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Posts from the ‘Queensland’ Category

The Dusty Road Behind Hell’s Gate

Actually, apart from a few patches of bitumen the road is dusty to the east as well as the west of the Hell’s Gate Roadhouse, a little petrol station along the Savannah Way that connects Broom with Cairns.

I’m currently sitting in our van under a shady tree in front of Borroloola’s supermarket, where a few minutes before we’ve stocked up on our food supplies for the next days ahead. We’ve run out of a few things the last couple of days, but to stretch our stay in the Lawn Hill National Park was well worth not having any fresh fruit.  

In some respect it is quite ironic. Back in Cape York, where it was hot and the open sea looked so inviting for a cool bath, I had longed to jump in for a swim. Here, in the dry heat where I had never expected any other kind of relief than the cool from our air-condition we were able to dip into the green cool of the rivers. Around Lawn Hill National Park and Kingfisher Camping ground plenty of waterfalls hinder saltwater crocodiles to come all the way upstream, this makes the rivers and waterholes relatively safe to swim in.

We didn’t see any freshwater crocodiles while canoeing at Lawn Hill National Park, but plenty of turtles and fish. I’d never believe this myself, but while we were enjoying the crystal-clear Indarri Falls something spat at me, and it wasn’t Thorsten. Little Archerfish were mistakenly thinking I had flies on me. That’s why they were spitting little water fountains in the hope of hitting a little insect that would then fall into the water. Thorsten was testing their spitting accuracy by catching flies and holding them up over the hungry fish. Well worth a try if you come across Archerfish. It’s very entertaining and they’re pretty accurate.

From Hell’s Gate onwards the road leads closer to the coast and although plenty of rivers were in our path swimming isn’t recommended as saltwater crocodiles love a good sparkly river too. The steep river banks made it hard to find a good spot to stay overnight, but eventually we did find a pretty place. This morning when the sun rose above Foelsche River I watched Jabirus flying by. Quite a nice start to a day, isn’t it?


Down the Laundry Shoot

The other day I was chatting to one of my best friends, an absolute sunshine and sweetheart. It is needless to say that I miss her, particularly because of her amazing talent to put things into perspective and bring me down to earth.

While we were exchanging the latest gossip she asked me whether I’d be in heaven. I guess it was less of a question and more of an assumption. Well, despite the downsides of travel (missing good friends and good coffee) I’m enjoying life and seeing the glass half full. Nonetheless, perhaps I haven’t been critical enough and everything sounds too good to be true? Fair enough. Let me attempt a balanced account of our departure from Cairns. Yes, we’ve hit the road again last week and are finally travelling west.

Our first stop along the way was the little town of Chillagoe. In its heyday when the mining industry boomed only 100 years ago this town was home to over 10000 people. Today 250 souls live here, plus the occasional tourist. It’s still got two pubs, and two historic smelters. Apart from that little reminds of the heyday.

Chillagoe is situated on Limestone and underneath the region over 500 caves hold all sorts of exciting things, mainly stalactites and stalagmites, a gigantic population of micro bats and other creatures that form an underground ecosystem. Cockroaches live here that eat bat poo, huntsman spiders that eat cockroaches and snakes that eat bats. It’s a perfect system that may smell funny to some, but works well for the creatures involved.

The highlight of the tour was the laundry shoot, a two meter long and very, very narrow stretch of cave that I crawled through. While I was down on my tummy trying to move forwards with my hands and knees I definitely didn’t think of above described ecosystem. The crawl was, of course, optional and Thorsten waited on the other side of the wall to watch me drop out of a little whole that looked like a laundry shoot, hence the name. Funny enough, I did look like I was wearing dirty laundry too.

Because we got a taste for caves our next stop was the Undara Volcanic National Park. More than 200 inactive volcanoes are dotted around the park. If no-one tells you this you’d just look at the landscape and not even imagine that these gentle hills were once fiercely spitting lava. Well, they did and because of a series of extraordinary circumstances they created the longest underground lava tubes in the world.

And if no-one shows you these tubes you wouldn’t even imagine their existence either. These gigantic caves were like chalk and cheese to Chillagoe’s limestone caves, but extremely impressive. The guided tours to these tubes are pretty expensive, but because access is absolutely restricted and tours are the only way to see the tubes there’s no way around the fee. It’s definitely worth it though.

