Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A visit to Fraser Island

We have both read and heard a lot about Fraser Island and it was certainly on our bucket list for a visit.  Last year when we were in Hervey Bay we contemplated it, but as we had the caravan it would have required storage and secondly we were running out of time, so had continued travelling south.  This time, we were pretty determined the timing was right but we didn’t take the weather into consideration enough in our planning.  The afternoon before we were booked to cross on the barge the heavens opened and the heavy rain continued well into the evening.  This didn’t bode well for our planned visit.

With a soaking wet tent we hit the internet and decided that tenting on the island may not be such a good idea.  Instead we came up with an option to book into Eurong Beach Resort with buffet breakfasts and dinners included.  This certainly had a didn't price tag attached to it than camping in either of the National Park camps or the private camping ground, but hang why not.  Certainly sounded much more pleasant than camping in the rain.

Fortunately the rain eased overnight and we were able to pack up our still wet tent without getting wet.  Obviously the tent was going to have to come out to be dried, but at least everything else was dry and we were able to put it all in the car to keep it that way.  We drove out to River Head to meet the barge – this takes about half an hour and we were advised to be an hour early which was certainly an exaggeration on time needed.  As it happened there were only four vehicles going on to the barge and we could have arrived at the last minute and still made the trip.  However, by the time we got to River Head the sun was shining and with time on hand we shocked those around us by getting our wet tent out of the bag and erecting it in the car park.  It certainly caused a few people to stare at us.  The tent all but dried in the time we had so we were happy.
As Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world it was time to let those tyres down again – Peter is quite expert at setting the tyres at the right pressure now and this normally means we have no trouble driving in sandy conditions.  There was plenty of signage around the carpark – seemed strange to see that the allowable is 80 kilometres per hour on the beach and 30 on the tracks.  Also there are crocodiles present so we won’t venture into the sea water even if the weather is good. 

After purchasing our permit to drive on the island (another $42.50) we watched the barge arrive from the island and we were soon on board watching as River Head faded into the distance.  Just four vehicles and the passengers.  The return barge cost was $165 including the vehicle and passengers and takes 30-40 minutes each way. 

The barge has room for about twenty vehicles of various sizes and there is upstairs seating for about one hundred passengers both indoor and outdoor.

There are two staff on the barge - the male driver and the female attendant who directed where to park then served the coffee etc from the shop.  It was surprising to see a friendly cat on board - apparently he travels each day and is taken home at the end of the day by one of the staff members.

Monday, July 29, 2013

We commence heading south

As we have all our camping gear with us we still had a pretty full load as we left Townsville and followed the Bruce Highway south.  We hadn't hurried in the day as we wanted to walk Jessie and do the final clean of the house so it was after 1 pm before we hit the road.  We had no specific plans for the coming days but knew that we had ten nights before we were due in Brisbane to commence a further house sit.  We have travelled this route previously, so decided where possible we would stay in areas that we haven’t stayed before.  This would mean bypassing the ever popular Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays!  Using a direct route, the trip from Townsville to Brisbane is about 1400 kilometers but we are likely to zig zag somewhat and will certainly do more than that.

We were tempted to stop at the first town (Ayr) which is 100 kilometers south of Townsville.  They have a lovely wide shopping strip which had appealed to me during our earlier visit but it was quite windy and we decided hardly tent putting up weather.  You can tell that we had got out of the habit of camping after five weeks in a lovely home so it always takes a while to get motivated!  We continued south to Bowen and called it a day after a journey of just 200 kilometers.  We had previously visited the waterfront at Bowen so this time decided to find a camping spot at the beach area.  We booked into Queens Beach Tourist Village – it seemed a purpose build caravan park for long term grey nomads!  The majority of the number plates on the vehicles were Victorian so we weren't completely out of place.  The park has recently been increased in size to accommodation the influx of caravans for the winter months.  We had a lovely site and walking through the park we counted about five other tents and they were all Black Wolf just like ours so we were quite out of place.

