Queensland - North to South Highlights

Published: November 15th 2013
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Cape Tribulation

Cape Tribulation - 'where the rainforest meets the reef', was stunningly scenic and surprisingly quiet. Tourism clearly took a hit when development plans were overturned in 2004. Today in Cape Tribulation there are no more then a few backpackers' lodges strung along the single access road, one dive outfit, a bat house, snake house and general store. We had a cosy and relaxing stay on the Cape Tribulation Fruit Farm, enjoying platefuls of weird but delicious fruits such as Sapote and Soursop for breakfast. The beaches here were glorious, stretching for miles and mostly deserted, but how frustrating it was not to be able to jump in the sea for fear of jellyfish and/or crocs !

Our stay at Cape Tribulation, by Eve

We stayed on a tropical fruit farm in the middle of the Daintree Rainforest. Here are some fascinating facts about the Daintree Rainforest:

• The Daintree is between 150 and 200 million years old, which makes it the oldest tropical rainforest in the world!
• The Daintree is the only place where the rainforest meets the coral reef !
• The coral reef is known as the Great Barrier Reef which is the largest coral reef in the world! We did a snorkelling trip on Mackay Reef, a 30 minute boat trip from Cape Tribulation. The water was warm and clear and we saw turtles and lots of colourful fish.
• The beautiful Cairns Birdwing butterfly lives here, it is the largest butterfly in Australia and has a wingspan of up to 18 cm ! We saw lots of these butterflies but they never sat still enough for me to take a photograph !
• The world's smallest kangaroo, known as the musky rat-kangaroo, lives here !
• Australia's largest frog, known as the White-lipped tree frog, lives here and can grow up to 14cm long!
• There are all sorts of tropical fruits grown here with weird names such as Sapote and Soursop, and they are all delicious !
• The Southern Cassowary is only found here in the tropical rainforest. It is a huge flightless bird, measuring up to 2 metres tall and can be very dangerous. We met a Cassowary which was crossing the road but luckily we were safe in our car !

Our visit to Australia's largest butterfly sanctuary in Kuranda, by Eve

We spent a whole morning watching the butterflies and trying to take photographs of them. We learnt that the brightly coloured butterflies are able to stop and rest for longer because their bright colours warn off predators, but the blue Ulysses butterfly has to keep flying all day long !Did you know that:

• Butterflies will only lay their eggs on specific plants that they like. It is important to keep rainforests with a variety of plants and trees so that all kinds of butterflies can live there.
• Butterfly feet have tiny hooks that help them to grasp slippery surfaces.
• A butterfly has multi-faceted eyes that give them almost 360 degree vision.
• Butterflies feed with a long 'tongue' called a proboscis that is usually neatly curled up when it is not being used. It puheir eggs on specific plants that they like.
• Ulysses butterflies only live for 10-15 days, the Cairns Birdwing lives for 4-6 weeks and the Monarch butterfly lives up to a year.

Mission Beach

From Cape Tribulation we drove down south of Cairns to El Arish, prepared for our first taste of wwoofing (Williing Workers on Organic Farms). In a nutshell it was a disaster and a lesson for us to not rely completely on the hosts' written descriptions given in the WWOOF membership book. We had committed to helping out on on a 'thriving exotic fruit farm, in newly converted accommodation', but the reality was a large tin shed in the middle of endless scrub, and sleeping quarters a large cupboard with bunk beds draped with cobwebs. Even the hardiest and most penniless backpacker would have been desperate to stay there. We promptly turned round and headed to Mission Beach for the night. Woofers be warned, Offering to help David Chandler of El Arish exotic fruit farm is not a good idea. We promptly turned around and headed for relative luxury in a caravan park on Mission Beach for a few nights.

Atherton Tablelands

My favourite destination in our Queensland journey. We all loved this area, Rob for the cool climate, me for the forests and wealth of bird life, and Eve who was excited to see such unusual animals as tree kangaroos and platypus. We could easily have stayed a couple of weeks there, hiking and swimming in the lakes.

Unusual animals that we saw at Atherton Tablelands, by Eve

We saw about 5 platypus in different places, they seem to like waterfalls and come out to feed at dusk. The platypus is endemic to Eastern Australia. It is a unique mammal because it lays eggs and feeds its babies with milk. It has a very strange shaped bill like a duck, a wide flat tail and thick waterproof fur. It also has webbed feet.

