Coles Bay – day 328

We had set our alarms for an early start but didn’t really need to… It was freezing! I even woke up at one point, contemplating whether to release myself from the cocoon of blankets to steal the free duvet from the bunk above. This idea was squashed quickly as I didn’t want to move one inch to let any cold in so slept huddled up and fully clothed. Ah… It brought back memories of being a poor university student all those years ago! 

Warmed up in the shower, dressed and in the car before the other ‘hostel’ guests were up, we headed back down the road we had driven on last night at some ridiculously slow pace. In the daylight, it didn’t seem so scary but, with the amount of roadkill on the side of the road, it was a good job that we had gone slow. 
I drove us the 30 minutes down the road as Jayne fancied doing some scuba diving. I really wanted to join her but my ears have been a bit sore recently and I didn’t want to push it, especially since I shouldn’t really be scuba diving at all. Dropping Jayne off at the dive centre, the one shore dive quickly became a boat dive followed by a shore dive. So with my blessing, she headed off for around four hours and got back in the car and headed back down in the direction we had just come from to walk in the Freycinet National Park on my own (cue the tiny violins!!!) Jayne: Unless, there was a crab called Sebastien, some trumpetfish and a guitarshark lurking nearby, there was no lament as Katherine drove off. Ok, maybe a small bit of guilt. Suited and booted, into the back of a rusty old truck, hopped on a boat before the boat was professionally launched behind the Governor Island. 5minutes around this bit of rock, being watched by the fur seals, we arrived at our dive site: Bird Rock. There were no birds on the rock itself and the churning water didn’t look appealing. But, the dive was a treasure trove, especially with one of the easiest accessible sites EVER! Giant rock boulders and gullies contained a variety of life. The surge was at times a difficulty, others a real joy. The trickiest moments were when going through the caverns and swim-throughs when it had to be timed well to get in to the sweet spot where it wouldn’t knock you against the sides, seabed or cave roof. Going through all these passages was fabulous. It was explained to me later that it was much to do about giving the open water diver a chance to practice old buoyancy skills before going to dive some particular wreck. A multitude of fish species that I can’t remember the names to, a draughtboard shark, old wives, secretive crayfish, massive abalones, colourful sponges and tunicates and a patchwork of encrusting algae where seaweeds and kelp didn’t grow. I managed to squeeze my fat ass out of a tight gap, idiot skinny people thought we would all fit through, waited for the last diver to shimmy through as well (at least it wasn’t just me), and returned to base for a hot milo and chit chat. The owner and the club are all heading off to Papua New Guinea soon and Bob and I chatted loads about hiking the Himalayas – not something he was expecting. Second dive was just Al and myself. An interesting ride down in the other jeep, with wide turns for the vehicle that didn’t have power steering, he set up a dive flag at the end of the pier and I picked up a smashed phone from the car park. This site was even better than the first – it is no wonder that so many locals dive it several times a week. Depth instantly off the pier with a beautiful mixture of granite sea bed, sandy areas and kelp forests. The pockets of vegetation were the best chances to spot the wildlife as we could hover and circle around the area with keen eyes looking for elusive creatures. We were thus rewarded with a pot-bellied seahorse and 6x weedy sea dragons. Completely over the moon with having seen these remarkable creatures I was fortunate enough to figure out the camera settings on the dive and get a few shots. Of course, all good things must come to an end and the idea of warming up was soon more alluring. Katherine: Having paid my park permit, and receiving a free set of posters to celebrate the centenary of Tasmania’s National Parks (what am I going to do with them?!?), I started with the Wineglass Bay walk. Considered one of the most celebrated views in Tasmania, I began the steep uphill climb on a rocky, well-constructed track up to the saddle between Mt Amos and Mt Mayson. About half way up the path, I stopped to look out over the viewpoint of Coles Bay (and to catch my breathe and strip off several layers of clothing!!) which was absolutely stunning, even more so as I was the only one there! Continuing up the path, the granite rock formations were truly mesmerising especially when they were formed during the Devonian period. At the saddle, I followed the short side track that leads to the lookout with spectacular views over the crystal clear waters and white sandy beach of Wineglass Bay. Chatted to a Welsh and Australian couple who were also travelling through Tasmania. Offered to take a photo for them and captured a beautiful one of the both of them and the view. When they returned the favour, the photo is a close up of me and not much else – so much so, it’s not even making the blog so you’ll have to put up with my poor attempts at selfies instead. If only Jayne was there with her long lucky selfie arm!!

