A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Pollyaway

Far North Queensland

To go or not to go?


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21-25 January 2017

There was a lot of debate in the planning process of this trip as to whether we should travel to Far North Queensland as January to March is their rainy season with a possibility of cyclones. It was suggested that we should not go further North than Airlie Beach and certainly not Port Douglas. We were warned that we could become trapped for days due to road floods and that we should have flexibility in our plans. I'll be honest and admit that I never quite understood the flexibility comment since you either make plans or you don't and, if you are trapped by floodwater you can't just abandon your hire car. Anyway, foolhardy or otherwise, we decided that it would be ridiculous to visit Australia and not see the rainforest area. The other concern is that January is also in Marine stinger season which means you cannot swim off beaches in Queensland due to the risk of being stung by the jelly fish.

So, We left Adelaide 21/1/17 on an early morning Jetstar flight to Cairns. Transition through Cairns was another easy process. Shuttle bus tickets cost us 11 AUD each and the driver dropped us at downtown Thrifty car hire where we took charge of vehicle number 2 (it's cheaper to have a pick up point outside of the airport). This time we have a Mitsubishi Lancer, very nice car, but strangely it has a rear spoiler and very low skirt thing at the front (which we could well do without as we go over dips in road, etc.) Graham thinks it makes him look like a boy racer! Every time we get to a dip, pothole or speed hump I'm frantically reminding Graham about the AUD 4,000 damage fee being held against my credit card! 😲, and yes, I have taken out insurance for this but not with the rental company.

Anyway, onwards we go. The weather is hot and humid. Our hotel is on the Esplanade in Cairns where we have 2 nights booked; it has a small but nice pool. What can I say about Cairns? It's backpacker territory and no getting away from that. The beach when the tide is out is a mud flat and nothing pleasant at all. The first day we had a very nice late lunch at Villa Romana and the second evening we ate at Barnacle Bill's neither of these was suited to a backpackers budget. Day 2 We decided to have a relaxing day by the pool since there was definitely nothing in Cairns itself to interest us, I also made use of the laundry facilities and got some washing done. We got talking to 2 lovely ladies from Canada who were on a working holiday - nice job if you can get it. And so the day whizzed by with the help of a few beers.

Next stop Port Douglas for 3 nights. We left early morning and went via Kuranda to do the sky rail and scenic railway. Sky rail is a cable car across the top of the rainforest to Kuranda village. Two stops on route where you get out, have a walkabout and admire the scenery. We arrived at Kuranda village with 3 hours til the scenic rail departure at 2.30pm. Here's a link. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuranda,_Queensland you can read more about Kuranda at leisure. We had lunch, looked around the shops (bought nothing as all very touristy stuff at inflated prices) and did a short walk hoping to spot some wildlife. The scenic railway is an hours journey back to Cairns through the rainforest and with spectacular scenery. Of course everyone wants to get a window seat, including me. What they don't tell you at the ticket office is that your seat is allocated at time of purchase and all seats are numbered - did Graham or I have a window seat - nah, not a chance. Our only hope was for the train not to be full and then to move. But, true to form I got myself wound up when the chap with black hair and narrow eyes with the window sets his camera up on a friggin tripod!!! Anyway, he moved and we did get a window seat so could take some pictures of our own. The train was hot and sticky and by the time we got off we felt drenched. A shuttle bus is put on to take self drive visitors back to their cars at the sky rail terminal.

Port Douglas was about an hours drive from the sky rail terminal and we arrived at Outriggers Apartments at just on 5pm. Amanda and Peter were kindly waiting for us to arrive and checked us in. We had a lovely apartment with lounge, bedroom, kitchen, shower room with full Laundry facilities and a very nice covered balcony. That night we had our first experience of the monsoon rain. The following morning there were clouds and spots of rain about but nothing of any major concern.

We were booked on a snorkelling trip to the Great Barrier Reef with Wavelength
http://www.wavelength.com.au
who picked us up from Outriggers at 7.50am. More about our snorkelling day in a separate entry.

