Day 39 and 40: The long way home

It is always a sad moment when you realize you have to leave, and as always: all good things come to an end. This is also the case with our trip in Australia, and today is that day. It however will take a full two days for it to end, as we leave the country tonight at 9 and will have to sit through nearly 24 hours of flying.

As it is not nearly 9PM yet, we’ll have the entire day to drive from Glass House Mountains to Brisbane International Airport. We briefly thought about going into the city prior to our flight, but were held back by the logistical hassle of it all as we would have to get rid of our car in the city somewhere and afterwards drive back to the airport.
Instead, we opted to lazily make our way down the coast towards Brisbane. Lets say we’ll wing it. 🙂

This proved to be the best idea so far, as it is just marvellous up here. No wonder they call this part of the country Sunshine Coast!
We actually didnt drive South from our lodge, but North instead towards Mooloolaba. They have a great Esplanade over there, and we have spent quite a few hours there sitting around in the sun and generally procrastinating until after lunch.

After that, we drove South towards Brisbane via the small beach communities along this coast until we found a place calld Shelly Beach, where we have spent the rest of the afternoon on the tidal flats and amongst the tidal pools searching for shells, fish and crabs. What a great way to spend an afternoon lazily!

We had to go back to the airport, and be there by 18:30 as we were to hand in our rental car by then, and so we did. As Brisbane is quite the city, we actually drove on proper highways for te first time in weeks! Multi lane, and with a separating barrier in between it was quite different from what we have become accustomed to. I’m only glad we have a Camry over here, and not the FJ Cruiser as that car is clearly not meant to drive on roads like these.

Travelling back to Amsterdam actually was quite uneventful, as we took off on time, landed on time in Dubai and got our connection right on schedule. The only misery was back in Amsterdam, where the recent opening of a more streamlined customs experience actually meant standing in line for about 45 minutes where we are usually done within 5. Oh well, is has been a good trip nonetheless.

Australia, you have been good to us. Maybe we’ll be back, but probably to visit the parts we have not visited yet: WA!

Day 38: Back to Glass House Mountains

After the very intense experience of driving on Fraser Island, the night of sleep was more than welcome. We also slept in a little, as we only had to travel a small distance of three hours from here to Glass House Mountains. 

As the drive down is very scenic but quite uneventful, we arrive at our lodge pretty early, but are glad to be able to check in already. As it still is our honeymoon, we are presented with the option to be upgrading our room (free of charge) from our standard room to a more luxurious room. The owner of the property gladly showed us the three different room available to us: two train carriages (one from the 1930s and one from the 1980s) and an old church. We chose the latter, as it is an awesome room.

The church was built back in the 1880s as a replacement for another one, while that one was not accessible due to flooding. Floods like that however didn’t occur there any more until 1970, which meant this church hardly ever got used. The current owner bought it, and converted it to a room for his lodge. It is huge, as the church still has the full size. The current owner built a loft inside it for the bedroom, but the rest is open plan. It includes a full sized table with chairs, a kitchen, a main seating area, a secondary seating area and the best of all: a fireplace. We needed it as well, as the temperature dropped quite substantially at the end of the day. Let’s just say the fire burnt nice and hot that night!

We also walked the summit route to Mount Ngungun, which gives you lovely views over the entire area, including Mount Tibrogargan, Mount Beerwah and Mount Coonowrin. Great fun!

Tomorrow, we’ll also have nothing else to do than be somewhere at a certain time, which in this case is the airport in Brisbane at 18:30 to return the car.

Day 37: On Fraser Island

I am cheating a little bit with the title of this blog entry, as we will spend all day on the island, and will go back to the main land around 5pm. You will just have to forgive me here. 😉

After sleeping in, we found out that the clouds had all moved away, and that all we could see were blue skies and sunshine! Yay! We quickly threw our stuff into the small bag we packed and jumped into the trusty Jimny. Back to the beach, and back to the shipwreck. It looks even more majestic and mysterious now than yesterday. The tides were still going out, and the wreck was half submerged this morning. I can understand why this is the most visited place on the entire island!

