The next stop was Caloundra, which had a really nice beach with really warm water. Here we went to Australia Zoo or Steves Place as it is known. It was a really good zoo, all the animals seemed very happy (they even have keepers who sit in with the tigers all day and play with them). We saw the Croc show, stroked and fed kangaroos and Wallabies, stroked a koala and fed an elephant. We even saw a wombat and some dingos being walked. Steve Irwin is still a very big presence there and there were lots of tributes to him. It made me feel very sad for his family.
We stayed in one of the best hostels so far – the Friendly Hostel – in a place called Hervey Bay. There were even koala teddies on the bed. We met a lovely German chap called Patrick and booked a tour for the next two days to Fraser Island which is the largest sand island in the world.
The barge ride over to the island was pretty but the captain was quite grumpy and seemed to hate tourists which set a bit of a theme for the trip. When we got to the island we headed off on a 4WD bus to Lake Wabi which is in the middle of the rainforest. There is a massive sand dune by the side of the lake which people slide down on body boards. According to our guide, Murray, a tourist broke their neck doing this not so long ago and warned us not to do it. Some guys from another tour were sliding down it and Murray proceeded to give them a 15 minute bollocking about it. Swimming in the lake was beautiful though and well worth the 45 minute walk to get there. We also started chatting to a really lovely girl from Manchester called Lorna and a group from Holland who were also very nice.
In the afternoon we went for a walk in the rainforest and saw some huge trees and a very clear creek where the Aboriginal ladies used to give birth. In the coach on the way back to the resort we went past some self-drive backpackers who were stranded in the sand (all the roads on the island are sand, it´s a sand island don´t you know). Our guide sped past them and then proceeded to deliver a half hour monologue about how despised the self-drive people are and how the guides will never stop to help them because they are trying to stop them coming to the island. They get stuck and block the roads and have lots of accidents. Two people were killed recently when a car rolled on the beach because its 20-year-old driver (who shouldn´t have been driving because the age limit is 21) swerved to avoid a wave. The two who died were sitting out of the back windows at the time. He also told us that when he was bitten by a brown snake (very venomous) he had to wait hours for the air ambulance because some backpackers had crashed on the beach and because of the delay he ended up being in a coma for two weeks. All this he said to a bus full of backpackers. The man had had enough!
That set the mood for a relaxing afternoon back at the resort where we lazed in the pool and enjoyed some pre-dinner drinks with our new chums.
It was an early start the following morning, off to Eli Creek. Another startlingly clear creek which we waded up. On the way we saw a Dingo eyeing up some fishermen. It was an adolesent apparently. A tourist crouched down to take its picture and Murray reliably informed us that if it had been an adult it would have bitten the mans face off. That was the begining of even more tales of carnage.
Next was a shipwreck where we were told not to go too close as a tourist had had his leg sliced clean off by a piece of falling metal. This is when David and I began to suspect that Murray might be hamming it up a bit.
We then went to Indian Heads, the only rock on the island. When the sea is calm you can spot sharks from up there (Great Whites and Tigers breed there). We saw a dolphin I think but it was quite far away. And yes, you guessed it, the rocks can kill you. If you cut your feet it will get infected and you will die! Murray, ever the joyful soul, even said to one lad who slipped on the rocks “watch it there big fella, if you break your leg you´re on your own”. What a joker.
That afternoon we went to Lake MacKenzie which has got to be one of the most beautiful spots on earth. The water makes your hair soft because of the minerals in it and you can exfoliate with the sand as it is 98% Crystal Silica. So we were squeaky clean by the time we left. That was a chilled out end to the trip and cleansed us of all the negative vibes. We also saw a massive lizard there and our first Aussie snake. Not sure what kind it was but we left it well alone.
The captain of the barge on the way back was grumpy again and really gave some people a telling off for dawdling whilst getting off. I don´t even think that they could speak English very well and hadn´t understood what they were meant to be doing so I did think it was a bit harsh. I think all the locals are just sick to death of tourists on Fraser Island. But it was a beautiful place and well worth seeing.
Then it was one more night in the lovely Friendly Hostel before another mammoth road trip to Airlie Beach which is where the trips to the Whitsunday Islands depart from.
