Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Day 20-21 Bowen- 28-29 June 2009

4222kms, 26 degrees C

Those who have suggested we should slow down will be pleased to know that we had a couple of days by the beach in Bowen, home of the Big Mango. The town is still basking in the reflected glory of having Baz Luhrman, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman in town to film the “Darwin” scenes for the movie Australia.
We had our first “disaster” of the trip. A spider had made its way into the car and jumped onto Nicky’s leg. The following happened in very quick succession:-
1 Nic left the car
2 Nic wanted Stuart to sell the car
3 as the spider was seen in the passenger seat, Nicky offered to do a lot of driving

It is amazing how people live. We found a camp site in one of the less touristy areas of Bowen as the main sites were fully booked. Our neighbour has lived in his caravan on this site for 10 years. He told us about local employment – many travellers look for work and in Bowen that means picking tomatoes (or mangos when in season), at $2 per 15kg bucket. A “little Indonesian fella” can do 340 buckets per day, and earn $680, shifting over 5.1 tonnes of tomatoes. That is a lot of pasta sauce.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Day 18-19 Eungella National Park - 26-27 June 2009

3911kms, 20-24 degrees C

Eungella (pronounced “young-ella”) is amazing. It is a volcanic National Park 700m or so above sea level, and on a clear day you can see the sea at Mackay from our campsite, 100km to the East. Even though we are in the tropics, ie North of the Tropic of Capricorn, the rainforest at Eungella is classified at sub-tropical, due to its elevation.

There were two main highlights – the first was a day’s 4WDing with Neil Cunningham. Young Neil is 68 and is the 3rd generation of Cunninghams to live in this area since 1906 – he knows it like the back of his hand. He took us thro amazing eucalypt and rainforest – we learnt heaps. The wildlife star of the show was an 8’ carpet python.

The second attraction was the platypuses (platypii??) in Broken River. OK, there is too much video footage on this blog, but you should have seen the yards on the editing floor!! The river was full of freshwater turtles, but did we film them....er no. The kingfisher was cute – unimpressed by the platypuses below, he dived into the water and returned with a fish each time in his huge beak.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Day 16-17 Yeppoon – 24-25 June 2009

3433kms, 22-28 degrees C

According to Australian Mythology (well in the Strong family at least) Yeppoon is close to yer-fork and yer-knife. We didn’t see too many forks, knives or “poons” but we there were plenty of “Grey Nomads” or Silver Gypsies are they are now known. We are joining an army of retirees who follow the sun around Australia – the estimated number is 40,000. Some retire, sell up their house, buy a caravan or Winabego then off they go. John, from Colac in Victoria, arrived at our campsite with his caravan in early May and will stay until September. Some brought pets with them. Many had set up pot plant gardens in front of the van.

We got chatting to another old boy on the beach – he bought his absolute waterfront house for $17k in 1973. He recently turned down an offer of $1.2m. That works out to be 12.55% for each of his 36 years. Not bad.

Not content with the Fraser Island experience, Stuart persuaded Nicky to go off down some 4WD tracks in Byfield National Park. Awesome.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Day 12-15 Wilson Island – 20-23 June 2009

3151kms, 20-26 degrees C

From Fraser we headed North to Gladstone – an industrial hub set in coastal paradise. Gladstone is the launching point for Heron and Wilson Island, two tiny coral cays right on the south end of the Great Barrier Reef. Wilson was camping of a very different sort – true we were still in tents (see video) the food was somewhat more up market than what Nicky had managed on her camp cooker the wonderful clean white linen a notch up on the sleeping bags. With capacity for only 12 guests and 2 staff we were fortunate to meet the Shafers from Chicago, Ilinois (Tom and Cathy and their 3 wonderful kids Max, Ben and Sydney). To be honest their company made up for the rather disappointing weather. We had many laughs not least as we behaved very typically when in the company of visitors to Australia – we told tall stories about the size and lethality of the various spiders and plants that exist here. Poor Ben spent most of the stay worrying whether he would survive the 10cm grass hopper or the small Huntsman spider in his bedroom! And don’t mention the Cockroaches!!!

Having experienced camping in the rain on Fraser Island we now experienced ‘glamping’ in the rain on Wilson. Never let it be said that money can buy anything, certainly not the weather!

Despite limited visibility the wildlife was magnificent (see video, photos). The turtles were shy in the water but we could see them clearly from the beach while sipping champers at sunset, er when we could see the sun. Black tipped reef sharks were right off the beach chasing shoals of fish which leapt out of the water attempting to escape only to have the terns and boobies (of the feathered variety) dive down and pick them out of the water. It was a real David Attenborough experience.

The birds shown in the section are, in order, the Eastern Reef Egret, Banded Rail and Silver Eye.
Nicky took some of her Fraser Island wildlife experience with her in the form of Mozzie bites!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Day 8-11 Fraser Island – 16-19 June 2009

2809 kms, 15 degrees C

Fraser Island was our first genuine 4WD adventure on our own. It is a world heritage listed sandbar that is over 120km long with amazing natural features and wildlife. First we had to get there, which involved a barge across to the island. Next was a schlep up the beach where we saw our first wild dingos (checking out some fisherman) and sea eagle. We set up camp by the home of a Lace monitor who was more interesting in basking in the sunshine than us.

June 16th was Nickys birthday – we celebrated in style with a bottle of 1997 Cullen Cab Sauv/Merlot. Thank you Sarah and Kareen.