As the high tide occurred today at 07:30, we were not allowed to go out on the beach until 09:30, which meant we could sleep in and relax a bit before heading out. The beach is not wide enough, and in some places the sand has not settled quite yet to be hard enough to be driven on. The drive to the shipwreck this morning was great, and really a fun thing to do. We have outer selves gotten used to the wobbly nature of both the car and the surroundings, and we settled in for the day much more relaxed than we were yesterday.

Right after visiting the Maheno, we drove a little further north, towards The Pinnacles where majestic cliffs of coloured sands built up over the period of many thousands of years were exposed and viewable. The sand on the beach is very yellow, but the sands in this cliff are all colours ranging from white to very dark brown. What a wonderful sight!

We then had to drive about 40kms down south to Eurong Beach Resort, as this was also the gateway to the inland tracks to the barge locations. We arrived at Kingfisher Bay, and the other one is called Wanggoolba Creek, both will go to River Heads. Unfortunately, during our beach drive we haven’t seen any more Dingoes, which means the one we saw yesterday will probably be the only one we’ve seen on Fraser Island. The rest of the island is covered in very dense forests, and wildlife is notoriously hard to see over there. From the resort, we drove to Central Station, where we did a short walk through the rainforest. This site was the main location for all logging activities on the island from the 1860s up to the 1950s. The HQ was moved back then, and all logging eventually only stopped in 1992. They were mainly after tropical hardwoods, as the tropical softwoods were long gone by then.

Lake Birrabeen was the next destination, but it was kind of a downer. The route to it was 15km of the most gruelling road we have had so far, with lots of roots and huge bumps in the road. We even had to go to low gear for a couple of times, for if we didn’t we wouldn’t make it through. Arriving at the lookout on the lake, we found out that the lookout was pretty much fully overgrown, which meant the view of lake itself was almost complete obstructed by small trees in between us and the water. Oh well, off to Lake McKenzie then.

lake McKenzie is the most popular lake on the island. It is also the biggest one. It had really clear fresh water, and even some sandy beaches. As it is not connected to the ocean, there are no crocodiles, and it is safe to swim. The temperature today wasn’t quite right, so we didn’t, but a few locals did and they seemed to have a great time. 🙂

It was by then time to head for our barge, and so we went to Kingfisher bay, as instructed by the guy at Aussie Trax. But, we found out the hard way that we weren’t supposed to be at Kingfischer Bay, but at Wanggoolba Creek for the other barge. Both leave at 5pm, and finding that out at 16:48 is too late to do something about it. Auch. Luckily, as we only have a very small car, we could be fitted on the boat as an extra, and we were finally heading back for the mainland. Phew!

Tomorrow, we head back from Hervey Bay to the Glasshouse Mountains for our next to final leg of our journey.

Day 36: To Fraser Island

Today is going to be a big day, we start off at the HQ of Aussie Trax at 6am to get our car and instructions for the next two days, as we’ll be spending those on Fraser Island! The worlds largest sand island. Fraser Island has no roads, but only 4×4 tracks and a very long and wide beach.

As it is an island, you need to be on a boat to get there. The boat leaves from River Heads, just a few kilometres from Hervey Bay, and we need to catch the 9am barge. Straigh after arriving at the HQ of the rental company, we get to watch a video telling us of all the dangers on the island, like a Dingoes, you yourself, and other people in cars. We are also instructed on how to drive a 4×4, and get extra instructions on how to work the two gear sticks. When to drive in 2WD, 4WD and when to drive in high gear and low gear.

