Australia: East Coast sojourn April-May 2019


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April 24th 2019
Published: April 24th 2019
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Ocean SpiritOcean SpiritOcean Spirit

Moving out to the Michaelmas Cay
"Not all those who wander are lost". JRR Tolkien

I have in prior travels and blogs extolled the merits of RV travel as being the very best way of truly seeing a country. Very few rules apply but our philosophy is simply never to plan or book ahead, avoid staying in one place for less than two nights and avoid doing more than 300km on any single day between destinations. So, with these markers in place our final evening in Port Douglas revolved around planning how to get to Cairns, our next stop. Slipping down the Great Barrier Reef was too easy and obvious, so we chose an inland route.

Cyril, (nickname for the voice on our navigator device and with ZERO deference to President Ramapromisa), duly kicked in when we had typed in a key word and instructed a left turn back to Port Douglas to ensure we headed into the mountains of the Daintree Rain Forest and the highlands beyond. You have to hand it to the engineers and road guys who carved this magnificent winding road up through what, from the coastal plains, looks like impenetrable forest clad mountains. Brutey was up for the challenge as
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Incredibly 45 km out to sea a little sandy atoll (cay)
we slowly eased our way upwards through lush, bright green forests until we finally got to the summit and given the incredibly rich pastureland, it was obvious this is an area where it rains. A lot. And just to bang on a bit about the weather, the inland region of Northern Queensland had a brutal end to a seven-year drought in February of 2019. In certain areas more than 2000mm of rain fell over a 10-day period causing flooding and havoc on an unbelievable scale. Massive farmland areas were under water as normally small streams became raging torrents. Having watched some footage on Youtube, it is truly scary to see what happened with almost 500,000 cattle being drowned and destruction of massive areas of farmland and crops.

Normally after a sort of tense white-knuckle drive, there is a need to stop and soak up the achievement. Well, Sue the retired GPS operator, was on top of her game and spotted a mobile coffee shop on the roadside in the middle of nowhere and an impressive line up of cars did the trick. The owner of this business had a sign prominently displayed “The greatest pleasure in life is doing
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Sue blending in with some of the 30 odd thousand sea birds
what people tell you that you cannot do.” He needed my support so I duly stood in the queue and noticed no cappuccino on the board of offerings. Only regular coffee at Aus$5.50. My cappuccino rule kicked in and partially explains why most SA visitors find Aussie expensive. It goes like this. In 2009 when we did a 6-week RV trip from Perth to Darwin, cappuccino cost AUS$5.00 but the exchange rate was R7.00 to 1 Aus$ which converts to R35.00 when I guess back home the cost would have been R25 (so 40 percent more). Now the exchange rate is R10/Aus$ so the cappuccino cost is R55.00 whilst you can still get one back home for R28 (which means now 96 percent more). I suspect this is the impact of our imploding currency which is down by 43%!s(MISSING)ince 2009. I was developing a head ache figuring this all out waiting my turn so I settled for 6 donuts for $5.00 and walked off thinking I had scooped the deal of the decade. They tasted bloody good with our RV made coffee.

Suitably fortified, the journey continued through verdant green farm land passing Mount Molloy, a historic mining
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About to snorkel off into wonderland
and farming town, before arriving in another small farming town, Mareeba. Being Good Friday there was little sign of activity apart from an armada of vehicles laden with surf boards, canoes, bikes etc., charging in the opposite direction down to the coast. We had noticed a sign on the approaches to this town advertising Granite Gorge, so off we veered remembering the mantra that getting anywhere should never be a straight line. True to its marketing message, it was a granite gorge and we really liked the idea of doing an advertised 2.5km walk through the gorge until a very pleasant park attendant said this simple jaunt would cost $15.00 each with no concession for grey hair. Bugger! Do the maths.

On the way out we had to stop to allow a mean looking black snake to cross the road so there you go, a bonus for no payment. If there is one slight concern about Australia, it is simply that there is not much one can do outdoors without having to fork out and pay. Alas, we also spotted our first dead kangaroo on the road and there is no doubt this will not be the last.
The Michaelmas CayThe Michaelmas CayThe Michaelmas Cay

An exceptional little spot in the mighty ocean

Cyril duly kicked in and gave instructions to turn left and so we trundled on to a little gem of a town by name of Kuranda. I cannot describe it better than the Lonely Planet Guide and I admit plagiarism: “This hippie haven swarms with tourists soaking up the vibe poking around its famous markets”. I picked up a heavy scent akin to the green stuff back home but Sue said it was incense and no need to breathe so deeply. The real appeal of these little towns is to simply walk and walk and take it all in. A popular day trip for the folk of Cairns, it was also swarming with Chinese visitors being offloaded by the busload. Fascinating to watch these unique tourists rushing around in little chattering swarms taking more cell phone photos and “selfies” per square meter than seems imaginable. Do they ever look at all that stuff?