Backtracking down to the car park, I headed back through the park towards the Cape Tourville circuit. A really easy walk with gentle slopes and no steps, the walk provided sweeping views of the Freycinet Peninsula, Wineglass Bay, the Tasman Sea, the Nuggets and Friendly Beaches. Stood looking for whales and other marine life for a while until a (very) loud American woman came and choose, despite the entire empty boardwalk, to stand right next to me to have a conversation with her husband about the lack of wild koalas in Australia. Seeing that I had just over an hour before I needed to collect Jayne from the dive centre and I only needed 45mins to drive there, I decided to do one more walk to Sleepy Bay. I followed the gently graded steps leading to the rocky shoreline of Sleepy Bay which, despite its name, often experiences wild and rough seas. Didn’t make it all the way to the sandy bay itself as, being conscious of time, I turned around about half way and headed back to the car. Arrived at the dive centre just before 1pm (as promised) only to have to wait for three quarters of an hour for my lovely wife to turn up – typical!! Chatted to one of the women who works in the dive centre who told me all fantastic places she has been diving in the world… I’m not jealous, not jealous at all.

Helped Jayne rinse her gear before we jumped in the car and drove to the dock where Jayne did her shore dive so she could point out where they went down and saw all the weedy sea dragons. Stopped off at the bakery on the edge of town to grab a couple of hot chocolates to warm us both up and may have, accidentally, purchased a chicken and camembert pie and a couple of caramel slices too… Oops!
An easy drive back to Hobart, stopping at Spiky Bridge on the way. As the name suggests, it’s just a bridge but it’s pretty cool. Built by convicts in 1843, this bridge abruptly pops out of the landscape to baffle passers-by with its odd design. The bridge was made from field stones laid without mortar or cement and the parapet features field stones laid vertically, giving the bridge a spiky appearance. It’s claimed that the spikes were designed to prevent cattle falling over the sides of the bridge, though no one really knows if this is true. There are also the remains of the Governor’s cottage on the hill overlooking the unusual bridge.Back in the car, we cruised back to Hobart, stopping in a nearby town to waste away time in Coles buying dinner supplies as we can’t park outside the hostel before 6pm. Back at the hostel, I got busy with a much needed load of laundry whilst Jayne tackled the mess in the tiny kitchen to make us some dinner. The lovely lady at reception had put us in a dorm room on our own so we were able to snuggle up in bed, watching a film at the end of the day and looking at Jayne’s photos from the dives. 

Tuesday 30th August 2016

Fraser Island – day 300

That’s right… day 300!!! And what a day. I didn’t get up during the night for either the bathroom or to find a bucket. I was bouncing off the top bunk at 06:00 with loads of energy despite still not having a decent nights sleep in ages. The spread they laid out for breakfast buffet was immense, with cereals, breads, fruits and fried goods to satisfy several appetites. Before you know it, you’re waddling over to Myrtle to find Katherine had picked seats at the back of the bus to get the bumpiest ride possible for the day. Well, we still might be seeing the beer pong or breakfast before long with the way the roads are. 

First stop on day two of the tour was ‘The Pinnacles’ – a set of visible, coloured stratified layers of sand along the east coast. The explanation behind sand and the hues was quite interesting. Reddish sand is due to the complex mixture of 40 minerals, basically forming iron oxide, that are rusting now that they are oxidising. The sand that is yellow is older sand with less rust and the white quartz core of the sand grain is sand that has pretty much lost all mineral coatings. 