Day 3 in Port Douglas we went out in the car to explore the area. Our first stop was Mossman Gorge where you can take a dip in the creek if you wish (though there are lots of signs warnings of the dangers, etc etc. However, it seems to me that this is what people go for. Graham and I opted to do the 2.4Km circuit walk through the rainforest, this turned out to be pretty arduous stumbling over tree roots and trying to avoid anything that might have insects or spiders to attack you. Aside from the fact that it was very hot and like walking through a Turkish steam bath, from the difficulty aspect, I would liken it to the Beachy Head lighthouse walk in Eastbourne. We didn't spot any wildlife or birds but attracted quite a few insect bites. We bought a lunch from a bakery in Mossman and then drive on to Daintree village where again, we had a look around down by the Daintree river but didn't spot any crocs.

We decided to take a look at the now infamous Thornton Beach and so took the little car ferry that crosses the Daintree river and from where you can journey on up to Cape Tribulation. We stopped at Mt Alexandra lookout to take some scenic pictures and also saw loads of the beautiful Turquoise and black Ulysses butterfly. We drove on to Thornton Beach and parked the car to get out and have a little look. I stood and read the warning sign about crocs and stingers (with the strategically placed bottle of vinegar should you have the good luck to survive a crocodile attack but get stung by a jellyfish). The beach is beautiful but deserted, except of course for one foolhardy Englishman who was up to his knees paddling in the water. I didn't get a picture - I was too busy running like mad and frantically yelling at him to get out of the water. All he could say when I had reached him was "shame that you can't go in the water on such a lovely beach". That was enough excitement for one day for me I can assure you'll it was back to Port Douglas for dinner and to think about when we should head onto the next day.

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Cairns

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Kuranda

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Mount Alexandra Lookout, Daintree

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Thornton Beach, Cape Tribulation

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Ulysses Butterfly

Posted by Pollyaway 04:53 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

The Great Barrier Reef

Snorkelling with Wavelength


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24 January 2017 -

http://www.wavelength.com.au/snorkel-the-great-barrier-reef/

I was woken during the night by the sound of torrential rain. I got up to check the towels that we had left out on our covered balcony, all OK. but I still moved them inside. I looked out at the rain and it was so heavy I could hardly see 10 to 15 feet in front. So this is the first experience of the monsoon rain that I have been warned about so many times when people became aware of our decision to be in FNQ in January.

Our alarms woke us early and thankfully the rain had stopped although the air smelled very damp. We were picked up by Wavelength minibus at 7.50 am for a short trip to the Marina at Port Douglas where we embarked our catamaran for the day. Wavelength was chosen as their tours take a maximum of 40 people so I felt it would be a much more personal experience. Today, there were actually only 24 snorkelling guests on board plus the crew which included 3 very knowledgeable and enthusiastic female Marine Biologists. Once on the boat we were all, one by one, sized up for our stinger suits - very flattering; and then we were provided with flippers and snorkelling gear. I also took the precaution of a couple of anti sickness tablets As the water was expected to be a bIt choppy on our way out to the reef. I am very glad I did as several people had to use the dreaded sick bags.

It was a one and a half hour ride out to the reef from Port Douglas and during this time we were given information from the crew about safety in the water etc, and then info about the types of marine life we should expect to see. Although January is in the Stinger season we were assured that Stingers are not found that far out on the reef and so our suits were a precaution only but also to protect us from the very hot sun. We were also assured that we would not encounter any great white sharks as the water is much too warm for them (isn't that a relief!). We made 3 stops the first of which we were told was a coral carpet though we did see fish as well. We snorkelled for an hour and then returned to the vessel where we had coffee/tea and chocolate brownies (a perfect antidote to sea sickness 😳!! ) our second stop was another 30 minute ride and again we had a chance to snorkel for an hour where we saw more beautiful fish. When we returned to the vessel after our second snorkel our buffet lunch was waiting for us - very nice selection of salads, cold chicken, cheese and rolls. After lunch we made our journey to the 3rd snorkel spot of the day where we got to see the renowned "Angus" a very large male Maori wrasse . This, I felt, was the best stop of the day, again we had something like an hour to snorkel and take our photos. Once back onboard we had coffee/tea and fruit and cheese cake, very nice. So the trip came to a close, we changed out of our stinger suits and into dry clothes for the journey back to Port Douglas. Graham and I sat outside on the front of the boat for this and had a nice opportunity to sit and soak up some sun.

