Kuranda – day 308

Having done our research late last night after completing the census, we knew we needed to catch a shuttle bus at 8.30am. Getting up early, showering, eating our free pancake breakfast we headed over to the bus station. After a quick dash to Coles to grab some apples to go with lunch, we waited for our bus. Watched the Kuranda scenic railway train leave from the stations as the bus pulled up. Only to find out that it didn’t drop off passengers off at our stop – it only picked them up! After a conversation with the driver, we found out that we could catch a bus from just outside our hostel. Retracing our steps, we managed to catch a bus to the Smithfield Skyrail. Felt like it was the longest bus journey in the entire world as it went around the houses and up every little back alley possible. It took us over an hour to go the 15km to the Skyrail rainforest Cableway. At 7.5km long, it is one of the worlds longest gondola cableway, giving a birds-eye view over the tropical rainforest and our 51st UNESCO World Heritage Site. Finally arriving at the ticket counter, we organised our tickets to catch the cableway up and the train back down to Cairns. Only to find that my card didn’t work… Slightly strange as I had topped it up last night, we grabbed a purchase number and stepped out of the queue to allow others to be served whilst we tried to sort it out. The free wifi in the centre wasn’t working so I turned on data roaming to check accounts. With no reason for it not to work, other than a technical fault with the bank, I transferred some money into Jayne’s account and we kept our fingers crossed that her card would work. Fortunately it did, but it was a rather stressful 15 minutes! Fortunately, there was no wait for us to get into a gondola and we were above the rainforest before we knew it. The Barron Gorge National park is stunning. Spread almost as far as the eye can see, there are towering tall green trees with an occasional glimpse of the road that runs through the rainforest. Our first stop was Red Peak station, where the gondola descended through the canopy layers and took us deep in the forest. Red Peak Station (545m above sea level) is nestled amongst pristine rainforest with a 175 metre boardwalk providing a perfect opportunity to explore the forest from ground level. The Station is surrounded by towering trees, lush palms, giant ferns and a diverse array of plants and wildlife.

We managed to catch a free guided ranger talk where Ranger Rob pointed out various plants along the boardwalk, including our favourite ‘Strangler Fig’ and the interesting fern baskets that only disseminate sideways. We then continued on to the second station of Barron Falls, where we enjoyed spectacular views of the Barron Gorge, a deep chasm lined with dense rainforest vegetation at a couple of different lookouts. Having explored the three lookouts, which provided breathtaking views of the Gorge and Falls, we headed off to the toilet area where Ranger Rob had told us that a wild cassowary had been spotted over the last few days. Walking quietly and peering around, we must have looked quite odd staring out into the vegetation trying to catch a glimpse of the worlds second largest bird. No such luck unfortunately so we headed to the information centre before catching the last section of the cableway to the Tableland village of Kuranda. Arriving in the village, we walked up to the main streets, looking into the aboriginal markets that are held here. Deciding to veto the zoos, we decided to compete a couple of the walking trails in the area. There are six walking trails around Kuranda from a walk through the village to a rainforest stroll through the undergrowth to a more strenuous hike back to the Barron Falls lookout. 

Conscious of the fact that we needed to get the train back to Cairns at 15.30, we opted to do the village walk and a couple of the rainforest ones. It was really nice having the trails mostly to ourselves as we explored the area. Our last walking tour dropped us straight outside the train station as we caught the Kuranda Scenic Railway back to Cairns. Winding 34km through picturesque mountains, the track was completed in 1891 by workers who had to bring their own tools or dig by hand, battling sickness, steep terrain and venomous creatures. The journey took just under 2 hours and had a running commentary throughout as well as slowing down at various significant points along the route to allow for photo opportunities. Back in Cairns, we popped into Coles to get some food for dinner before heading back to the YHA. Drinking far too much goon wine with our pasta, we headed off to bed deciding that tomorrow is going to be a rest day as we are both tired from our travels up east coast. Wednesday 10th August 2016