There are a number of caravan parks at Queens Beach and it is obviously a popular spot for both locals and visitors.  The beach is netted for the stingers so swimming is safe, and there are BBQ’s and facilities along the long beach front.  The area is extremely popular for fishing so no wonder the grey nomads stay for months at a time.  Our stay was short however, as we only stayed overnight but that provided entertainment for the caravaners to watch us erect and take down our tent so expertly.  

 We did take the opportunity to meander along the coast and visit the lookout and popular Horseshoe Bay with the huge boulders at each end of the sheltered bay.  There are at least eight caravan parks in Bowen (with one caravan park right at the point) and apparently to get a site without booking in Bowen was unusual as the area is so popular.

 After exploring some of Bowen we again joined the Bruce Highway heading south.  The road is a trip through the sugar cane, with the cane bordering both sides of the road for as far as the eye can see.

We had decided that we were reasonably happy to have one night stops rather than long days in the car we next stop was Mackay.  So our trip today was another two hundred kilometers.  We had not booked into a park so had to try a couple before we could get a booking – we never anticipated this.  We stayed at the Big 4 down by the port.  This park has recently had new management and was undergoing extensive renovations.  The tenting area had new ensuite facilities, with kitchen and BBQ areas and was very nice.  We were camped next to a wetland area but fortunately there were no mosquitos.  We visited the new marina area and then made our way into the city.  The city now has a population of around 110,000 and is vibrant with the mining industry just on its doorstep and the long standing sugar industry providing a great base for the area.  The main shopping area is adjacent to the Pioneer River and the river walk is a popular past-time with restaurants, picnic facilities and a three tiered lagoon providing stinger free swimming.  The lagoon was closed for annual maintenance when we were in town but we did enjoy walking the river walk.  Again we only stayed overnight – it was getting cooler by the day and it was threatening to rain and in fact we took the tent down in light drizzle.

Our drive south continued through the sugar cane – we stopped briefly at Sarina where there is a sugar cane mill situated close to the highway.  They do offer tours but as we were passing through on a Saturday we were out of luck.  Just north of Sarina is the biggest coal distribution terminal in the world.  I would assume it would be about right to say that the majority of the working population are employees of either the mill or at the coal terminal.  The total population of Sarina is just 3500.

We broke our pattern of 200 kilometers per day today by travelling over 350 kilometers to Yeppoon.  We had previously seen the signposts to Yeppoon last year but had bypassed so this was our opportunity to visit.  Yeppoon is just thirty kilometers coastal from Rockhampton and is a popular holiday spot for both locals.  Fortunately we got a booking at a nice caravan park and once again were amongst the Victorians.  Our neighbours on both sides had travelled up from Victoria to spend a few weeks in the winter and each year they rebooked for next year.  Our tent looked very out of place amongst the caravans!  We didn’t mind – we are very comfortable in the tent and we booked in for a couple of nights.  It rained very heavily the first night but fortunately we didn't get any rain inside the tent and the site soon dried out.

Yeppoon is on the Capricorn Coast and is one of a string of seaside communities and is popular with holiday makers both land and water based.  We spent a very pleasant hour or so down at the marina looking at the various boats moored there and watching one being launched. 

We continued around the coast and watched some guys fishing off the rocks – the cliffs were certainly huge as you will see from the photo of the car taken in front of them.  Fortunately there was a break in the cliffs allowing access to the water where the guys were fishing.  No swimming in this area though.

We continued following the Scenic Highway a further twenty odd kilometers down to Emu Park where we stayed last year.  The monument of the “Singing Ship” is very popular and commemorates the historical explorations of Captain James Cook in the area.  A gentle sea breeze (which always seems to be present) produces a musical sound coming through the fluted pipes of the monument.  Emu Park has beautiful beaches on both sides of the Singing Ship park.

