense of humour.
Then we eventually reached Rockhampton, we pulled into a campsite beside the tidal Fitzroy River, and watched a guy fishing the mudflats with a throwing net, had a swim in the pool and wandered down to Dominoes for a pizza – our first since leaving the UK back in May! Oh and we found a wicked sombrero sun hat for Ant down the riverbank which he fished out and cleaned up. Looks perfect.
Galahs, Minor Birds, Butcherbirds, Royal Spoonbills, Jellyfish, Ibis, Egrets..... all in abundance along the riverbanks and mudflats that we could see from our pitch. A fantastic place to stop, although due to the streetlights on the opposite bank of the river, the Rainbow Lorikeets did not settle down ALL NIGHT!

Monday, 14 December 2009

Day 223 – Sunday 13th December – The middle of nowhere!

Drove past Mackay to Sarina and on towards St Lawrence. We made it almost as far as Kalarka before giving up in the heat and turning into the Clearview Van Park on the beach which turned out to have the only bar for 30kms in either direction and a happy hour that starts at 3pm on Sundays! Needless to say, we made full use of it and got stuck into an afternoon (and evening) session with the locals. Amongst them were ‘Mad Mick’ and his mate, the toothless cattle poacher and a very entertaining carpenter-come-crocodile-relocator called Pete. A guy called Bob, who took us through his Camp4 guide showing all the free or budget places to stop and the hosts Camilla and Dave who fed us meat pies and sausage rolls as free bar snacks.
We spent the evening back at Pete’s van feeding apples by hand to the local possums and learning about Australian politics, the rights and wrongs of Steve Irwin’s actions and sinking yet more beers.

Day 222 – Saturday 12th December – Midge Point

More heat. Dripping with sweat again before breakfast. The pool is like a bath, but at least helps to keep the flies at bay. Had a really good night’s sleep and my new electric shock gadget for mossie bites is working wonders for the itching.
We nipped out to the general store in the morning and still can’t quite believe the friendliness of the people here. Everyone talks to everyone and everyone seems genuinely interested in how you are and what you’re up to.
As soon as a mild breeze picked up, I ventured out with the camera and watched the new Cicadas emerging from the ground, climbing up the trees trunks and shedding their larvae jackets. They are the most annoying insects around, but considering they have spent 17 years underground, it seems unfair not to let them sing as loud as they like when they finally do emerge and grow wings. I just wish there weren’t so many of them!

Day 221 – Friday 11th December – Midge Point

We woke and had breakfast about 7am in already sweltering heat and humidity and set off on another long drive south through barren land crossing innumerable railroad tracks to arrive at Midge point mid morning. Fantastic campsite right on a deserted beach with a small saltwater pool and plenty of wildlife.
The forest floor came alive just after dark with huge cane toads and curlew, a couple of wallabies and a possum. But the prize for the most noise went to a huge collection of Rainbow Lorikeets in the tree above us and five or six laughing Kookaburras.

Day 220 - Thursday 10th December - Driving South to Townsville

Must have driven over 300kms, through mainly bush, flat plains and Eucalyptus trees, the odd collection of houses which we notice now seem to be made more of brick than the wooden ones on stilts that we saw in the North.

Although there were still flood warning signs along the road, everything is much much dryer and lots of bush fire damage.

We found a campsite just off the Bruce Highway near Townsville and camped yards from a creek under mango trees laden with enormous Geese.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Day 219 – Wednesday 9th December – Great Barrier Reef

A fantastic night’s sleep meant we were collected from the campsite by the Calypso reef company bright-eyed and raring to go. We boarded the boat from Mission Beach about 9am and stopped at Dunk Island to collect a couple more people, before arriving at the Eddy Reef around 10:45am. Gorgeous sunshine, clear, smooth water and a nice small group to spend the day with.
The reef itself was incredible. Pristine, colourful and teaming with life; fish of all colours shapes and sizes. A few small jellyfish, a stingray, starfish and some weird sea slug things. We held one that was about two feet long, looked like Doogle from the magic roundabout and stuck to our hands even underwater.
After a buffet lunch on the boat, Ant went down for another dive, whilst I took the underwater camera out with my snorkelling gear. I really can’t find fault with any part of the day (astounding for me I know!), the reef simply has to be seen to be believed. It really is one of the natural wonders of the world.

Day 218 – Tuesday 8th December – Mission Beach

The jungle birds woke us at 530am and we cooked some breakfast before heading over to reception to book our outer reef dive and wander into the village for supplies. I decided to spend my birthday dollars on a body board from the billabong shop (thanks Mungo and Rain. Xx) but won’t be using it just yet as we are still in box jellyfish season and I’m not that brave.
The heat and humidity is stifling, so a welcome dip in the pool and a few cold tinnies whiled away the afternoon. Such a hard life!

Day 217 – Monday 7th December – Cairns to Mission Beach

Last night with the Aboriginals was yet again a joy – we marched with clap sticks, sang fire chants and danced around the grounds. We had a gorgeous buffet for dinner whilst being entertained with live didgeridoo music. I was hauled up on stage with a Japanese guy to participate in the fire starting and tribal dancing (much to my humiliation, as I was wearing my pyjama bottoms to avoid sustaining more bites!) but I was rewarded for my efforts with my own left-handed boomerang to take home.
The knowledge that these people have is truly awesome, if only everyone on this planet took a fraction of the time to learn, understand and care for our environment in the way that they do, then maybe we could all be as proud of our heritage and culture as they are.
We drove much of the morning south, stopping at Mission Beach at a site on the edge of the forest. A family of Curlews came through in the afternoon, closely followed by two Kookaburras and as the sun went down the jungle came alive again with strange noises and plenty of bugs to zap in the van.