The island, K’gari as it named by Aboriginals, is according to our notes on this UNESCO site, home to two tribes, the Kabi Kabi and Badtjala. The Batchella as it is written in the information boards are the only tribe mentioned in the history of the island. Either way, The Pinnacles are important in the traditional culture and, because of some idiots, are now fenced off with no way of getting closer to the striking colours. Of course, these younger sand cliffs on the east of the island make up only a fraction of the story that provide a continuous record of climatic and sea level changes over the past 700,000 years. Where we were standing would have been 25km inland during the last Ice Age. So, we turn around, walk maybe 40m down the beach to our bus and everyone is just stood there like statues looking out to sea. They were a poor representation of the Terracotta Army but everyone was motionless. It was because in water that is within the cast of a fisherman, a humpback whale was saying hello. A spray followed by a roll on to the back where for a brief second you saw both fins and then one would stay up longer, do a little wave and then come slapping down. All in all, we must have put ourselves behind schedule by only 10mins, but Hayden had to drag the entire lot of us back on the bus to carry on up the beach. 75mile beach is not in fact 75miles long. It is 123km, which we are told equates to 76.4miles. We’re not going to split hairs over a few yards (as we don’t need the beach to finish in front of palace). Rather we sped up the ebbing coastline, dodging past some coffee rock, doing 80mph in a bright yellow truck. Coffee rock, even though called rock, is still in fact sand. Thus, the entire island is still made entirely of sand. This rock despite its name is the result of decomposing litter and vegetation forming a compost mixture with the sand. When the water passed through it before the last Ice Age, it went through a metamorphosis to solidify much like cement does when water is added. The result is a crumbly, coffee coloured rock that has a few beach huts built upon them for an amazing view of the Pacific. Up to the Champagne Pools, the small area is very picturesque. The waves crash over some more ‘rocks’ (although they looked and felt like real sandstone) to bubble over the rim and collect in depressions in the sand behind. They are large enough pools that people are able to paddle and play volleyball. But, after watching a whale breach in the not so distance for quite some time (managed to predict her patterns after a while) we went down to the pools and bypassed everyone to a beach untouched by another soul and the sand in pristine condition. The beach was lovely and we found a baby lobster and some juvenile fish scooting around in the eddies and stream of the water coming down from the Champagne Pools and plonked ourselves down for quiet reflections and just enjoying holding hands. Lunch was well planned out. Set up under the cargo hold of the bus in the shade, like a Myanmar bus station, there was a tuppaware container full of greens and chicken to accompany two wraps and a juice. Easily cleaned away we went up to Indian Head. Sceptical that a solitary headland like this can exist without being a on rocky substrate, we ascended the 68m up to the top of the hill to look out to sea and along the coastline. While everyone was fixated on trying to catch a glimpse of a whale, scorning us for not coming down to the Pools sooner and that there would be a better view and photos from up the hill, not a single whale made an appearance. With an edge of smugness (disguised very well) knowing that one could never predict nature, I glanced down the north side of Indian Head to see a shark swimming in the shallows. I called over Katherine and curiosity got the better of a few and it spread like Chinese whispers. I’m pretty sure that it was a Lemon Shark based on the shape, size and swimming style and that is was probably waiting to bite a chunk out of the juvenile manta ray further in to the shallows.  Zooming back down the Eastern Beach, driving past a solitary dingo, we were being told about the history of S.S. Maheno. Starting it’s life as a passenger cruise liner it later was used as a hospital vessel during WWI to transport wounded between France and Britain, in Gallipoli and Egypt and transporting sick and injured back to New Zealand. After the war it was given back to the liner company and the cruise ship resumed life as a luxury passenger service. However, the advent of diesel ships meant that faster, more efficient modes of transport were now available and the steam ship was impractical to run. This was the start of it’s demise. Being sold to a Japanese company, along with the Oonah , the Japanese used the smaller newly purchased 1700 tonne vessel to tow the larger 5500 tonne vessel. To add insult to injury, they had removed the propellers from the Maheno to reduce drag in the towed vessel. Hitting a cyclone up the coastline the tow cable snapped and they tried desperately for eight days to reattach the cable. Not wishing to be melted down in a scrap yard, the vessel wrecked itself on the coastline of Fraser Island. The freshwater pouring out under the sand with the prevailing winds and long shore drift meant she fixed herself upright in a nice little spot and refused to budge an inch. The result now being that a historic vessel, having transported nearly 27,000 ANZAC corps during the war was now back on Australian territory. The framework and hull is very slowly rusting away, but the wreck is incredibly stunning to walk around. The almost completely low tide meant we were able to walk around it, stick our cameras through port holes and walk to both the bow and stern to see in to the belly of the beast. A beautiful wreck, we could have easily spent longer around it. But, we had other plans. 

Being day 300, day 100 spent on a bus going between Kumbakonam  and Ooty and day 200 in Kharikola nursing a slipped disk, today we were going to splurge on our world travels. So, how does one treat oneself when already on such an amazing island in a beautiful country??? Why, you take to the air to view it. 