Mareeba proved to be one of those “lucky” places to stop at as our gentle amble put us in the vicinity of a tourist booking outlet for Great Barrier Reef adventures. You would have got the drift in an earlier blog that this was not going
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Huge and splendid public swimming pools
to be one of our planned outings but, one particular advertising board caught our attention and a really good guy, read brilliant salesman, soon had us walking off with tickets to do a trip with Ocean Spirit Cruises from Cairns on Monday 22nd April. Proof that most budgets simply don’t work!

The upside of leaving this charming little town almost lost in the mountain mists of the rain forest was that we had to descend back down to the coastal plains to Cairns which, as we drifted into the Crystal Cascades RV Park, would be home for the next four days. Now, timing is everything and after Brutey was parked and all the camp arrival chores done, the clink of ice in a wine glass said it all. Still very warm and humid and remarkably no insects including mosquitoes to be seen. Bliss!

The first day in Cairns was going to be a sort of chill day doing a few boring RV chores like washing clobber and clearing the onboard bilges. This didn’t take long and a snap decision resulted in an exploratory trip into downtown Cairns. This city of roughly 150,000 inhabitants has a huge magnetic pull
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Pick your spot for lunch or a cold one!
located offshore by name of the Great Barrier Reef and attracts 4.3 million tourists per annum. Relevance you may ask? SA, as a country, attracted 9.5 million tourists in 2017. The scale of tourist infrastructure by way of huge motor and sail boats whisking thousands of visitors daily to the GBR is mindboggling. The waterfront precinct is superb with a huge swimming pool replacing a muddy beach area and not forgetting the stinger and croc problem in the nearby ocean. This is all fringed with an impressive promenade and boardwalk in park like surrounds and inevitably, numerous eateries and pavement pubs to feed and rehydrate the masses. We sat in this park soaking up the atmosphere which was made all the more intriguing by a bunch of musicians strumming their stuff, although Sue concluded they would not win the “Australia has talent” contest anytime soon. This gentle outing resulted in us chalking up 6.5kms on foot thanks to a Garmin device recording each step.

Skilful packing had enabled that I squeezed a 9wt fly rod and small spinning outfit into my travelling bag and Cairns looked like the place to test this equipment. The research I had done looked
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On board "Gone Fishin" with Jacob waxing eloquent about all the fish to be caught
promising and the Trinity Inlet system was touted as the best estuary fishing in the region. The upshot of all this planning was to board a charter “Gone Fishin” at 12h30 the second day of our Cairns stay. Jacob, the youngish skipper in charge, quietly told me that he didn’t have many fly fishers on his charters and that he had tried fly fishing and given up. Too bloody difficult! No pressure but I did feel I had a point to prove. Short story, I did not have a bump in the four hours spent fishing on this magnificent mangrove tree lined estuarine system. Fortunately, my other Aussie fishing companions on board, using bait, did catch a few smallish fish and I was given a decent pan sized rock cod to take home and cook for Sue. I have fly fished often enough in many different places to know and understand it’s not about catching a fish but the sheer thrill of maybe catching one. Most times in exquisite surroundings. Exhausted, grilled rock cod and chilled white wine ended another superb day.

There is always a crowning moment out there and our impulsive decision in Mareeba, where we had bought the GBR excursion tickets, proved to be spot on. At 07h30 we boarded a huge catamaran Ocean Spirit and set off on a 2-hour journey to Michaelmas Cay, a low-lying sandy beach (cay) about 43 kms offshore. It is only 360m long by 50m wide and home to an estimated 30,000 breeding sea birds. The whole GBR experience is hugely competitive and all the operators have to punch way above their weight to attract customers. Our operator was exceptional. A full day smorgasbord of anything that tickled one’s fancy and on arrival we did a 30-minute glass bottom boat coral viewing trip just to get beamed up. Thereafter a short boat trip put us onto the cay and suitably kitted out, some wonderful time was spent snorkelling on magnificent and pristine coral beds. Impossible to describe the scale and breath-taking beauty other than to point out, if you go to Australia, make sure you try and include a snorkelling outing to the GBR. After being out there for almost 5 hours we set off for Cairns harbour. The guys and girls working on Ocean Spirit were incredible and, in a way, summed up the spirit of the Australian people which for me has always been, whatever they do. they do it correctly and professionally and with warm enthusiasm. An experience to savour and right up there with our best ever travel moments. Back to Crystal Cascades for the final sundowner of our stay in Cairns and it needs to be said. If there was an award for the cleanest and best laid out city/town on planet Earth, Cairns would get my vote! It is an exceptionally beautiful place to visit.

Drifting off into blissful slumber, the only pertinent thought was, where to next?

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