Day 216 – Sunday 6th December – Tjapukai and Bama Bulurra

What an absolutely amazing day. We set off early to stock up on snot rags and flu remedies before heading over to the Aboriginal Park for 9am where we spent the morning with the Tjabba-ghand-ji clan learning about their shocking and very recent history, their beliefs and customs (it’s impossible to comprehend how it was still legal to shoot an Aboriginal for the first ten years of my life). After dances, songs and traditional fire-starting, they led us out onto their land to teach us how to throw spears and boomerangs, how to play a didgeridoo and what we could and couldn’t eat from the rainforest. We collected a fantastic packed lunch from the restaurant and got back into Betsy for a one-hour drive north to meet the Walker brothers from a neighbouring tribe. Our instructions were to take the coast road past Port Douglas, turn right towards Cooya Beach and drive until we reached the ‘most massive tree at the end’, the boys would be sitting under the tree waiting for us.
When we reached the tree, no-one was around, but there was a sign warning of the saltwater crocodiles and telling us not to go near the water, let alone in it... little did we know in a couple of hours we would be spear fishing in it and wading for mud crabs!
Linc Walker, an aboriginal from the Port Douglas area, showed up, and took us on a mind-blowing walk through the beach forest showing us what medicines, tools and creatures the forest was home to and how his family have inhabited the area and lived off it for generations. He then took us to his home for Mangos and freshly made bread with golden syrup whilst he showed us his collection of artifacts; which included burnie-beans, turtle shells, swordfish teeth and whale bones.
We set off again, armed with a spear each, and followed Linc into the saltwater Mangrove swamps (metres from the warning signs) in search of mud crabs. Along the way we ate Green Ants (supposedly good for flu and taste like very strong lemons), Hibiscus leaves, Beach Almonds and some very weird tasting plum/apricots growing along the shore. Once inside the swamps the temperature was intense and I was pretty quickly being eaten by mosquitoes, so we ventured out into the shallows of the sea where there was a fairly strong breeze. Linc told us to keep stabbing the sand in front of us as we waded to ensure no stingrays were basking in our path...wasn’t Steve Irwin killed by one of those??!!!....we stabbed at the murky water like mad, particularly as we had nothing on our feet. We found only one mud crab, some giant winkles, mud skippers and plenty of cone snails. So with my back ablaze with bites, we returned to Linc’s place and he produced a jar of Dugong fat to smear on and ease the itching. (We later looked up Dugong in our book – it’s like a cross between a whale and a manatee.)
Hot, educated, stinking of whale fat and in awe of the Aboriginal way of life, we headed back along the coast road to Cairns to prepare for a night with the Tjapukai.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Day 215 – Saturday 5th December – Lake Placid

Another totally broken night’s sleep and my cold seems to be getting worse not better. But on a brighter note, another early start meant we had breakfast, saw Boris the local saltwater crocodile being fed, and still managed to get on the road by 915am. We stopped at the Daintree discovery centre and walked the tree canopy trails learning about the flora and fauna of the rainforest – still not seen a Southern Cassowary but did see this laughing Kookaburra, and the mosquito bite counter now reads 10. Grrrrrr. Bought some local repellent – tropical strength, hopefully it will do the trick. We drove back down south towards Cairns and went into the Aboriginal centre to book tickets for the park experience and Bama-led bush walk. Very excited; tomorrow we learn to throw spears and boomerangs, play didgeridoo and track animals through the bush!

Day 214 – Friday 4th December – Daintree Rainforest

I slept for an hour at a time all through the night, waking to either pee, blow my nose, or because my snoring was too loud even for me to sleep through!
The moon was full and hovering above the clearing in the forest where we were camped. Spectacled flying foxes hung in the trees above our heads and bandicoots dashed around the undergrowth. Lots of very unfamiliar noises (and spiders inside the van!) didn’t deter us from sleeping with the van doors wide open... the heat is immense.
We got up early and Ant made a fry up. Our jungle clearing was visited by Orange-footed Scrubfowl, (very noisy and boring to look at), Ulysses butterflies (Enormous, electric blue, and gorgeous to look at) and all manner of flying and crawling things as well as the fruit bats which returned to roost about 10am. Still seems really odd to see them flying around in broad daylight.

Day 213 – Thursday 3rd December – Arrival Down Under!

Collected luggage in Cairns airport and feeling hideously bunged up with cold, tired, ratty and very snotty we headed for customs where a sniffer dog wasn’t happy with my handbag. We were removed from the queue and questioned by a lovely lady in latex gloves! After satisfying herself that we had no fruit, veg or seeds with us, she took my boots off for a good clean before returning them and wishing us well on our adventure. What a wonderful welcome to Australia!
A short taxi ride later and we were standing outside the wrong camper-hire place... oops. So we lugged our holdalls up the road to the right place and paid yet more money to ensure our new transport had all the bits we needed for the trip; an awning, table and 2 chairs, GPS, a full gas bottle and of course a stuffed toy gecko with sucker pads, (a gift for Bee from her overworked and rundown Aussie cousin whom we have named ‘Betsy’). Betsy already has 303,000kms on the clock, small rust holes all over and I suspect colonies of bugs living in the upholstery, but on a positive note, she has 2 new front tyres, air conditioning and can at least reach the national speed limit of 80kms per hour. So all is set for the 3 months ahead.
We drove out of the camper place and joined the Captain Cook Highway north, heading for the Daintree rainforest – the tropical wetlands and celebrity jungle area. Shortly after stocking up at the local supermarket, Ant fell asleep, waking briefly to cross the river on a small flatbed ferry. We arrived at Lync Haven rainforest retreat early afternoon and crashed – totally exhausted. (mosquito bite counter already reading 4!)