I checked with Wavelength the nest the day details of the sites we visited :-

Ray Ban, Bashful Bommie & SNO which are different sites on Opal reef.

I didn't find it easy taking good pictures since the fish either have darted out of frame or I have drifted and missed my shot so my pictures are limited. I purchased the official photographs of the day but they are in a USB stick and somI haven't yet had an opportunity to view them. For the record, we did not see any turtles on the day.
.
So the weather today has been hot hot hot, though there was heavy rain during the night and it was a little overcast at the beginning of the day, by the time we got out to the reef the currant bun was out and doing what only she can do and bathed us in sunshine all day.

A great day out

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Posted by Pollyaway 00:35 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

The Second Leg

The Great Ocean Road and on to Adelaide


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14/1/2017 - We left the City centre this morning and took a cab to South Melbourne to pick up our rental car. A simple paperwork process completed and a quick check of the vehicle to note any existing damage and we were off. I'll admit I was relieved that Thrifty car hire is located out of the city centre and so we did not have to concern ourselves with any of these confusing right hand hook turns that seem to be peculiar to Melbourne. We crossed the West Gate Bridge in the direction of Geelong and we were on our way. We stopped at Torquay for a breakfast and then headed for Bells Beach where we passed an hour or so watching an endurance swim event. We were conscious that neither of us had applied sunscreen and so didn't stay out in the sun for too long, especially when you observe the locals all clad in long sleeve tops and trousers. A stop at Aireys Inlet a bit later in the day and a walkabout around Split Point lighthouse was a good opportunity to also stretch the legs and of course take a few pictures .

Our first scheduled overnight stop was to be Apollo Bay; we arrived late afternoon and checked into our motel, Sandpipers. We were very pleased with our welcome we had a very nice room and agreed that we were off to a good start. After a cup of tea and a half hour to unwind we walked the Main Street in search of the recommended pub for a drink and evening meal. And that was us done for the day, happy to get to return to bed after a hot day.

Apollo Bay to Warrnambool - we started the day by calling into La Bimba's bakery and getting a filled roll and coffee to go. En route to the infamous 12 Apostles we stopped at Cape Otway Lighthouse which we were able to go inside and climb the stairs to the top the views out to sea are stunning. I had it in my head that Inwanted to visit Otway Fly treetop walk so we made an inland detour of about 20 miles to get there. I'm kind of sorry that we did since the attraction for me was disappointing. Sure the treetop walkways are quite an engineering feat but the entrance fee is steep and though they have a zipline there (hence the name Otway fly) the places are booked out in advance so there is no point hoping to do this without prior booking plus it's a hefty 120AUD per adult. I think what's really disappointing about the fly is that unless you are a participant there is no spectator option to see how exciting it is. So, we did the treetop walk, heard lots of birds but saw none, bought ourselves another coffee and got back onto the GOR. We reached the 12 Apostles around 2pm, unfortunately around the same time as all the coach tours; the views are spectacular but you need to jostle with Mr and Mrs Selfie Stick if you want to try and take photos of the view yourself. And so onwards to Warrnambool for our next overnight stop. Of course, we did make stops along the way to get out and admire the beautiful beaches and the wild sea.

Warrnambool - we arrived early evening and again, another excellent motel - I'm impressed with the standards so far. We did a little drive around Warrnambool, stopped at Thunder Point lookout took in the scenery and then headed off looking for food to end the day.