Back at Yeppoon we headed back down to the Esplanade – it is beautifully set out as is the case in all the coastal towns we have visited.  Unfortunately there was a cold wind blowing so we didn't stay too long but it didn’t seem to be bothering lots of others who were having picnics on the foreshore and skate boarding etc.  The esplanade and main street seems to be mainly made up of cafes and restaurants and so to keep up with the Jones we joined them and had dinner out.  Very pleasant.

Time to pack up again, and this time we did it with an audience but at least it wasn't raining.  Although it was tempting to have a third night we would have had to shift sites to do so and that wasn't going to happen so we decided to pay a visit to Seventeen Seventy.  We had watched a short segment on the television program “Getaway” some time ago on this area so now was our opportunity to pay a visit.  It was really the name as much as anything else that caught our attention.  So it was back to the Bruce Highway, and driving through Rockhampton (which is another place we have never stopped at only passed through – perhaps next time) and continued down the highway and then back out to the coast – a distance of about 275 kilometers.  We passed through the another popular holiday spot called Agnes Water and then about three kilometers further to 1770 which is a holiday village bordered on three sides by the ocean.  One of the facts known about the village of 1770 is that it is the second landing of James Cook in Australia which was in May 1770 and therefore where the name came from – very original I must say.

We followed the road to the point and then followed the track through the Joseph Banks Environment Park.  There are rugged granite rocks and the waves were certainly hitting them with force.  Just as we commenced the track Peter saw a snake crossing the path in front of him – unfortunately we were too slow with the camera.  We certainly watched where we put our feet as we continued walking!  The view of the beaches below was lovely and it was easy to see why it is such a popular holiday spot. 

We made our way back down the hill past the holiday homes and the couple of cafes opposite the beach boardwalk and it was time to find a caravan park.  The first one, right on the foreshore was fully booked, the same with the second but fortunately we could get a site for one night at the third – obviously a very popular holiday spot and it wasn't still school holidays.  This camping ground wasn't beachfront but they did have a walking track to the beach so off we wandered.  It was more like a 4wd track, and in fact wide enough most of the way to take the Patrol, but after about twenty minutes of walking we made it to the beach. 

The caravan park had really good facilities, especially for those tenting, and we were able to cook our meal in the well equipped outside kitchen and mix with other visitors.  It was really pleasant but we had planned on only staying one night so next morning we packed up again and drove via the inland road to Bundaberg.  Here we met up with a New Zealand friend and her daughter who had arrived in Bundaberg just a couple of weeks earlier as her husband had accepted a job in the area.  It was good to meet up with Tasha and Brianna and to know that they were settling well.  I also have a cousin who lives in Bundaberg but unfortunately she was working the full day so we were unable to meet up in our timeframe as we were heading on down to Hervey Bay.  Fortunately we had spent time with Elaine and Arnie last year when we were in the area so perhaps will be back another time.

Back on to the Highway and then another diversion into Hervey Bay where we met up with Ann and Geoff who are relatives of Peters.  We stayed in Hervey Bay for a couple of nights as we hadn’t really explore the area last year so booked into a caravan park on the esplanade so that we could enjoy some walks.  There was an access to the beach just near the tent site and it was interesting to see a flock of pelicans on the sand. 

We had a leisurely day, enjoying a long walk along the esplanade in the evening and again in the morning and also visiting the marina where we had had lunch with Ann and Geoff last year.  This time we made use of the waterfront BBQ facilities and did a cook up – pretty good way to enjoy lunch.  In the afternoon we visited with Ann and Geoff and enjoyed catching up with them.  Although the rain had settled in, we declined an offer to stay with Ann and Geoff, as we were confident we would be dry in our tent and wanted to be out of town early the next day.  We were booked on an early barge to visit Fraser Island where we would spend the next three days.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A long visit to Townsville

This year our travel will take on a different direction – we have chosen to avoid the winter of both New Zealand and Melbourne and have headed north.  After a month long visit to Melbourne we travelled north via the Oodnadatta Track and Simpson Desert through the outback to Far North Queensland and stopped in Townsville.  We are now house sitting in Townsville for five weeks – this arrangement was made some months ago via a website.  We briefly met with the homeowners on the day before they left for their USA holiday.  We stayed in their home and cared for their pet, Jessie, a liver coloured Dalmatian.

