Maheno wreck, Fraser Island
The Maheno was wrecked in 1935 and was used as target practice by the air force before the Battle of Singapore in WW2
The next part of our journey follows the Bruce highway from Brisbane to Townsville. Our first stop after leaving Brisbane was Landsborough on the Sunshine Coast. Landsborough is just up the road from the Australia Zoo - home of the famous Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin. We saw lots of native animals there, such as eastern water dragons, crocodiles, cassowaries, emus, koalas and echidnas and also watched the famous Wildlife Warriors show where they hand feed the crocs. The highlight of our day though was hanging out with the 'roos. We got to hand feed several grey kangaroos, including a baby kangaroo and a mother with a joey in her pouch!
From Landsborough, we headed further up the Sunshine Coast and made a brief stop at Noosa Heads before travelling up to the Fraser Coast. On the Fraser Coast, we stopped at the town of Maryborough where the author of Mary Poppins was born. There's a life-sized bronze statue of Mary Poppins in the town outside the bank building where the author PL Travers was born. The town also hosts an annual Mary Poppins Day when all the locals dress up in period costume, though thankfully not on the day we
From Maryborough, we headed over to Hervey Bay where we caught the ferry across the Great Sandy Strait to Fraser Island. Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world and is a UNESCO world heritage site. It's the only place in the world where rainforest grows on sand, with some trees up to a height of 200 metres. There are no roads here, it's all 4WD driving on sand. It's true wilderness and is an utterly magical place! We visited Central Station which was a former logging community and walked along the banks of Wanggoolba Creek, with its crystal clear waters flowing through the rainforest. Then we sped along the 75 mile beach in our 4WD bus, dodging the tide and manoevering over the coffee rock. Fraser lost a lot of sand recently due to cyclone Hamish in mid-March, so there's not much beach to drive on when the tide is in, making for some pretty exciting 4WD driving! We stopped at Eli Creek, a fast-flowing creek that flows through the dunes to the ocean and then saw the wreck of the Maheno which came ashore in 1935. Further up the beach, we also saw
Now an endangered species, they are found in the rainforests of northern Queensland
the strikingly coloured sand cliffs of the Pinnacles. After lunch, we visited the famous Lake McKenzie, a freshwater lake perched in the top of the dunes. Lake McKenzie is a beautiful place with sparkling turqoise water, white sandy beaches and eucalypt forests surrounding it. About 150-200 dingoes still roam free on Fraser and at Lake McKenzie we came within feet of two of them! Fraser Island's dingoes are the purest bred dingoes in Australia. They're beautiful dogs to look at but, though they appear similar to a domestic alsatian, they're more closely related to the Asian wolf.
After leaving Hervey Bay, we headed up to Bundaberg - home of the famous Bundaberg rum. The scenery driving into Bundaberg was stunning with sugar cane plantations, red soil, mountains and clear blue sky. We visited the bondstore where they still distill Bundaberg rum and tasted a rum liqueur made with chocolate, caramel, vanilla and coffee - yum! From there, we travelled to the small town of Seventeen Seventy at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. This tiny town is named after the spot where Captain Cook landed on 24th May 1770, his first port of call in Queensland. We
Freshwater lake perched in the top of the sand dunes on Fraser Island
took a walk up to the headland where a monument to the Captain marks the spot where he landed.
Our next stop was Rockhampton (or "Rocky" as the locals call it), which lies in central Queensland on the Tropic of Capricorn. A spire in the centre of the city marks the spot where you leave the temperate zone and enter the Tropics. There is a magnificently preserved railway station in Rocky, the Archer Park Station and Steam Tram museum
, so we paid a visit to take a ride on the Purrey steam tram, which is believed to be the only operational one of its kind in the world. We were shown around the museum by a charming man named Blair Jamieson who worked on the railways since 1945 and told us a few tales from his life on the railways. Archer Park station was opened in 1899 and Purrey trams served Rockhampton up until 1939 when they were taken out of service. Today, the preserved station recreates life in it's working days through the use of talking mannequins and soundscapes, while also exhibiting memorabilia donated by the former rail workers themselves. It really brought history alive for us and was well worth the visit!