Mount Gambier - Another early start the next day as we set off for Mount Gambier. We stopped a short way outside Warrnambool at Port Fairy. A lovely seaside holiday resort with lots going on. We went into the town centre to find a bakery and then parked up on the headland and sat at a picnic bench to have our brunch and happily watched the surfers below.

We decided to take the scenic route and pay a visit to Cape Bridgewater where, according to the book I've been reading, there is a seal colony. It was a very hot day and Graham was starting to feel drowsy so when we arrived at the designated car park looking out over the beautiful beach at Cape Brudgewater, he decided to recline the seat and have 40 winks while I went in search of the seals. So, we were in the right place but at the wrong time of day. What my book doesn't tell you is that from Cape Bridgewater there is a good 30 minute clifftop walk to a jetty where you pay 20 AUD for a 45 minute boat trip out to the seal colony and we had missed the last trip of the day - hey ho

Our accommodation in amount Gambier was different to say the least; an old colonial style house with some history. However, once again, we were not disappointed. Early the next Morning we set off to find The Blue Lake and It was indeed very blue. We went to a couple of the lookout points to get a good view and to take some pictures but both decided that we would skip the official tour. Instead, we went to view the Tantanoola cave, a brief but interesting stop and we pretty much had the tour to ourselves. Next stop Robe.

Robe - we had a scheduled 2 night stop here to give ourselves a break from spending so much time in the car. Again we had a motel in a great location just a short walk from the beach yet centre of town. Robe was quite a busy town, up,and coming it seems. The weather on our journey so far has been mixed, and at Robe it was bordering on cold due to the wind chill factor. On our second day , the sun put on a good show so we decided we would take our beach towels and have a little sunbathe on the beach. We applied a good dose of sunscreen and lay down to soak up the rays. Well, as you can imagine, we both fell asleep and by the time we woke, we were like a couple of sheets of sandpaper.

Our next destination was Adelaide with a plan to go via Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills. We arrived in Hahndorf in sweltering temperatures, quite a contrast from previous days. Hahndorf is a very pretty town with a History of early german settlement hence you can buy yourself all manner of Germanic souvenirs. Hahndorf that day was overrun with cyclists who had been following the official Australia Tour Down Under. Thankfully, by the time we reached Adelaide the race had moved on and therefore we did not encounter any road closures or detours. We dropped our hire car off at Adelaide airport and took a taxi ride to our hotel at Glenelg.

Adelaiide - we stayed at the Stamford Grand, Glenelg, situated right on the sea front. The beach at Glenelg is beautiful and when we arrived was a hive of activity with sunbathers and young families enjoying the heatwave, temperatures must have been middle to high 30's and much too hot for me to stay out in the sun. We familiarised ourselves with a Glenelg and found a restaurant to have dinneR. The heat was too much for me and I returned to the hotel, Graham stayed out and was going to walk to the end of the jetty on the beach. It wasn't long before he was back at the hotel because of a sudden downpour. Later that night there was an electrical storm which I watched from our room on the 11th floor. The storm didn't seem to be that. bad viewed from our hotel but it seems that many parts of Adelaide experienced serious flooding and power outages. We only had one full day to spend in Adelaide and so decided to do,a couple of museums in the. Enter. We took the tram from a Glenelg into the centre and went first to Central Market for a look around , we visited the art museum and the museum of aboriginal culture. Adelaide has a bustling shopping centre and so it seemed only sensible to take advantage and buy a few things more suited to the coming weeks travel than the stuff I brought from home! Graham found his favourite outdoor shop, Katmandhu, where he kindly bought me easy wash quick drying shorts and vests. He didn't have his loyalty card with him and was well chuffed that they were able to look his details up on their computer system and gave him a 30% loyalty discount. 😊😊

So, as our second leg comes to an end, here's a few statistics of what we've seen so far :-

