Sunday, July 24, 2005

Fraser Island and Byron Bay

Hi All,

We crossed into New South Wales today and are currently in the beautiful town of Byron Bay(BB). This town is very much a hippy, artsy town..kinda like Santa Cruz, CA. We are here Sun and Mon, and then we head on to wine country near Sydney.

We just came from Hervey Bay, our Fraser Island base camp. We took a tour to Fraser Island on Friday and Saturday. What a trip and what an Island! It was amazing. For those that don't know, Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world. Knowing that, we expected a big desert. How wrong we were! It turned out that the island is so diverse: desert landscapes, rainforests, freshwater pools, natural creeks, hundreds of birds and beasts!

We caught the Ferry to the island on Friday at about 9AM. Our tour picked us up at our campsite by bus and then we drove to River Heads ferry, about 15 minutes away. The ferry was of course, packed but the 35 minute trip was fun because it was open-air sea-viewing all the way.

When we got to the Island, we headed immediatly to our first destination, Central station, a 40 minute walk through the rainforest. The walk lead us to Pile Valley, a designated "beauty spot" flush with huge pine trees that were estimated to be thousands of years old. Many of the trees in this valley were logged for use in the building of the Suez canal.

From Pile Valley we went to Eli Creek, a natural freshwater creek. At lunch we were acquainted with our resort, the Eurong resort. After lunch we went to see the historic Maheno shipwreck on the beach (used for military target practice and never actually hit), the colored sands formation, the very picturesque Champaigne pools and the famous Indian head landscape.

During our travels on the island, our bus driver often took the beach as our route. Fraser Island beach is known as the Great Sandy highway. It is also the largest landing strip in the world! So our bus driver was commonly sharing the road with airplanes. What a site, to see a plane come for you! In the midst of all this mayhem, we spotted a dingo (wild dog) on the side of the road, or beach, lazing in the sun. We all got out to look at him. He was quite the celebrity and even posed for many photos.

After all the sightseeing, we headed back to the resort for some dinner. After dinner we went down for a stroll to the beach with Edit and Louise, two fellow travellers that we met at dinner. Of course, being a Saturday night, we headed to the resort bar for a beverage and a chat with some of the other people on our tour.

The next day we got up for an early breakfast(7AM) and headed immediately for Lake Wabby. This entailed a bus ride, an amazing 1.8KM walk over sand dunes and through rainforest. We did an additional 1KM walk to the lake lookout first and then took in the beauty of the lake.

We headed back to the resort after Lake Wabby. After lunch we took in the beautiful Lake McKenzie. This lake is the most famous of the island's lakes and comprised a rainwater lake completely sealed by a natural substance called coffee rock. What a smashing lake it was too. Apparently the lake's low PH level provides natural conditioner and the surrounding sands provide natural exfoliating material, so we're both feeling beautiful after swimming in it. After McKenzie, we took in Basin lake, another natural rainwater lake inhabited with very shy turtles.

Unfortunately after Basin lake, it was time to catch the ferry. The tide was at its lowest level and we were actually quite luck to leave the island at all. That night after getting back to the mainland we headed to the Black Dog Cafe for Sushi. After all the yummy food and sightseeing, we were wrecked, so we headed back to Hervey Bay caravan park to plan our last few days campervan travels.

That's all that I can remember right now. Hope you've enjoyed it. We will be in touch soon for more updates on our travels!


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Mission Beach, Townsville and The Whitsunday Islands!

Hey all,

How ya goin'? All is well with the world travellers...we have had a busy time since we arrived in Queensland...some of the best days of our trip so far, in fact! It just keeps getting better all the time...

From Townsville, we headed north, stopping along the way for some yummy homemade ice cream at the Frosty Mango...our drive took us past sugar cane and bananna plantations and we knew that we had finally reached the tropical north of Australia. We stopped our first night in Cardwell - a quiet town with a lovely beachfront and pier - but no swimming due to the presence of crocodiles! We had a quiet night here and headed further north the next day to Mission Beach. We hadn't even planned to stay here, but when we saw the nearly-deserted beach with a view of Dunk Island in the distance, we knew it would be a great place to relax for a few days. Boy, were we right! We got to stay in the town caravan park for $13/night and it was a 30 second walk to the beach! We spent most of the day lounging on the beach and venturing into the shallow, clear blue ocean. We needed some beach time after all of that driving! We had a lovely walk along the beach at sunset and decided that it was so nice we would stay another night. The next day we spent the morning at the beach and the afternoon exploring the local area. We went wine tasting at Murdering Point Winery (intruiging name, eh?) that produces only fruit wines - mango, passionfruit, lychee, lemon aspen, plum, and mulburry port. Passionfruit was our fav so we bought a bottle for that night's dinner...after that we headed out to an interesting tourist attraction...Paronella Park. It was built in the early part of last century by a Spanish man who wanted to recreate some castles that he remembered from his home country. He did a lot of the construction himself and it was quite a job. There were waterfalls, tennis courts and bamboo forests created - sort of a wonderland in the middle of a tropical rainforest. It fell into disrepair in the 1970's and 80's and was bought and partly restored in the late '90's. Now, you can do a self-guided or guided tour around the park and check out the ruins of the old castle as well as lots of interesting flora and fauna (mostly turtles and fish). We had a nice afternoon walking around and trying to avoid the other tourists...