We extended our stay in Rocky by a couple of days in order to visit Australia's largest Aboriginal cultural centre, the Dreamtime Cultural Centre. We took a guided tour around the centre in order to get a better understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. In the Aboriginal part of the tour, our guide Wayne told us some local Dreamtime legends and gave us an incredible demonstration of didgeridoo playing, using a range of techniques to create different sounds. He also explained how the the unique stencil art in Carnarvon Gorge (a national park southwest of Rockhampton) was created and the meaning of the different iconographs used in the stencils. After that, we went to the Torres Strait Islander village where we received a presentation on the Torres Strait Islander culture. The Torres Strait Islands are located off the north coast of Australia south of Papua New Guinea. The indigenous people of the islands have a unique culture of their own, separate to Aboriginal Australians. In the village, we got an insight into the traditional life of the Torres Strait Islanders and saw some traditional dress, baskets and weaponry used by the Islanders. Finally, at the end of the
tour, we each got to try our hand at throwing a boomerang!
After leaving Rocky, we covered 480km in 6 hours to get to Airlie Beach, gateway to the Whitsunday islands. There are 74 islands making up the Whitsundays, most of which are uninhabited national parks. We took a cruise aboard a catamaran and sailed to Daydream Island and past North and South Molle islands before heading to the largest island in the group, Whitsunday Island. On the eastern side of Whitsunday island is the famous Whitehaven beach with its white silica sand and azure blue water. The sand here is so pure that it can supposedly be used to polish jewellery! On the way back, we sailed through the Hook Passage, a narrow stretch of water between Hook Island and Whitsunday Island.
Next, we headed up to Townsville where we spent the Easter weekend. Townsville is the largest tropical city in Australia and is a hub of activity with beautifully restored heritage buildings and trendy outdoor cafes, restaurants and bars. The city was used as a strategic air base in WW2 and the Australian army still maintains a heavy presence here, with a large number of the
Dee throws a boomerang
At the Dreamtime Cultural Centre in Rockhampton
Australian forces in Afghanistan coming out of Townsville. The city's primary role is an industrial port for exporting sugar and timber from the coast and silver, lead, copper and zinc from Mt Isa. Tourism is also growing here so the city and its economy are still expanding, despite the recession. The city's main attractions for tourists are the Museum of Tropical Queensland and the Reef HQ Aquarium, which holds many of the native flora and fauna of the Great Barrier Reef. However, we found the Townsville Cultural Centre
the most interesting of the three. The centre houses a museum containing information, artefacts and video exhibits telling the stories of the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes of the area and their history.
The Townsville region is rich in indegnous history and is only 57km from Palm Island, which was one of the largest penal settlements used by the government for Aboriginals. Many indigenous people were removed from their lands across Queensland and sent to the Palm Island Mission as punishment for various infringements, which included being of "mixed blood", being "disruptive" or being pregnant to a white man. At Palm Island, they were forbidden to speak their language or practice
Barney's One-Pot Wonders for the Happy Camper
Lorna wows the crowds at her first campervan cookery demonstration!
any traditional cultural ceremonies. They were also very poorly treated and malnourished. Shockingly, the removals to the Palm Island Mission continued until the late 1960s. Today, there is a strong emphasis on preserving, celebrating and displaying Aboriginal culture and cultural centres such as these play a vital role in this regard.
Only 8km from Townsville is Magnetic island, known to the locals as "Maggie". We caught a ferry over to explore the island for a day. 78% of the island is national park and there are many secluded bays and beaches aswell as an abundance of wildlife from rock wallabies, koalas and kangaroos to turtles, dugongs, death adders and green tree frogs. There are also many native birds including the distinctive bush stone curlews (who supposedly keep the island mossie-free!) aswell as kookaburras and crested eagles. Coconuts, pineapples and mangoes are grown here, as the average temperatures range from 24C in winter to 33C in summer. The legendary Greg Norman played his very first game of golf at the nine-hole golf course on the island and apparently still plays there from time to time!
We've seen some amazing scenery and wildlife on this part of our trip. The
in the Whitsundays
next part of our journey will take us closer to the Great Barrier Reef and into the heart of the Wet Tropics where we hope to discover more natural wonders in Far North Tropical Queensland.
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