Tuesday, 22 December 2009
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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!)