The weather was very kind to us during our stay.  We averaged about 27 degrees C every day and didn’t have any rain the whole time.  This was perfect from our perspective but not too sure about the farmers or for water storage.  We had time to explore and in addition to walking Jessie most days we went out for some time.  We soon learnt our way around the city and our favourite places. 
While the boys were with us we had visited Riverway Lagoon which is a complex of swimming pools on the banks of the Ross River adjacent to the Art Gallery and theatre complex.  There were a number of walks along the river and we enjoyed these.  One of the lovely warm days we took a picnic lunch and visited Palmetum which is a 17 hectare botanic garden displaying one of the largest and most diverse public collections of palms in the world.

The Ross River borders the gardens and we enjoyed our lunch in one of the picnic areas.  There is also a café with visitors’ facilities.  Soon after we arrived we were surprised to see a kangaroo in one of the areas and thought initially that there must be some roaming within the park, but as we didn’t see any more perhaps it was wild and disorientated.

The noise of the bats in one area attracted me but we didn't hang around that area for long – there were hundreds of them and with the likelihood of showers of droppings it was time to move on.

Another day we decided it was time that Jessie had a decent run on the beach so she came along for the ride.  We went to Saunders Beach which is north of the city and again took a picnic.  There is a large free camping area at Saunders Beach and it was certainly popular with at least twenty caravans and campers set up and it was only early afternoon.  The tide was out so we were able to wander quite a long way along the beach and Jessie enjoyed being out and about although we kept her on a long lead as we were uncertain of her reaction if she had met other walkers or dogs.  From the beach we could see Magnetic Island across the bay.

Flinders Street is the main shopping street in Townsville and on a Sunday there is a market.  There were the normal number of stalls selling a variety of home crafts, fruit and vegetables and even massages.  The local military vehicle club had a number of vehicles out on display which was much for interesting for Peter than any of the stalls! 

From here we went down to The Strand which is the Townsville Esplanade.  This is a beach front promenade with palm trees, bike and walkway paths, patrolled swimming beaches, picnic spots, pier, a water park and pool areas, playgrounds and of course restaurants and cafes.  We decided that lunch at The Strand each Sunday was in our plans and we enjoyed visiting a number of the café and restaurants making sure never to visit the same one twice.  Swimming in the beach in the winter months if quite popular as over the summer months there are stingers in the water and swimming is not recommended.  However they do have two beach areas with stinger resistant enclosures in place from November to May.
The rock pool is a large artificial swimming pool filled with sea water (there is a stinger net placed in the water from November to May to make this a safe place to swim all year round).  Behind the rock pool is Kissing Point which was a bunker during World War II.  It was originally build as a fort in the late 1800’s as a defence against the Russians.  This area is currently closed off to the public for redevelopment.

The Formula One racing was on while we were in Townsville so there were quite a few events held around car racing.  Peter didn’t want to go to the actual race days but he did enjoy looking at some of the cars on display down at The Strand.

Another day we took ourselves off to the Townsville Show.  We did expect it to be bigger than what it was with more exhibitions but obviously we expected too much.  We watched the wood chopping for a while, and I looked at the flower and baking competitions and also the textiles but these didn’t hold any interest for Peter which is not surprising.  Of much more interest to him was the big foot vehicles on display.  Of course there were the usual side shows and rides and the ever popular show bags.

Another day around lunch time we decided to pay a visit to the Townsville Jupiters Casino to just have a look and perhaps enjoy lunch.  The hotel is close to The Strand and overlooks Breakwater Marina.  After a short walk around we soon lost interest and didn’t even bother to stay for lunch.