The car is a VERY battered Suzuki Jimny with 220K kilometres on the clock. The car is shaky, rusted, broken on the inside with tatty upholstery on the seats, noisy, wobbly, but technically and structurally sound. The body of the car is fully neglected by the technicians at the workshop, as that is wasted energy as the rough terrain and salt on the island are merciless and ever present. Repairing those things is lost time and effort which you’ll never see returned. The mechanics are all that matter, and they seem to be fine. Although, we found out the hard way that the back door of the car will not stay shut when it is not locked. 😉

On the 25 minute drive form HQ to the barge, it becomes clear that this car is not built for the tarred roads. It sits too high off the ground to be comfortable, and the noise it makes while driving 85km/h is ear shattering. The car by the way will not go faster than 90. Period. That probably has to do with gearing and wind drag. The barge takes us from River Heads to Kingfisher Bay in about 45 minutes, and straight off the barge we engage 4WD as instructed. And boy, do we need it. The island welcomes us by throwing in the roughest and toughest road we have ever seen. It ascends a hill at about 20 percent on a single lane track, with lots of holes and other mischief. We have seriously felt that the car wouldn’t take the beating and just fall apart.

It didn’t. We got over the hill and drove further east to the drivable beach, as that is also where our accommodation for the night is. The inland tracks are mostly fully sand single lane car tracks, where the speed limit is 30 km/h. I for one have not the faintest idea on how to get up to 30, as we barely reached 20 because of the roughness of the tracks. Along the way, we have visited Wabby Lake (deepest lake on the island), Hammerstone Sandblow (right next to it) and Stone Tool Sandblow (largest Sandblow on the island). Finally, after a long and intinsive drive (30km) we reached the Eastern Beach, or 75 Mile Beach.

Later in the afternoon we drove from Happy Valley, where our accommodation is, further north to the wreck of the Maheno, a WWI hospital ship, and before and after that a luxury steam-liner. It stranded in the 1930s on the island, and has been there ever since. It is really photogenic! But, as the sun is already low on the horizon by now, and the clouds have moved in on us, it is not as good as it might have been.

Tomorrow, we’ll go back to the wreck as it is only 9km from Happy Valley to see what is is like then. We are bound to the tides though, as driving on the beach is limited for us to be four hours before and four hours after low tide. In other words, 2 hours before high tide and two hours after that (when the beach is at its smallest) we cannot go out on the beach in our car. Also, we are prohibited from driving when it is dark. And it gets dark up there! Today, the high tide was at 06:50, which means we were able to drive on the beach from 08:50 to 16:50. Basically from 9 in the morning to sundown, which is plenty of time. Tomorrow, high tide is at 08:30, which means we can sleep in!

Day 35: Further North to Hervey Bay

The drive from Glass House Mountains to Hervey Bay is only a short drive, clocking in at about 3 hours or 240 kilometres. We need to be at Hervey Bay by tomorrow morning very early to catch the ferry to Fraser Island, and that is why we spend the night over there.

As the drive is not too long, and we have to spend our day anyway, we opted to go to Australia Zoo today, the Zoo set up by the late Steve Irwin! His family runs it now, but is is the same as it started a long time ago, although it has grown quite a bit over the last few years. It is home to many native Australian animals, like the Dingo, Wombat, Koala, Kangaroo, Wallaby, Echidna, Emu, Cassowary, kookaburra and of course Estuarine Crocodiles. The zoo also houses many more animals like a whole host of Parrots, some birds of Prey and even Zebra, Giraffe and Rhinoceros!

The Zoo is best known of course for the Crocodiles and Koalas. At lunchtime every day, a show is performed with a lot of animals in the zoo, where the importance of conservation and humans acting correctly around wildlife are conveyed to the spectators in a huge arena. There also is a place where you can pat Koalas, and even have your pictures taken with them! The zoo is really hands on, and all animals are very accustomed to human handling, whether is is a Wombat on a leash, a Koala in a low tree ready to be patted or the zoo keepers giving a presentation inside the enclosure of a Sumatran Tiger with the Tiger present, it is clear the animals are on display and have been taught to act that way too. This way of running a zoo is completely unfamiliar to me, as we (back home) are used to seeing a very hands-off approach where animals are mostly left alone in their enclosures and encouraged to act ‘naturally’.

But, it seems to work for Australia Zoo! People are flocking to it, but even though it was on a Sunday, the park never felt crowded. We have been inside the Zoo from 9 to about 2 in the afternoon, and then had to leave to make the journey to Hervey Bay.