Fairy Penguins - 1
Koala bears - 2
Kangaroos - 0 alive, 3 dead by the road
Seals - 0
Platypus - 0
Flies - too many to mention

Next stop Cairns
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Posted by Pollyaway 10:12 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

Melbourne

Day 2, Friday, 13 jan

semi-overcast
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Just on the corner from our hotel was the beautiful St Michael's Church, we made a quick visit here before setting off to the Royal Botanic Gardens. We could have used the tram for a quick journey, but decided instead to walk, eespecially after the dramatics the previous day with the Myki card. We first called into the Arts centre on Flinders Street where I succumbed to purchasing a small piece of glass for $50 and then We walked alongside the river past the Rod Laver Centre where the Melbourne Open Tennis is currently in progress and soon reached the Royal Botanic Gardens. Garden is a bit of an understatement since the area is vast, you could easy be here the whole day. Graham got distracted by the parrots in a red bean tree (I think) and got his David Bailey hat on. Agapanthus plants thrive out here like weeds and are evident everywhere in every hue imaginable. Quite ironic really when I Think of my tub at home and how excited I get counting the flower heads as they appear in the Spring. . Anyhow, we had a lovely few hours admiring the trees and plants but when it started to rain quite steadily we decided it was a good time to have lunch and had a tasty meal at a Vietnamese restaurant in the gardens.

We strolled leisurely back to the city, explored an area we hadn't been to previously and came across Hosier Lane, a street where graffiti artists are free to show off their artistic talents.

Time for Dinner - a frustrating search trying to find somewhere that was more than fast food but not high end dining. Graham was getting a bit grumpy after we seemed to be walking round in circles, we agreed that we would go for whatever establishment we came across next. Thankfully, it happened to be The Sherlock Holmes, an English type pub where we had a fantastic roast of the day and very good value for money. I'm. Not sure how Sherlock Holmes made it to Australia though but he did us proud. We had a couple of pints each and then headed back to bed. We've had a great two days but it really isn't enough to do Melbourne justice.

Tomorrow is the start of our Great Ocean Road trip.

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Posted by Pollyaway 16:00 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

We are officially Down Under

Melbourne

all seasons in one day
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Singapore Air Flight SQ207 to Melbourne, flight 2 of 4. So the outbound flight was a bit of a letdown for me mainly due to the disappointing inflight entertainment . I didn't think things could go downhill but honestly what a shambles. You may recall that on the outbound flight there was no anticipated screening of Series 2 of Poldark and so I settled for TV drama,The Durrells. Having watched episodes 1 to 3 outbound, I presumed I would be able to pick up where I left off on the next flight. As I knew there were 10 episodes to get through in all I wasted no time in getting started. I scrolled through the entertainment list only to find there were just 2 episodes available - 5 and 6! What the dickens happened to Episode 4? Not only that, as SQ207 was an old 777 the sound and picture quality on the monitor was abysmal.

In flight meal - we had a very early start having been picked up at 4.20am by shuttle arranged by Singapore Air. So I was quite looking forward to the first meal which turned out to be their version of a continental breakfast - a dry sweet roll with a frozen butter pat, a piece of rubbery cheddar cheese and a muffin so dry it would choke you. πŸ‘Ž oh I nearly forgot the little pack of strawberry jam. Maybe dinner would be better (I hoped). I requested a vegetarian meal as the other options were pork and a noodle dish and I don't eat either of these things. I can see why vegetarians often feel they get a raw deal in restaurants and other establishments where choices and standard of meals are poor. I don't know what the vegetarian meal actually was but at a guess, it might have been some kind of flavourless couscous with a dollop of salsa on the side - thats it. I didn't eat it.

Apart from the above - the Singapore Air flight was fine but nothing outstanding.

We arrived into Melbourne around 6.10pm. After getting through baggage halls, customs etc. We took the Skybus to Southern Cross station and from there we used a free hotel shuttle service. Brilliant service, the Australians couldn't make it any easier for us. We checked into our hotel, the Stamford Plaza, and as we were starving, wasted no time in getting out to eat then a couple of drinks and back for an early night.

