Published: July 13th 2011July 13th 2011
We came out of the Atherton Tablelands and continued on to Etty Beach which had been recommended by the previous campsite owners. In fact they had even telephoned and booked the last available power site for us as we had forgotten it was a holiday weekend and we were lucky that they had one space available. The hills of the Tablelands were now behind us and we travelled through large banana plantations equally matched by Sugar Cane fields. As we neared the coast we rounded a small headland and stopped suddenly for in the road right in front of us was a huge Cassowary. We had been hoping to see these very unusual birds since we arrived in Queensland but had almost given up as everyone said they are very rare. They are an endangered species and there are only about 1000 left in the wild so we were fortunate to see them. This flightless bird is Australia’s largest rainforest animal and can reach two metres in height with the female being larger than male. The birds stride through the forested areas feeding mainly on fallen fruits. They have three toes, a blue and purple head, red wattles (fleshy lobes hanging
from their necks) a helmet like horn and unusual black feathers, which looked like ostrich hair – all in all - a really weird looking bird. It is estimated that over 100 plant species depend on these big birds to disperse their seeds, which pass unharmed through their digestive system. Male cassowaries are the caregivers, sitting on the eggs for about fifty days until they hatch and then looking after the chicks for another nine months. We quickly stopped the van and watched this huge bird wander around us but were careful to get back into the van when it approached. It was large and all the signs we had read said to avoid contact with them!!! Apparently they even avoid handling them in zoos as they can be quite dangerous and aggressive. We continued down the coast road and soon arrived at our campsite. They had misunderstood the lady from our previous campsite who had pre-booked for us and thought we wanted an un-powered site. We said this that would have to do as we did not fancy moving on but they went to check if they could squeeze us in somewhere. They did find room and we were
able to attach our power lead to the back of their laundry where they were doing renovations following the cyclone. The site was only a few steps from the beach which was a bonus and we did have power. The campsite was full and we could see why as it was in an ideal location right next to a superb beach. Later we walked along the beach and spotted another couple of Cassowaries wandering along the edge of the sands. That evening we walked down to the campsite restaurant and had ‘fish and chips’ sitting watching the waves as the tide came in very close to the restaurant itself, it had in fact been flooded in the recent cyclone. The campsite shop had been damaged and part of the restaurant had lost its canvas roof, so we were now sitting in the open air. The next day we just lazed around the campsite taking several walks along the beach and not doing anything else which was a real treat. We were visited quite a few times by the Cassowary wondering around the van and peering in our windows during the evening and at breakfast. The dominate female though patroled the
area and every time the smaller male came out of the rainforest she would chase him away at great speed.
We moved on the early the next day as we had a long journey ahead to get down the coast to Airlie Beach to join a cruise around the Whitsunday Islands. We drove most of the day and travelled in total for about eight hours, with some breaks for Paul along the way. During the journey we passed through Tully, Mission Beach and Cardwell, three of the areas tragically hit by Cyclone Yasi and we noticed vast areas of trees completely destroyed with huge tree trunks standing like lampposts devoid of any leaves and branches. Many houses and buildings had been damaged and repair work was going on everywhere. A huge post board sign on the side of the road as we drove into the area said ‘Tully, Mission Beach and Cardwell survived the storm Yasi and are now open for business’. They were trying to encourage visitors back into the area after loosing so much. The vegetation was recovering quickly though as we passed through acres of banana plantations with large bunches of fruit hanging in their plastic
bags ready for market. That should bring the price of bananas down; no-one was buying this crop due to the cost!! The trees though would take a lot longer to recover from Yasi’s destruction. Just south of Townsville we entered Burdekin Shire which is the sugar capital of Australia and there were even more fields covered in swaying cane flowers. Based around the twin towns of Ayr and Home Hill, the district includes over a dozen smaller centres and is as famous for its rich, flat farmlands as well as its amazing waterways and scenic beauty. As producer of the biggest and sweetest sugar cane in the country, the Burdekin is also one of the only cane growing regions left in Australia where cane is actually burnt before harvest. As we travelled around we noticed the small gauge rail tracks and carriages that transport the sugar cane across the farmlands to the local sugar mills.
We arrived at Airlee Beach and as we drove into the town’s harbour the sea was covered with boats of every size with many mega super yachts (had to hold Paul back). Our campsite was located on the edge of the Conway National Park
just outside the main town and we booked another en-suite campsite (luxury again!). The reception had a tour booking facility and they recommended some cruises for us. We were only going to book one but decided on two as they had some superb offers to attract us travellers. We selected a tour of the Whitsundays and one to the Barrier Reef with the latter being two for the price of one - bargain!. Although the reef cruise would be quite long as the Barrier Reef is about 70km from Airlee Beach. However we did not have any time constraints so we thought - why not even though we would be going out to the Barrier Reef when we returned to Cairns.