Fraser Island – day 299

Woke up in our very strange dorm room that had the fire exit sign shining brightly like a lighthouse beacon all throughout the night. So much so, that on three occasions during the night I woke up in a panic thinking it was daylight outside and we were late for our bus transfer to the ferry port. Fortunately (or unfortunately, since I didn’t have a proper nights sleep) we were fine and got up just before our alarms went off to go shower and get dressed. Rather than disturbing our roommates, we packed up our bags outside on a picnic bench by the pond with ducks making a hell of a racket around us! With all our bags reorganised ready for our trip to Fraser Island, we headed to the kitchen to have some breakfast of left over chocolate cake and a coffee (so healthy!!). Checked out and, as I was waited for our bus to turn up, Jayne chatted away to Tiffany in the YHA reception and our travels. Jayne says it was nice to talk to a receptionist who was clearly interested in what we were doing rather than feigning an interest. Our transfer bus turned up and the driver, Jon, had to go on a walk about to try and find two other passengers who hadn’t turned up… Apparently they had done the same on Friday! Clearly a bit pissed off, he called head office to let them know and then we were on our way. As the only two on the massive bus, we could have spread out but Jayne decided to sit right next to me… Got us slightly hoping that we might be the only two on the tour of Fraser Island but no such luck – the others were being picked up in a different bus. We were just too far over the other end of town to make it feasible to pick us up with the others! Went for a little drive around town with Jon pointing out various things to us and driving past the town marina to see if there were any last minute passengers to collect (there weren’t!). Drove out of town to the Kingfisher main office where we were given our boarding passes for the ferry and had to store our luggage in a container that would be brought over later on a quieter mid-day ferry. Sat on a bench, admiring the absolutely stunning view of the bay whilst we chatted to other guests (who were going on a different tour) and drinking iced coffee.

We then all got on a different bus and headed down to the private marina to board the Kingfisher Bay Resort boat. It was at this point that a woman stepped in front of us carrying a baby to which Jayne said, in a hideous Aussie accent, ‘a dingo ate my baby’… Fortunately the woman was from New Zealand and thought it was funny, even saying that she wants to keep saying it herself but doesn’t want to tempt fate! Jayne still got a disapproving teachers look from me! We spent the 45 minute ferry crossing looking for wildlife. I was under strict instructions form Jayne to keep my eyes open for dugongs, humpbacks and dolphins that can all be spotted in this stretch of water. We did get to see a turtle that seemed to be flailing around in the water a bit. The skipper (Captain Warren) was confident enough to sail the boat extremely close to the shore so we got to get our first glimpses of our 49th UNESCO site.img_2066

Arriving at the Kingfisher Bay Resort dock we met out tour leader, Hayden, and were asked to wait in the jetty bar so he could double check numbers and dietary requirements before we headed out in the bright yellow 4×4 bus. As the largest sand island in the world, there are no paved roads outside of the resort. You are basically being driven around, up and down, sand dunes in a bus. It is essentially the worlds bumpiest theme park ride – which mean that seat belts are compulsory but they do jam up every time you hit a bump which effectively strangles you!! Coming out of the resort, the first road we encountered was called ‘Rollercoaster Road’. Imagine going down a water slide that is made out of sand in a bus and you’ll kind of understand what it was like… Don’t think I’ve ever simultaneously bumped every part of my body against bus seats, windows and Jayne before! As we descended the Rollercoaster road, Hayden played a song over the speaker system that basically announced that ‘we all have to die one day’… Great way to break the ice!!

Continued our bumpy drive across Fraser Island, along the well worn in tyre tracks that had been etched in to the ‘road’ that was surrounded by forest on either side, not wide enough for two vehicles so there was a lot of huffing and puffing when we came across a car coming in the other direction – especially since 9 times out of 10, it was us that had to reverse! It took us about 45 minutes to get to our first stop of the day – Lake McKenzie.