A horrible procedure of writing down our weight on a form before boarding, we had probably the briefest and least informative safety speeches of existence. “If we’re going to crash we’ll tell you to put on your life jacket and jump. Inflate your jacket on the way down. Any questions?” I don’t think we could honestly take them too seriously with their dainty uniforms, knee high socks and shorts and all of them looking like a rejected Aussie boy band group. 
So, with confidence boosted, we sped down the runway, the only other place in the world that a commercial flight such as this takes off and lands on a beach is somewhere in Scotland. The tyres bumped up and down on the potholes created by the freshwater streams coming on to the beach and the passing jeeps. And voom, we were up, shaking like a can of spray that you must ‘shake before use’. Banking east over the ocean, we were hopeful of seeing wildlife. Having now spotted whales, sharks, manta rays and turtles, we were expecting to see silhouettes of much the same, plus dugongs and mermaids. Heading inland we got to appreciate the size of the island. The average width is 15km, being 22km at it’s widest if memory serves and there are almost 200 lakes. Scientists argue amongst themselves (as they do) how many there actually are, as some dry up or dissipate seasonally under the water table out to sea. We did pass over Butterfly Lake and it was hidden from the rest of island, inaccessible by jeep or foot, the shape was a perfect butterfly. Not sure what one of the three types of lake it was, we saw a few more lakes before passing over the rainforest section of the island and the sandblow region. Progressing at 1m per year we’re unclear if the height is increasing/decreasing or if the eastern section is becoming narrower. It was amazing to see such a golden area among lush green forests.The GoPro died again. It must be that it’s being turned on in the camera bag without us knowing. But, there’s no video recording so that’s odd. Infuriatingly is that it meant the planned video of the flight was being captured on an iPhone. Katherine did an amazing job. Managing to point the lens in the right direction without missing the chance to watch the views herself we now have 16mins of footage of an epic flight over Fraser Island. I think it was around 11minutes as we were pulling some G coming in to land that she captured the breaching whale about 200m below us. Truly breathtaking to view it so close and from above, we’ll try and get the video on YouTube soon. 

Touching down outside Eli Creek and paying for the flight, we joined the rest of the group. Too late to change in to swim wear and tube down the river stream with the others we went for a walk. Somebody decided that she wasn’t going to miss out on the river so went in fully clothed. I’ll give you a hint, it wasn’t me. The river spits out 4.2million litres of water an hour. Again being an incredibly clear and clean water source that you could drink from, it was also deceptively deeper in parts because of its clarity and someone may have gotten in further than planned. HahahahahaKatherine managed to get herself the seat at the front of the bus for the next stretch of the journey. A bit of flirting with the driver clearly does wonders. It was only a brief trip down the beach and we were heading inland to our next stop. But, the bus didn’t make it up the sand track. We reversed all the way down the shoreline until the back wheels were being lapped by the waves. A few revs of the engine for dramatic effect and we were bulleting up the sand bank over the loose track and in to the compact sand track of the forest. A short drive in we were at a lookout over the sandblow region. Massive expanse of desolate land, the remains of tree trunks sticking up out of the ground are the remaining testament to an area that was alive and thriving with water pouring through the forest floor. A bleak but beautiful view of another aspect of the island and how the ecosystem has changed over tens of thousands of years. Back at the Kingfisher Bay we opted to skip the free transport up the hill in favour of another sunset view. Walking to our new usual spot at the end of the jetty we bumped in to Emma en route and took her with us. The sunset was captivating and a turtle stuck his head up next to us at the pier to watch it for a bit too. Up the hill, not nearly as tough as it’s made out to be, we stopped and admired to sugar glider. The nocturnal relatives of squirrels, with the added superhero ability of flight (gliding) were a bit surprised that we noticed them so we carried on up for a roast dinner. We were only a teensie bit more sensible than last night. We played beer pong with cocktail mixtures and it was myself and Aifric against Katherine & Emma. The Irish vs. The Brits was a hard fought battle with Katherine managing to get the last cup. We did have them worried with our glorious come back and change of tactics, but the result wouldn’t have mattered. A fabulous evening, a perfect end to day 300 and so many memories in so few hours. Tuesday 2nd August 2016