We couldn´t manage the journey in one go so we had to stop halfway in a tiny little place called Marlborough where there was a petrol station and a pub (which we stayed in) and nothing else. I like to think that I have seen the real Australia now. But it was very cheap and actually quite pleasant. We even got sausage and mash for dinner.
We then spent two days in Airlie Beach in a really great motel, Our room even had a bath!
David persuaded me that we should go on a two day sailing trip around the Whitsunday Islands. Being a bit scared of boats and not much into sailing I was a little apprehensive but it was actually quite good fun, particularly the sailing bit. It was an ex-racing yacht so it could go quite fast and did a lot of leaning over (I´m sure there is a technical term for it). David helped with the sailing so he was happy! The snorkelling was excellent and we saw lots of colourful fish and coral. We had to wear lycra stinger suits to protect us from the jellyfish which can be quite dangerous. David managed to get stung on the face by something but luckliy nothing too vicious, our captain thought that it might be sea lice, charming!
We didn´t get a lot of sleep and I swear that I heard a dolphin rubbing up aginst the boat where I was sleeping, there was a dolphin-like noise then a sound like it blowing out of it´s blowhole and then a snuffling noise. David thinks it was the dinghy rubbing against the hull of the boat but I´m sure it was a dolphin saying goodnight to me.
We went to Whitehaven beach on the second day which was absolutely stunning. We were mauled by giant biting flies however. Why is it all the beautiful places have horrendous insects? It ´s like god said nowhere can be this amazing, quick, I better add some horrible bitey things to restore the balance.
After all this fun we collapsed in a cheap motel (even sharing a single bed – it was that cheap!) before another long drive to Townsville. Nothing much to report about this place – it´s the capital of Queensland but we only really used it to break our journey and went swiftly on to Mission Beach the next day. It was quite jungley there and the beach was beautiful but you couldn´t swim because of the crocs and the jellyfish so we chatted to a Scottish couple and went out to play some pool and have a few drinks with them.
The next day we went all the way to Port Douglas which is a really nice town (very posh, not much for a backpacker budget there). Our motel room haden´t been cleaned though which was a bit annoying and they didn´t seem to care very much when we told them.
As we were in Port Douglas for a couple of days we drove up towards Daintree and went for a boat ride on the Daintree River. We saw some cool fish called Archer Fish which use jets of water to knock insects off branches. Our guide did a demonstration with biscuits on the boats mooring rope. We also saw a crocodile on the river bank which was apparently quite a rare sight at that time of day and year. We also tried the local Diantree tea which was delicious.
We stopped off on the way back to Port Douglas to organise a horse ride for me to go on the next morning where you ride along the beach and into the rainforest. I was really looking forward to it and got up at 6.30 the following morning to wait for them to pick me up in town but they didn´t show up which was dissapointing but it did save us $125 so maybe it was meant to be.
Instead we arrived early at our next destination in Cow Bay where we stayed in a very big tent (with bathroom) in the middle of the rain forest. We did a bit of walking and got promptly eaten by mosquitos. In the evening we went on a night walk which was really good (see all the insect photos). Our guide, Possum, was very knowledgeable. We didn´t see an awful lot of animals but it was very interesting and I got quite close to a huntsman spider and even attempted to swing on a vine – Tarzan style.
The next day was more walking and a trip to the beach at Cape Tribulation. Again beautiful but you can´t do anything on it or in the sea because of the dangerous wildlife. Then it was Roast Chicken for dinner and a chat with a lovely retired lady from Ipswich who told us all about her Hindu wedding.
The next morning it was time to head back to Cairns but not before a bit of jungle surfing Which is basically zip wiring through the forest from platforms attached up in the canopy. They make you go upside down on the last one, quite scary but good fun too. Our hostel in Cairns was really nice so we decided to chill out and not do anything else, which also meant that we saved some money! The man who owned the hostel let us stay in our room until 4pm on the day of our flight and gave us a lift to the airport in his flash BMW, all for nothing! What a nice chap.
So we are now in Perth, Tim and Kelly-Marie arrived from England at the crack of dawn on Wednesday morning and we have started our Christmas holidays. David´s extra happy as our latest hire car isn´t the boring Holden he ordered but a sporty Mitsubishi with a massive engine!
Love Sian (and David) xxx