When we were in Townsville last 
year we had taken the boat to Magnetic Island and enjoyed catching up with our nephew, Jordan, who was staying on a yacht moored there before sailing back to Melbourne.  We decided you couldn’t come to Townsville without paying a visit to Magnetic Island which is just eight kilometres off the Townsville coast and can be seen from the city.  The island is just 52 kms square and is mainly a mountainous national park and bird sanctuary.  There are around 2000 people living permanently on the island but mainly around the shoreline.  It is a popular holiday spot and there are lots of private home rentals and a few hotels.   A local bus services meets the ferries on arrival and there is a bus route from Picnic Bay to Horseshoe Bay on the opposite coast.  It is not possible to drive around the island.  We took the bus to Horseshoe Bay where we spent time walking the beach, having a swim and lunching in one of the café before heading back to catch the ferry back to Townsville.  It was school holidays so there were lots of people about including lots of backpackers.  It is a great place to visit and we are sure to go to Magnetic Island again.

 The Ross River Dam is the water supply for the Townsville area.  We were amazed at how much water is used irrigating lawns in the area.   The house we stayed in had a number of pop up outlets that sprayed a large quantity of water on to the gardens every night.  No wonder the lawns and the tropical gardens were so healthy.  When we were out walking the dog we had to watch out for the water spraying as there were no foot paths and we had to walk either on the grass verge or along the side of the road.  No water restrictions obviously in Townsville in winter.  We had initially visited the Ross River Dam when there was a motor home rally on and they had an open day.  There were over 300 motorhomes of various types staying and we visited on the open to the public day.  There was a small public display of some new motorhomes with price tags of around $150 - $200,000 – dreams for most people.  In addition there were the normal market type stalls and various camping supplies etc.  We did meet one couple who turned out to be visiting Australia for the winter months from New Zealand and their home was about ten kilometres from our house in New Zealand.  They were heading to Cape York and then across towards the Northern Territory with their small slide on camper.  The variety of motor homes was amazing and we enjoyed our visit.

On our next visit to Ross River Dam there were still a few motorhomes and campers parked up.  We were keen to see more of the dam but this proved quite difficult.  There is a viewing platform but we saw it from a distance.  Instead we went further down the Ross River to one of the recreational areas established and after a picnic lunch and as we are trying to increase our daily exercise we took a long walk along the walkway.  We could have kept going for kilometres but I am always mindful that we have to walk back to the car!  The bark on the trees still amazes me after living in Australia for so long now – it seems to just fall off the trees and underneath there is this very smooth tree trunk.  It is just beautiful.

One of the last beach areas we visited was Bushland Beach which is part of the northern beaches area of Townsville.  It is now one of the fasted growing suburbs of Townsville and there are extensive new housing areas.  There is a very nice recreational area along the waterfront and on the day we visited there were many families enjoying the warm conditions.  We didn’t take Jessie with us (we had cleaned the car and weren’t too keen on a lot of Jessie’s hair in it again) but instead we walked the beach.  It was low tide and the water was well out but walking wasn’t too pleasant as the sand was soft and quite muddy.  We saw one casualty of the conditions – a tractor sunk deep in the mud.  There is an open air café on the beach front with lots of tables and chairs set out as they were preparing for live music at dinner. 

Surprisingly the five weeks we had in Townsville went very quickly and we were quite sad to be packing up ready to head south – we certainly weren’t really to leave the warm weather behind us.  However, with house sitting there is a date to commence and a date to finish and the family we were sitting for were due home from their holiday in the USA.  So on Thursday, 11 July we re-packed the car, did the final clean of the house and garden, said good bye to Jessie and commenced our journey south.  We would be more than happy to stay in Townsville again another time.  It is a great city of some 196,000 (2011) people, is adjacent to the central section of the Great Barrier Reef, and is considered the unofficial capital of North Queensland.  The winter months are mostly fine weather (we had no rain during our stay).  December is the warmest month (average 31.4 deg C) with July the coolest (when we visited) at 25 deg C.  We visited during the dry season – the wet season is from November to April and they do have tropical cyclones.  We haven’t visited Townsville or Far North Queensland during the summer / wet season but we can certainly recommend it in the winter!