We took a drive to a secluded beach at a place called Etty Bay after that. It was a lovely small place and we even spotted the endangered cassowary on the beach. They are a large bird, related to the ostrich and the emu. Quite interesting, I must say. We had seen several signs on the roads warning of their possible crossing, but we only saw one on the beach. We headed back to Mission Beach for a few drinks in a local bar and another stroll on the beach under the stars...what paradise!

The next day we headed down to Townsville and spent the afternoon shopping in the Flinders outdoor Mall and walking along the Strand - a lovely strip along the waterfront with a walking path that overlooks Magnetic Island (Maggie Island as the locals say). That evening, we met up with some friends of mine from James Cook University and had a great time hanging out with them. We got to drink lots of homebrew at my friend Andrew's house with himself and his lovely wife Jenn and then went our for some more drinks with my friend Jody (from MBARI). Jody introduced us to some of his friends, including one guy who was heading off to Greenland to lead tours the next morning. We had dinner at a local Italian restaurant and then it was back to Andrew's house for some more homebrew. A great night out with some locals - the best way to really get to know a place, I find.

The next day we had brekky with Andrew and Jenn and they sent us off with loads of mangos from the tree in their backyard. It was a great stay and we wished we had longer but the Whitsunday Islands were calling us...

We drove down to Airlie Beach that day and spent the afternoon arranging and booking a tour to the Whitsunday Islands. We settled on a 3 day/2night sailing cruise on a 47 foot long sailing vessel called Prima. We chose this because of the small number of other passengers (10 passengers and 2 crew total) and the fact that it was leaving the next day. We went off and did a bit of shopping for the cruise (sunsreen, beach towels, more books, snacks, anti-seasickness meds and alcohol were all on our list of things to buy) and then booked in to a local caravan park that agreed to store our van while we were away for free!

I don't have time to do justice to our cruise right now, but suffice it to say that we had an absolutely amazing time and the group and the crew were really wonderful. We did it all including fishing, snorkelling, a bush walk, SCUBA diving, sailing, relaxing on the beach and partying. We saw some spectacular sights and did some great sailing and the very best part was seeing Mike snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef - quite a feat for someone who doesn't swim. He took to it like a fish and was the first one in the water and the last one our of the water on every snorkel! I had to see it to believe it myself - but he did so well. I was extremely proud of him and he really loved it. The reef itself was quite amazing and I was lucky enough to join up with a dive boat and do a SCUBA dive from a place called Hayman Island on the last day of the cruise.

We are now in Hervey Bay and have booked in for a 2 day/1 night tour of Fraser Island starting tomorrow, so we will have to finish our update of the Whitsundays after we get back...there are so many more stories to tell!

Hope this finds you all well...please know that we are thinking of you all and we've got loads more postcards to send - so keep an eye out!

We have less than 2 weeks left in Australia now so we are going to try to live each day to the max...

Take care and enjoy!

Monday, July 11, 2005

In Townsville!

Hi All,

We made it to Townsville, Queensland. It was about a 2200KM journey from Katherine. There were not too many sights along the way.

On Saturday we stayed at a roadside parking area by the Stuart memorial. The sunset there was quite nice. On Sunday night we stayed in Mount ISA, home of what they call, the largest Irish club in the world. When we got there we found out it was about as Irish as Las Vegas. In fact it reminded us a lot of Vegas. The place was huge and was full of Poker machines (pokies)! However, there was quite a good pint there and we had a good chat with the bus driver who hailed from County Carlow.

Last night we stayed at Pentland Caravan park. This place is in the middle of nowhere and we were not expecting much, but we left very happy. Their facilities were probably the best that we have experienced so far, the scenery was quite nice and they were really friendly.

After a hearty breakfast, Christy took us on the 240KM drive to Townsville. We are here for a few hours doing business, and then we will head up North to Mission Beach area tomorrow, back here on Thursday/Fri, and then on to the Whitsundays...

Hope all of you guys are good...

Take it easy...

M & C

Friday, July 08, 2005

Kakadu and Katherine Gorge

Hi All,

Just a quick note before we head South towards Queensland(QLD)!