Fraser has the largest number, and the largest freshwater sand lakes in the world. The lakes are all high above sea level and rainwater is retained by decaying matter forming an impervious layer on the sandy bed. Swimming was much safer than in the sea with huge rips another threats in the form of sharks and recently spotted salt water crocs.

We found our first Damsel in Distress near LakeBennaroon – Ulla was walking to Central to find help as their battery had died. It is amazing what some rusty German language and jump leads can do! Paul is an amazing wildlife photographer – check out http://www.pkornacker.de/

On our final day on Fraser we went up to the Maheno wreck. The weather was not so crash hot and we got to test the tent in two nights of serious rain. We Melburnians dream of such a downpour, but not in a tent in the middle of a rainforest!

Day 7 Lismore to Rainbow Beach – 15 June 2009

2562 kms, 19 degrees C.

We spent two nights in Lismore with the Standishes. It was a gastronomical feast – awesome wines from Paul’s cellar and food to die for. Something we will be yearning after a few nights of snags and rissoles on the gas cooker! Stan was generous enough to sell some of his wine, see the video. So we stocked up ready for the trip North...

...which took us across the Queensland border and up to Gympie, then Rainbow Beach. We are getting in practice a speeeeeak-ing mooore sloooowlyyyy. Rainbow Beach is beautiful – a little Noosa in development. We went there as a stepping stone to Fraser Island – but Rainbow Beach is an awesome destination in its own right.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Day 6 Lismore – 14 June 2009

We nipped over to Byron Bay to see what all the fuss was about. What a wonderful part of the world. Whilst walking down a beach path Nicky noticed a whale in full breach – we were then treated to 3 hours of awesome whale watching in the shadows of the lighthouse at the Easternmost point of the Auzzie mainland.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Day 5 Port Macquarie to Lismore

1991 kms, 19 degrees C.

After leaving Port Macquarie we headed up to South West Rocks for coffee and a local groovy Saturday market. Stuart bought a beanie but might not need it as the weather was definitely getting warmer – the jumpers came off.
Lunch was at Coffs Harbour, by the water. We made the obligatory trip to the Big Banana. Australia is a land or extremes, most of it wonderful, but the “big” series is extremely tacky.

First first “big” was the Banana – there are now dozens of large, paper mache replicas of something local. When in Rome...

Day 4 Hunter, Port Stevens, Port Macquarie

1517 kms, 17 degrees C.

Departure from the Hunter was bright and early and we made our way to Nelson Bay, Port Stevens for a date with a couple of humpback whale aboard the Moonshadow. It was a cloudless winter day, 3m swell with 2m waves on top. There was plenty of demand for little paper bags, but not from your intrepid reporters! We followed the coast and found a fully grown 18m, 50T whale and followed him North, on part of his migration to warmer climes and mating season. We were lucky enough to have a juvenile surface right by the boat.

Next we travelled North up to Port Macquarie to stay with Doug and Lynn Thomson, better known to us as Stupot’s mum and dad. They were very generous with food, lodge and lots of juicy gossip and photos of their little boy!!

Day 3 Sydney to Hunter Valley

1152 kms, 14 degrees C.
We stayed overnight with the Synnotts and were treated to Pete and Barb’s culinary expertise and dry wit! It was great to see Aiden and Lou also – we were privileged by their early roll call.

Stuart then finished his work in Sydney before the truck headed off North to the Hunter Valley and Cypress Lakes resort. We had a quiet day in the oldest wine region in Australia. And an extra special surprise was our visitors at dusk!

The car was unpacked and completely repacked, for the second time on the trip. There will be more attempts!!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Day 2 Sydney

1003 kms, 14 degrees C

Our wonderful friends, Kareen and Sarah were amongst the last people we saw when we left Sydney for Melbourne 10 years ago. Now as we start our trip we spent our first night with them, in their spectular new home. We'd better not get too used to this 5* accommodation!

Sophia had time to practice her homework for us and here she is making her first appearance on the worldwide web. Quite the superstar!

Whilst Stuart went to work (yes of course he did) Nicky spent the day looking out over Middle Harbour, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. It's going to be a tough 6 months!

Day 1 Melbourne to Sydney

912 kms, 9 degrees C

We're off! After a string of wonderful leaving functions, we dragged our enlarged livers off on our big trip at 9.30am on Tues 9th June:-

We munched home made pasties (thank you Mirella, we have now run out, so pls make more and send them on!) while driving in the rain from Melbourne to Sydney, 900km. Our first night was in palacial Balgowlah Heights with Sarah, Kareen, Daniel and Sophia. If you are going to rough it in a tent quite a bit over the next 6 months, you might as well start in style.

Monday, June 1, 2009

7 sleeps to go!

We are a week from leaving and in some ways it seems surreal as there is sooooo much to do. Nicky finishes work on Wed 3/6 for the last time in 6 months. The last time she was out of work for this long she was still a student, in 1918. The transition is not so hard for Stuart as musicians don't really work!

Our leaving functions have been fantastic. It's wonderful to spend quality time with our friends. Adam and Gerry Skinner produced a meal to die for on Sat 30th May, and the ensuing hangover almost achieved that end. Ravi (our latest disciple) and Sophie were awesome on Sun 31/5 - the Australia cake was amazing. We hope to have photos to post soon.