12 Jan - Today was our first full day in Melbourne, unfortunately I slept late having had several nights of not being able to sleep much at all, This resulted in a later start to the day than anticipated however, after ablutions and a cup of coffee we were off and running. We set off to find a store selling the Myki travel card - Melbourne's own version of our Oyster card. So, the system is that you pay 6AUD for the card itself and then load on your chosen amount of credit. You "tap" on and "tap" off whenever you make a train, bus or tram journey and cost of trips vary according to travel across city zones but seem to average 2AUD each and, If I understood correctly, travel is capped at 8AUD daily so that's what I purchased - two cards at a total cost of 28AUD. We walked to Flinders Street station to get a train out to the beach, I duly tapped on and went through the station barriers but when I turned to look for Graham he's nowhere to be seen. I scanned the concourse assuming he had come through a different barrier and then spotted him the other side of the barriers frantically patting himself down searching for his card. In less than 10 minutes Graham had managed to lose his Myki card πŸ˜–. I passed 15AUD across the barrier to him and patiently waited while he went off to buy another card! Anyway, drama over, we got on the train and set off on a 30 minute train journey in search of the infamous Beach Huts located at our namesake Brighton Beach. We walked half a mile or so along a dedicated cycle/joggers path πŸ˜‚before dropping down on to the sandy beach .

To set the scene, let me tell you that the weather was hot with not a not a cloud in the sky. A very high factor sunscreen was needed unless you are on a death mission. Decent UV sunnies are also essential (I had my bejewelled Thai knock offs with me and they seemed to do the trick) but straw hats and velcroed sun visors are optional.

The beach was quite busy with sunbathers and families and, as you might imagine, the beach huts attracted the usual selfie stick wielding tourists who seem to want to strike and photographically capture as many poses imaginable. Melbourne's Brighton Beach is very much a residential area, there are few services of any kind (none) where you might be encouraged to sit and spend a few hours. There was one converted VW camper van selling burgers and soft drinks from whom we purchased a bottle of water and then made our way back to the train station to return to the city in search of sustenance (no breakfast included at the Stamford Plaza) after all, by this time it was nudging 2pm. We settled on a nice little Italian bistro and broke our fast so to speak.

After a quick 40 winks back at the hotel we then took a tram journey out to St Kilda. This is another beach area, again, about 30 minutes out of the city. St Kilda is a beautiful vibrant beach area with a cycle/joggers path, lovely manicured grassy areas where people sunbathe or picnic and there are beachside bars and restaurants too! It's now 5pm, we sit and each have a couple of alcoholic drinks before we go to wait for the fairy penguins who come ashore at a rocky area at the end of the pier after sundown, to escape predators and to mate/nest. Many people take an organised full day tour out to Philip Island to see the Fairy Penguins there. Apparently, there is a slick set up with seated viewing areas and you get a decent view depending on how much you are prepared to pay for your ticket. For the cheapskates like us, there is the small colony at the end of St Kilda pier which is free and monitored by volunteer Rangers. The downside is that it's a bit pot luck if you get to see the Penguins. Believe it or not we sat and waited from 6pm in an endeavour to gain a decent view of where these little beggars come in and it was gone 9pm before any sighting. I was at the wrong spot on the boardwalk and therefore didn't really get much of a look in and so decided we should call it a day and head back to the city. As I made my way off the boardwalk, I made a cheeky manoeuvre and shoved my head and camera through a small gap in the crowd and 'bingo' I got a sighting and a picture too. One lone little Fairy Penguin; check out my photo but be patient, it's like one of those magic eye pictures - stare at it for long enough and the image will appear πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚. I did get a few nice pictures of the boats and a lovely full moon though so not all was lost.

Hey ho and so to bed.

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Posted by Pollyaway 04:35 Archived in Australia Comments (3)

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