Tonight we’re staying in Croydon. I’m sitting under a huge Mango tree (at least I think it’s one) while the sun gently descends. I could mention the blazing heat and greasy roadhouse food along the way, but tonight my glass of wine is still half full. 

Tell me about travel experiences you choose to ignore, I’d love to hear them!

Nice or Necessity…maybe Nicessity?

Having returned from our Cape York trip Thorsten and I are now contemplating whether such a journey is an absolute must or just nice to have done.

My last thoughts while camping on Loyalty Beach were cut short because the laptop ran out of battery. On our way back the battery recharged but I had no internet reception and so my best intentions of blogging had to be postponed.

Back in Cairns I’ve got endless access to both, internet and power. I realise that in my last entry I was torn between the beauty of Cape York and the fact that it was fairly crowded and left me wanting for a little bit more access to the place’s history. The best thing I can do is tell you about the things I loved:

  • I absolutely loved our visit of Thursday Island. Our one day trip gave us a taste of Torres Straight Island culture. More time and a trip to neighbouring Horn Island would have been even better.
  • I loved our Four Wheel Drive trip around Somerset Homestead. The glimpses of this historical site captivated my imagination and Thorsten thoroughly enjoyed driving on the beach. (I did like that part too while day dreaming about 19th century explorers).
  • Cape York has achieved something magically: my perspective of Cairns has changed completely. On our first visit here I vividly remembered Sydney, the rush of the big city, its huge harbour and the never-ending possibilities for dining and shopping. Cairns felt like a sleepy little town without trains or trams and a city centre that could be circled on foot within 20 minutes. The last weeks on Cape York have changed all this. We got our first taste of the outback where we needed to study maps to find a supermarket and calculate our fuel consumption versus the distance to the next petrol station, that was very exciting. Coming back to Cairns this place feels incredibly busy. The supermarkets, shopping centres and quantity of restaurants now seem excessively huge, funny isn’t it?
  • I loved to listen to others experiences of their trip. Most travellers that go up the Cape take the adventurous Old Telegraph Track, which is a simple straight line on the map that gives no indication of how treacherous it can be. The most difficult part, the Gunshot Creek river crossing, puts an end to the journey of those with too much enthusiasm and too little experience. Some of the people we spoke to told us of their leaking fuel tanks, broken headlights and other parts of their vehicle that didn’t quite make it through some of the “easy” river crossings. On Seisia wharf we saw another traveller’s car that was loaded on a pallet to go back to Cairns via ship. The vehicle had rolled into one of the rivers and was completely trashed. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t enjoy other people’s misfortune.  I mentioned previously we took the Development Road that bypasses all major dangers and I still got my taste of adventure. Some of the stories confirmed that we weren’t up for the Telegraph Track.

Now that I’m recapping the things I thoroughly enjoyed  I can only recall the things that we missed out on like the Elliott Falls and Fruit Bat Falls. Another traveller told us that others have seen giant dinosaur foot prints near Chillie Beach.

Where does this leave me now, was visiting Cape York just nice or a necessity? One thing that so far has rung true for me is “you only regret things in life that you didn’t do rather than those that you did”. I hope those that rolled their car into the river would agree (I heard they didn’t suffer any injury, which is good).


Hopping to the Top – The Tip of Australia

“The Tip of Australia”, that’s exactly where we currently are. We have reached the north coast of Queensland and in between typing I am glancing over the crystal clear water. The little hills on the horizon hidden in clouds of blue mist make up the Torres Straight Islands, the last bits of Australia.

Understanding this place isn’t easy and even explaining what I mean is difficult. I’m trying to capture the contradictions that make this place what it is.

The beauty of this area is breathtaking. Glistening, almost glowing blue-green sea invites you want to jump into the water to cool down from the tropical heat. It’s surely just a quick swim to the next island and how lovely would it be to rest on the beach there before the return. But that’s only a dream as crocodiles and sharks are patrolling the coast waiting for a fool to be too tempted and jump in. 

There is another contradiction. The tip is remote. Sitting here means that I am now closer to Papua New Guinea than to any major Australian city. The feeling of remoteness comes from the fact we have travelled over a stretch of almost 1000 kilometers of corrugation road. Corrugations have drastically increased my appreciation of  bitumen and I’ve constantly reminded myself that this is the easier way.  The alternative route is on the Old Telegraph Track that allows experienced drivers to test their skills and cars to the limit.