Lake McKenzie is probably the most visited natural site on the island. It is a ‘perched’ lake, which means it contains only rainwater, no groundwater, is not fed by streams and does not flow to the ocean. The sand and organic matter at the base of the lake form an impervious layer, preventing rainwater from draining away. The sand here is pure, white silica and is not only beautiful to look at but feels beautifully soft to walk on. The sand acts as a filter, giving the water its clarity and helping to make the water so pure it can support very little life. Deciding to test that theory, we went for a swim – the water was freezing!! But, in for a penny in for a pound, as we were already in our swimming costumes and ankle deep in the water, we decided to fully submerge ourselves. Jayne went for a snorkel, looking through the crystal clear waters at small fishes and the lake vegetation. Not wanting to get my head wet, I swam breaststroke to the island in the middle and waited for Jayne to come over. A slightly scary moment where the lake goes from clear blue to very dark where you can only hope that there are no biting creatures lurking beneath the waves! 

Deciding that we didn’t want to stay in the water much longer, we headed back to the shore and sat near the water getting dry and warm in the sun. Walked back up to the bus at 12.30 to have lunch. A help yourself buffet of make-your-own sandwiches where we had a constant stream of birds waiting for any bits that might get dropped, including a Kookaburra who stole a piece of cheese straight off a lady’s plate! It was the land monitor lizard that got most people’s attention as it inched further and further forward…Back on bus, we were headed into the forest to begin the first of our two walks of the day. As we were driving/bouncing along the road, Jayne spotted an echidna snuffling around in the trees – much to her delight as she has been desperate to see one. Our first walk was 2.6km through the forest stopping off at Basin Lake before we got started. 

Basin Lake is a window lake which is created by a natural depression or valley in the sand exposing the water table or aquifer below. These are as the name suggests – windows into the aquifer or water table. Although les famous than Lake McKenzie, it was incredibly beautiful and, shamefully, deserted.

The walk through the forest was lovely. We got to spend time looking at the different varieties of flora and keeping our eyes out for any animals. Chatted mostly to a couple called Dave and Em, who seem to be on a similar trip to ours – they have visited many of the same places! Whilst comparing notes, I was spending more time looking at my feet as I was worried about tripping up on one of the hundreds of tree roots that were littering the path. Arriving in Central Station, which originally was established as a forestry camp when there was logging on Fraser Island. Central Station’s rainforest area houses a display explaining the development of the island and its various flora and fauna with a wealth of information on display. Central Station has a short boardwalk around Wanggoolba Creek and through the Fraser Island rainforest, where we walked down another track to begin the 1.8km rainforest walk. Fraser Island is the only place in the world to have a subtropical rainforest growing in sand. Imagine towering pines, rainforest trees with three metre girths, rare and ancient giant ferns, eucalypt forests with their characteristic pendulous leaves, lemon-scented swamp vegetation and dwarfed heathland shrubs covered in a profusion of flowers. Now imagine them all growing on an island of sand. It was actually really interesting to see the contrast in the rainforest compared to the forest, which are meters apart. We were able to fill our water bottles straight from the creek as the water is so pure, having been filtered through layers upon layers of sand for almost 80 years before it surfaced in the creek. As the others in the group powered on ahead through the forest, we lagged behind being absolutely fascinated and taken aback by the subtropical vegetation growing so prevenetly in the sand. At the end of the walk, the bus had opened up its sides to give us homemade biscuits, tea and coffee. Jayne and I found a log away from the group just to enjoy being in the environment.

A bumpy drive back to the resort and we got some free time to either walk down the beach, go to the bar or walk to the end of the jetty. We chose the latter option, sitting at the end of the dock watching the ferry sail away, the fisherman trying to catch something and the sun set. Absolutely stunning and a beautiful end to the day!