Tomorrow morning, we will be briefed for our trip to Fraser Island, and we’ll get another car (4×4!) as our Camry is completely unsuitable to be driven off road. I highly doubt there will be Internet Access on the island, so I’ll be gone for a day or two.

Day 34: To Brisbane

Airlie Beach treated us to a similar view this morning as it has for the last few days: gray overcast skies. Today however, everything was different: the skies had opened up and heavy rains fell down. Perhaps it is only a good thing that we are leaving today. We also shortly pondered about how yesterday would’ve been like with todays weather…

After a quick breakfast we packed our stuff “airport style” and took off towards Proserpine Airport, also known as Whitsunday Coast Airport. This has to be one of the smallest airports we have been to, with 2 scheduled landings and two takeoffs per day. One of this was the flight to Brisbane. Unlike all our other flights in Australia, this one was with Jetstar, and we even had row number 13, something unheard of back home. It is only a short flight to Brisbane, and 80 minutes later we already had left the plane.

We picked up our next Rental Car, a white Toyota Camry this time (again not the car we paid for but one class larger) and drove off to Glass House Mountains National Park, where the lodge was situated. The rest of the afternoon was spent walking the National Park and drinking tea.

Tomorrow we will, completely unplanned, visit Australia Zoo, the zoo owned and operated by the Irwin Family. This zoo is only 10 minutes driving away from our lodge, and since we again only have a short drive in front of us tomorrow, a day at the zoo will be spent well.

Day 33: Motoring at the Whitsundays

After the leisurely spent day of sailing on the Coral Sea yesterday, today will be completely different. We will tour the National Park by RHIB with twin 350bhp engines. At speed, they will take us around the ocean at 50km/h and over, so it’ll be an exhilarating ride!

We are on the “Southern Lights” tour, which is basically a tour around Whitsunday Island, but with stops on the most beautiful points. We started our day off in Airlie Beach off course, with a pickup at our hotel. After embarking we sped towards Hill Inlet for a bush walk to an amazing view on the swirling sands of Hill Inlet, where 98% silica sand creates a sandy shallow inlet which is home to all kinds of marine life among which the rare Estuarine Stingray which you can see in the water from the lookout. Great stuff! This is probably the most picturesque place we have been to in Australia, and that says a lot.

The weather today is kind of a mixture of things, we woke up to clear blue skies, which an hour later had made way for overcast greyish goop. After leaving the harbour, the skies opened up and the blue was visible again, and it stayed like that for quite some time. Great news!

Our second stop was at Dumbell Island, where we had yet another chance to snorkel the Inner Reef. The reef is really shallow over here, but visibility is a little less than yesterday. This reef was brimming with life, and we have seen a great amount of corals and fish. We have been out snorkelling for about 75 minutes, and this time we were wearing a wetsuit as the water was a little cold.

An exercise like that will work up your appetite, at the third stop we have been treated to a great lunch. We stopped at Whitehaven Beach, where 100% silica sands will make you want to wear your sunglasses all day long. It also squeaks under your feet as you walk over it, and it is the finest and stickiest sand you will even see. It is so unlike anything we are familiar with! We have spent about 2 hours on this beach, which at 7km long is pretty big and will acommodate a lot of people. We were a group of 20, which is rather ok. It wasn’t very busy over there either. Thr funny thing over here though was that it has rained a few times during the two hours there. It on,y rained for very short periods of time, but it is the oddest sensation to lie on a beautiful beach and get rain in your face…

The journey back was really bumpy as the winds had picked up a little and together with the tide they created a rough sea. I had a great time, some other people on the boat did not. 🙂

Tomorrow, we’ll leave this piece of paradise and head for the big city of Brisbane. We will fly from the nearby airport Proserpine, and will leave our trusty ASX behind as well.

Day 32: Sailing at the Whitsundays

Getting pickup up from you hotel at 7 in the morning is definitely going to wake you up in the morning, even so for slow starters like myself. The courtesy van was being driven by Joseph, who described himself as the head chef, the head chauffeur and even the captain of the ship. The catamaran is called Illusions, and it is on this vessel that we will spend the day sailing to and from a few islands at the Whitsundays.