After a few days of hopping, rattling and shaking up the cape without phone or internet we arrived in Bamaga and find ourselves in a perfect little community with bottle shops, supermarkets and a pub.

With the access road limiting the flood of travelers you’d think this place was quiet. Yet, the camping ground is constantly buzzing with new arrivals and others leaving. The actual tip that is marked with a sign explaining that this is the “northernmost part of Australia” had a queue of people wanting to have their photo taken.  

Another contradiction is the fact that this area is filled with interesting history, but little remains visible and most is left to ones imagination. The Somerset Homestead is one example. It was built as a port for the frequent ships passing the area in the late 19th Century, but ended up not being viable enough. The hill it once stood on is empty and only a few forgotten graves further down on the beach is all that’s left.

Fixing the van in Cairns

Not so much of a road trip have the last two weeks been for us, well, not with the van anyway. We have spent the last weeks in Cairns and I wanted to share my personal highlights.

Before I get to those let me put our stay in town into context. I mentioned earlier that our 4 wheel drive training revealed that our van doesn’t like the four wheel drive mode so much. After spending a good while inspecting the vehicle from underneath Thorsten identified the issue and it turned out to be pretty essential to fix regardless in what mode we drive in.

So, we found a mechanic that I highly recommend if your car ever breaks down in Cairns. We also organized spare parts for our van from a mechanic in Melbourne that I unfortunately can’t recommend at all. If your Mitsubishi Delica ever breaks down let me know and I’ll tell you who you shouldn’t call. The unfavorable mechanic managed to send the wrong parts despite long conversations over a technical drawing. To cut a long story short, a one week stay turned into two (almost three) whiteout the van.

This leads me straight to the highlights:

  • If you are in Cairns and don’t have a car, don’t panic! The city has plenty of cycle ways and the place is easy to get around with on bicycles, hurray! (But really, you do need a bike it’s not that small either)
  • Wonder down to the Pier after sunset for a delicious cocktail. A friend introduced us to a gorgeous bar at the wharf that had life Jazz music on a Wednesday night. Nothing compares to a town that caters for travelers, doesn’t it?
  • The lagoon on the Esplanade is absolutely worth a dip. This is like a public infinity pool. The best is it’s absolutely free to use. The pool is cleaned every Wednesday morning, so I’d recommend hopping in Wednesday afternoons. After all it’s a public pool with lots of kiddies that usually don’t use the toilet. (The regular reader may identify a little paranoia of mine that’s to do with water and other people’s waste)
  • Last but not least, Rusty’s is the local fruit and vegetable market that’s open Fridays and Saturdays. It’s pretty much in the middle of the city and has everything you’d ever need to be absolutely comfortable in Cairns.

Floating with fish

Procrastination is such a beautiful pastime. We have been in Cairns for almost a week now and even though my schedule has been less than busy have I done regular updates? No. It seems that I’m still floating effortlessly through the days…

Last week Thorsten and I went on a boat cruise to the Great Barrier Reef, to the Agincourt Reef to be precise. Snorkeling is one of my favourite activities and I was very excited to share this experience with Thorsten, who hadn’t seen the Reef before.

People rave about how magnificent such a cruise is. They are absolutely right!  The beauty we saw is hard to describe or capture with photos. For me it is probably the sum of all of the sensations that makes it so unique.

Snorkeling let’s me forget the clumsiness of human bodies as I float effortlessly on the surface of the sea. Everything I see below is rocking gently back and forth with the waves. It’s a rhythm that every living thing follows, including me. Time slips away and hardly matters (unless your boat is wanting to leave, preferably with you board). Watching sea life is such a rewarding experience because the less you move the more you actually see. We even heard the cracking of Parrotfish that were biting bits of corals.

If you ever decide to do such a trip here a few handy tips that I discovered:

  • Book a cruise that can take as few people on board as possible. All the splish-splashing of other people’s fins can really ruin the atmosphere. After our trip I found a company that only takes 30 instead of 100 people out for a day and it costs the same…
  • Don’t sit at the front of the boat. Particularly when you have a tendency for seasickness.
  • Put your wetsuit on BEFORE you put on your sunscreen
  • If you can, bring your own wetsuit. I noticed the bathrooms on boat were very underutilised!
  • Don’t wait for sunny weather (the colours are amazing regardless of sunshine). Instead wait for a calm day. Unless of course you like a lot of rocking and you’re good at clearing your snorkel of water.
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