Back on the bus to be driven up ‘Heart Attack Hill’ – the steep incline which houses the cheap backpacker accommodation at the top of the 1km hill. We had been assigned 4-bed dorm rooms in buildings with 5 rooms each yet no one on our tour was in our room… As I went to retrieve our bags, Jayne went to the room and met Emma – a teacher from Bristol who starts her tour tomorrow. We opened up the goon bag of white wine that we had bought with us and got to know each other better. Chatting to her, it was like I had found a carbon copy of myself… Except she has never read a Harry Potter book!! Finally being able to get over this and move on (😳), we headed over to ‘The Dingo bar’ where we had burgers, wedges and salad for dinner, chatting away to Emma about our respective adventures with a pitcher of cocktail. Not entirely sure how it happened but we ended up playing Beer Pong…
We played it with the roughest tasting beer ever – to the point that we kept having to swap people in as the drink kept making us feel gassy and sick. Unfortunately, after the game was won, it was Jayne who was chucking up her dinner in the bar toilets so we headed back to the lodge and went to bed! Monday 1st August 2016

Port Macquarie – day 292

We both woke up this morning slightly cold but delighted that we didn’t have to creep around trying not to make noise – we are the only residents in our 6-bed dorm. It was bliss! Showered and dressed before heading into the kitchen to begin our usual morning routine. Jayne makes breakfast and coffee whilst I make our picnic lunch. Decided to make the most of our full day in Port Macquarie and, with the sun shining down, we opted to do the 9km coastal walk along the Hastings River and the stunning coastline of the Pacific Ocean. 
We began at the Town Green foreshore, walking along the foreshore pathway out to the rocky breakwall, which is popular with anglers and each boulder has been painted by a different holidaymaker – either as a memorial or as a holiday memento. Before we had even gotten to the end of the foreshore pathway, we spotted bottlenose dolphins feeding in the mouth of the Hastings River estuary. Unfortunately, we were too flabbergasted by seeing them to take any photos, but it was incredible to see them so close to the shore. 

We continued along the foreshore pathway, which connects to Town Beach, the first of Port Macquarie’s series of eight beautiful beaches that are located along the route. We walked through several different beaches, pausing at various places for photos and to use the headland vantage points to look for any signs of passing whales – water spouts formed when the whales blow or splashes caused by their tail slapping the water. 

We got to Shelly Beach when we started seeing something far out to sea. Not sure if it was our imagination or our eyes playing tricks on us, we kept walking keeping an eye out on the horizon when every few minutes one of us would shout ‘there’ and point wildly into the blue. It was only as we began our ascent up some steps that the water spouts became so frequent that it couldn’t possibly be anything else – we were watching whales!!! Hurried along to Harry’s Lookout where we bumped into a guy who worked for one of the whale watching tour operators. He told us that they were migrating humpback whales passing by the coastline on their annual migration between the Antarctic and the Great Barrier Reef. Absolutely beautiful, we got to see them splashing around and even saw some spectacular leaps out of the water when they breached. A bit too far away to get any decent photos, but good enough to prove we’d seen them!! The guy gave us one of the brochures for his company… Maybe tomorrow?!? 

We sat at Harry’s Lookout for about thirty minutes, watching the whales and eating our lunch before heading on to Sea Acres Rainforest Centre where they have built a 1.3km walk through the rainforest canopy. We had a guided tour from a retired volunteer from England. He was brilliant as he showed us various plants and animals in this habitat. Since most of the rainforest resides above ground level, the boardwalk provided a perfect platform to explore it properly. We saw some different birds and evidence of them nesting in trees and we kept an eye out too for goannas and the slithering diamond python but, alas, we saw neither! We learnt that the rainforest was a rich resource for the Birpai people; they used the walking stick palm as a travel aid and made weapons from the python tree – the second hardest wood in the world. We also learnt about the hemi-epiphyte strangler fig that grows around its host tree, basically killing it. The way it wraps around the tree causes some beautiful shapes in the trunk. After our hour and a half free tour, we wrote in the visitors book, praising Jim for his humour and enthusiasm, before heading back down the coastal walk towards town. Stopped less on the way back as it was beginning to get dark (and cold!) although we did stop for a while to watch the surfers ride the waves.A quick stop off in Coles to buy lunch stuff for tomorrow and Liquorland for some wine before heading back to the hostel. Jayne cooked dinner whilst I looked into whale watching cruises for tomorrow morning before we catch our coach to Coffs Harbour. Chatted to a couple of guys over dinner who were adding cold Dolmio pasta sauce to their instant noodles… Thank goodness that Jayne loves to cook otherwise that would probably be what I would be eating…

Monday 25th July 2016