The weather has turned on us again today, as the cloud is overcast and gray again, but we can see some tiny blueish spots here and there, so we have hope that it’ll pass over us without giving rain. After embarking on the ship, and throwing off, we set out towards Blue Pearl Bay. This is a bay on one of the islands where the majority of the activities will take place today. Be it snorkelling or diving, this is where it’ll happen, and even lunch will be served whilst being moored there.

The journey there is leisurely and very relaxed as the method of propulsion is steady but not fast. We sail through some rain unfortunately, but our arrival at the bay is actually dry with the sun trying its hardest to peek through the cloud cover. The captain uses a dinghy to drop us off at a small beach in the bay. Let me get this straight: snorkelling the Breat Barrier Reef, whether it is the Inner or Outer, is awesome. This bay is in an area where there are up to 200 species of coral, and up to 500 species of reef dwelling fish to be found. This biodiversity is amazing! Everything is really colourful again, and this site has many more fish than back in Cairns. We can snorkel straight from the beach and hit the reef about 10 metres from the shore. We also have quite some time to spend here, as we will be on this beach for about 2 hours. Great!

We ourselves have spotted a great abundance of fish, but I couldn’t identify more than a few. The most notable were a massive Grouper, a few Anemone fish (Nemo! But slightly different) and a Murene Eel. After this, we went on a small trip again of about half an hour to the second location where there are frequent sightings of Sea Turtles. But, not today. No turtle has come forward to say Hi to the nice people from The Netherlands. 🙁

After lunch, we embarked on the journey back towards harbour which meant the majority of guests fell asleep after all things they’ve done today. We didn’t doze off, but marvelled at the great things we have experienced. And tomorrow, another full day will be spent out on the waters! This time with a much faster boat though…

Day 31: To Airlie Beach

Today is just a full day of driving, as we need to travel about 500 Km’s from Mission Beach to Airlie Beach. Our GPS tell us this is about 6 hours of driving, of which we spend about half in rain and drizzle. After about three hours the skies lifted and with a welcoming committee of just a few White clouds and a very acceptable 30 degrees we arrive in Airlie Beach.

This town lies conveniently close to Whitsunday Islands National Park, which consists of about 74 tropical islands and the sea in between. The Great Barrier Reef is also close, but at about 2,5 hours travelling by boat it is much further away than in Mission Beach, where the reef is only about 40 minutes away.

What is left of the day is spent doing some shopping and planning for the following two full days, as we’ll be here for three nights and two full days. We decide to go all in, and book two different tours! Tomorrow, we will therefore be on a boat, snorkelling and sailing the Coral Sea!

Day 30: In Mission Beach

The cloud cover from yesterday has persisted over night, and even culminated into rain: during the night and throughout the morning rain has steadily fallen. Coupled with the strong winds, it means going out to sea is definitely not nice.

Mission Beach is proud to have the shortest commute from land to the Great Barrier Reef, and at about 40 minutes it is less than half of the time needed to travel from Cairns to the Reef. Because of this short commute, this town pretty much revolves around the Coral Sea and the Reef, without many alternatives. And so we decided to sleep in and tour the surrounding area by car this morning. We have searched for the elusive Cassowary, but it didn’t show itself today. We did find a lone male Agile Wallaby in town, who didn’t mind us watching him graze on the grass next to the road.

After lunch, the rains lifted and the cloud cover has become a little less dense. We found ourselves on the Wongaling Beach waterfront, walking the beach itself. Suddenly our eyes spotted some unusually shaped rocks in the sand, and upon further inspection they proved to be dead coral which had washed ashore! That is so weird! The stuff is strangely beautiful, and we created a “collage” on the beach, with the tropical island Dunk Island as its backdrop. We have spent quite some time on the beach, but afterwards decided to sit on our porch back at the resort with a nice cup of tea to get out of the wind.

Tomorrow, we have to drive all the way down to Airlie Beach, which is about 500km. The weather over there should be better, as the forecast in Mission Beach says the same as today for the next week, whereas Airlie Beach will have sun!