The 90 plus islands of the Whitsundays, most of which are uninhabited are one of the top ten destinations for any one visiting Queensland and some where we particularly wanted to see hence our journey this far south. Captain Cook named these islands when he sailed along this coast 50 days after Easter on White Sunday in 1770. Whitsunday Island is the largest and home to Whitehaven Beach which is Australia’s finest tropical beach as seen in all
the photographs of the area. The next morning we were collected from the campsite at 0815 hours and the transport arrived early which was a shame as about a hundred lorikeet parrots had just flown in to be fed by the edge of the campsite and they were truly an astonishing sight. We were driven to the harbour at Abel Point Marina where our boat was waiting. We travelled out through the narrow passage close to Hook Island and arrived at Whitsunday Island where we stopped on Whitehaven Beach. We walked up to Hill Inlet on Tongue Point where there were tremendous views down towards pristine Whitehaven (this is the view you will see on any postcards). We then cruised around and moored just off the beach and spent a couple of hours swimming in the clear blue seas whilst the crew made a delicious barbecue lunch under the shaded palm trees. Later we cruised around several of the islands and the crew even fed a huge sea eagle that swooped in over the boat to grab some fish that it was offered. We later returned to harbour after a very pleasant day cruising around the Whitsunday Islands.
next day we were collected from our campsite and driven to Shuteharbour the opposite side to yesterday for our visit to the Great Barrier Reef aboard Fantasea’s high speed catamaran. Hardy Reef is located in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and is protected under the Whitsundays Plan of Management. We travelled through the sheltered waters of the Whitsunday Islands which we had visited yesterday and out to the Coral Sea before arriving at Reefworld a couple of hours later. Reefworld is the largest floating pontoon facility in Australia, which is actually two pontoons measuring a total length of 86 metre and is the closest pontoon to the mainland. We spent another lazy day snorkelling around the reef from the boat and moored pontoon. The waters were clear but extremely cold even with stinger and wetsuits on! The coral and fish though were well worth the effort getting into all the gear. We followed the ropes along the reef edge saw huge areas of coral, a multitude of fish and lots of giant clams the size of small boulders and as the tide was quite high were able to snorkel over some of the top of the reef getting good
views. After a buffet lunch on board we joined a semi-submersible craft and had a close up view of the reef edge without getting cold and wet and as we neared the mooring we saw a small green turtle cruising deep on the reef. We were going to try their introductory dive but were disappointed as they said that you had to be between 16 and 55 - so we were a ‘little’ too old!! On the return journey the boat stopped at Hamilton Island which looked like it had been taken out of a film set with its high rise hotel block, beautiful villas and a deluxe marina full of smiling yuppie yachts.
The next day we headed back north toward Cairns to return the van and join our cruise of the Barrier Reef. We travelled as far as Townsville and stopped at Rowes Bay Caravan Park which was directly opposite Magnetic Island just 8km off shore. The site had quite a few resident locals and we spoke to several who told us their stories of the time of the Cyclone which was quite frightening. They were all evacuated from the campsite and most stayed on the other
side of town hoping that the red-rock Castle Hill at 290m would provide them some shelter from the worst of the storm. We met a local lady who lived on the caravan site and every day she fed a flock of Lorikeets in her little garden. As I approached her caravan she was surrounded by these colourful birds. She fed them a mixture of bread and melted sugar which she made for them every day and had done so for years even though she did not have much she provided the bread and sugar to feed them. She said that many of the locals helped by bringing their stale bread and I said she should approach the big sugar cane producers in the area and get them to supply her with some free samples of sugar! We had another day free before we needed to be back in Cairns so we stayed at Kurrimine Beach at a campsite close to the beach. The area had been hit badly by Yasi and whilst we were there the little café on the beach opened for the first time since the disaster. We walked along the beach which was still covered in coral
debris and sadly we also found several sections of the beautiful outer shell of a turtle who had probably been a victim of the cyclone.
The next day we headed inland along a route called the Canecutter’s Way rather than the main Bruce Highway. This road was the old road that wound its way through a myriad of virgin rainforest, cane fields, canecutter barracks and various sugar towns as well as working mills – true sugar country. We noticed that most of the bungalow farmhouses were dwarfed by the surrounding ripe sugar cane crop. We stopped at Mena Creek where there was a Sunday market and swapped a couple of books from the stalls and bought a homemade carrot cake which we could not resist! Across the road was Paronella Park which featured the ruins of a Spanish Castle hand built in the 1930. Floods, fire and the moist air of the tropics had rendered the mossy remains almost medieval and it was a major tourist attraction in the area. The Australians do like castles and everyone we spoke to said they would like to visit the UK to see our castles. We made a slight detour to visit
Josephine Falls where a short walk through the rainforest leads to these picturesque falls. From here you could walk to the Bartle Frere which is Queensland’s highest peak but the walk took two days and we did not have the time! We continued passing through the small town of Babinda to the Babinda Boulders the start of several excellent bushwalks. We walked to the Boulders and Devil’s Pool lookout where there was a good view of the granite boulder valley. We had a picnic lunch along side the rainforest before completing our journey back to Cairns.
We returned to Crystal Cascades Caravan Park at Redlynch where we had begun our journey a few weeks ago and had a swim in the pool. The next morning we travelled to the nearby Crystal Cascades which had several secluded freshwater swimming holes, hidden in the rainforest. A series of small waterfalls flowed into large pools surrounded by huge boulders on a section of Freshwater Creek. The largest waterhole sits alongside a sheer cliff which locals and tourists used to climb to jump into the adjoining deep waterhole The most famous part of the cliff is called "No Fear" which was the highest
perch to jump from but it is now ‘out of bounds’ to anyone and you can only swim in the lower two cascades.. Paul decided to have a dip and it did look inviting but it was rather too cold for me so I just rock hopped down the cascades in the dappled sunlight and took some photos of him under the waterfall. Back at the campsite we sorted out the van and repacked our backpacks ready to return the motorhome to AAM in the morning and get a taxi to Trinity Wharf to board a cruise of the Barrier Reef – see you there.
There are more photos below