It's Saturday July 9th. We are currently in Katherine. Yesterday we canoed down the Katherine Gorge. Quite a spectacular sight! The canoe is something we haven't quite mastered yet, so I would say we more or less Zig-Zagged up the gorge. Between the first and second gorge, we had to walk the canoe for about 20 minutes over some major rocks and beaches which was a major challenge, but we did very well!!

The last few days were spent at Kakadu National park. On Friday we took a nice early (6:45AM) cruise through the Yellow waters area of Kakadu. We spotted about 6-7 crocodiles...amazing creatures! Yellow waters was quite diverse. Wetlands, rivers, many species of birds and snake. We got some great pics here.

On Thursday we did a lot of shorter walks around Kakadu. We passed through the largest aboriginal rock art site in Aus, we walked by a lot of Ballabongs(waterholes in the outback) and we toured an Aboriginal cultural centre.

For the next few days we will be driving 2200KM(that's about 1400 miles) to Townsville and our last Aussie state, Queensland. You won't hear from us for a few days, but we do enjoy your comments, so keep them coming!

Mike (& Christy)

Friday, July 01, 2005

Ayers Rock and beyond....

On Monday, we finally crossed over the border to the Northern territories! We decided to drive as near as we could to our most eagerly-awaited desitination: Ayers Rock(Uluru). The drive was mostly uneventful and full of outback scenery, until we hit Mount Conner, about 100KM from Uluru. This is the rock that many people mistake for Uluru and it was a very beautiful welcoming spot! There is no climb up this rock, unfortunately, but it made for quite a picture. We moved on to our resting destination for the night, Curtin Springs. This "town" is basically a roadhouse with free camping and a $1 charge for showers(honour system works here). Anyway, everything was good there and we even stayed on Tuesday night after our Uluru treks.

On Tuesday, we headed off to Uluru and Kata Tjutu (The Olgas)....we spent the morning doing the 5 Mile "Valley of the Winds" walk around the less-well known rock formation of Kata Tjutu - 30 odd large rocks that are large and spectacular. In the afternoon, we climbed to the summit of Ayers Rock (also named Uluru ever since it was returned to the Aboriginals). It was a seriously hard climb - probably one of the hardest we've ever done. Both Christy & I had a hard time on the way up( Well, mostly me). Anyway, it was a grueling almost-vertical climb for nearly an hour under the hot sun followed by several steep up and downs through the undulations of the rock's top. It was quite a hike. But totally worth it. The views were amazing and we took loads of photos, which we hope to be able to upload soon.

After the climb, we drove around the base of Ayers rock and then parked at the "Sunset area" viewing spot. There were tons of people there taking photos of the sunset as it hit the rock. It was great! Ayers rock glowed blood red in the sunset. We met a couple there that were taking a cross-country 4WD trek from Sydney and got some great travelling information on future exploits.

On Wed we headed from Curtin Springs to Alice Springs(Alice). On the way, we stopped in at a Camel farm for pics. In Alice we stopped at the Desert park which is a wildlife park located in the desert, specialising in their nocturnal desert creatures exhibits. It was very interesting.

On Thursday, we moved on to the West Macdonnell ranges, just west of Alice. What a stunning place! We visited Simpsons gap, a nice little watering hole in the desert and rock-climbed at Standley Chasm. We moved on to one of the oldest aboriginal towns in Australia, Hermannsburg and toured an old Lutheran mission, where we also purchased some unique aboriginal art. From Hermannsburg we moved to Ellery Creek Big Hole, a national park camping site and torusit attraction.

Ellery Creek turned out to be a great spot to stop for us. The waterhole there was very scenic, set in a gap between two mountains and very stunning in the sunset. We also happened to meet some very nice Aussie touring families there. They invited us around their fire, where we were joined by another group and we had a great time. Of Course, this time was spent consuming and exchanging different beers (We exchanged our Kiwi beer for their aussie beer)! They also shared their damper( traditional aussie bread) with us, which was very Yummy. They have invited us to call them when we get up to Darwin area, which we definitely will.

On Friday, we moved from Ellery to Ormiston. In between we vistied Serpentine gorge, which was another beautiful trek for us. We visited the Ochre pits, a site that the local aboriginees use to extract clay for ceremonial paints etc. We got our campsite at the very competitive Ormiston Gorge just after lunch and went on a walk over and through the gorge. Words can't explain how nice this place is and digital cameras cannot do it justice. All around us were photo-opportunities! We hiked the gorge riverbed for two hours and then had a nice quiet nite at a great campsite.

It's Saturday and we were on the road at 7:40 am. We are travelling to see a site called the Devil's marbles and on Sunday we hope to stay in Mataranka and take advantage of the nautral hot springs there. On Monday we should be in Katherine/Darwin region.

Hope all is well in the US and Eire.

We will be back in touch shortly!