One day we were driving through a forest and mummy spotted a tree kangaroo in an overhanging tree by the side of the road. We stopped and got out to look but could not find it even after searching for 40 minutes. So we got back in the car and drove for 2 minutes and then we all spotted it! It looked really cuddly with a cute face, looking down at us with wide round eyes. Later on that day we saw another tree kangaroo in the forest. The Lumholtz tree kangaroo is only found around Atherton and is rare, so we were lucky to see two.

Sunshine Coast Hinterland

We chickened out on driving down the coast to the Sunshine Coast, taking the quicker route by plane. From Brisbane we hired another car to take us up into the Sunshine Hinterland, a beautiful, refreshing area of rolling countryside, huge homesteads and trendy market towns. We were all relieved to find our second wwoofing experience, in Landsborough near Noosa, to be a great success. Our hosts Jeff and Wendy, are not full time farmers but manage their small holding as a hobby, with a vegetable and banana patch, pond, chooks and one lonely sheep to tend to; but perfect for us as family woofers to work altogether on weeding, fence painting and feeding the chooks, with Eve as chief wheelbarrow pusher. In return we had the garage to sleep in next to the cars, but surprisingly comfortable and cosy. The farm itself was in a stunning location, up in the hills overlooking the glasshouse mountains, and a nice cool climate to work in. It felt strangely satisfying to be doing something along the lines of 'work' for a change !

Rainbow beach

We loved Rainbow Beach for many reasons. A refreshing break in the continuous line of resorts and seaside towns along the Sunshine Coast, Rainbow Beach is more a semi rural village, active but quiet, and clearly a hip place for travellers to chill out for a few days, on the beach and the dunes or camping in the Great Sandy National Park. Famous for its cliffs of coloured sands Rainbow Beach is also surrounded by miles of fascinating dune forest, mostly accessible only by 4WD. The morning that we walked the length of the wild and windswept Rainbow Beach towards the coloured sand cliffs we hardly saw a soul, and Eve filled pots with 7 different colours of sand from the cliffs behind. The cliffs themselves appeared so fragile and vulnerable to erosion from the pounding seas and winds. At sunset we watched the changing colours of the sands from the top of a huge blowhole of powder white sand high on the cliffs.

Hervey Bay

Debbie, the effusive owner of Debbie's Place in Rainbow beach described Hervey Bay as 'where the newly weds and nearly deads' go for their holidays. She was right, we almost wished we had stayed at gorgeous Rainbow Beach instead of venturing further north, for rather than the happening, family friendly seaside town we were expecting, Hervey Bay appeared to us to be tired, quiet and full of holiday apartments for retired people. The only highlight for us, and one of our overall trip highlights to date, was an overnight stay on Lady Elliott Island.

Lady Elliott Island

We blew the budget on an expensive but rewarding overnight trip to Lady Elliott Island, the southernmost cay of the Great Barrier Reef, and a 40 minute flight from Hervey Bay. LEI is one of only 3 island based resorts within the entire Great Barrier Reef marine park, and is suitably small, low key and with minimal impact on the environment. Hard to imagine that until the early 20th century the entire island was mined for guano used as fertiliser, which left the island stripped all of the trees and 3 feet of soil removed from the surface. Today the island surrounding the resort is densely forested with coastal oaks and screw palms and the island's importance is not only for the surrounding coral reef but also for supporting huge numbers of sea birds during the breeding season. Arriving ourselves at the beginning of the nesting season we were definitely outnumbered by terns and noddies by thousandfold to one. We felt very much the island invaders as we trod carefully to our tent through the ear deafening squawks, sidestepping nesting noddies on the paths and in the bushes, but the birds and their chicks seemed to be un-phased by our presence. Snorkelling just off shore we were also outnumbered by turtles, Eve was delighted to be swimming at last with them and in only an hour snorkelling we saw four green turtles and two loggerheads, as well as two black tipped reef sharks and an enormous manta ray being 'cleaned' by smaller fish.

Our Highlights of Lady Elliott Island, by Eve

• Flying over the island in a tiny plane and seeing the coral reef from the air
• Landing on the small grassy and bumpy airstrip in our tiny plane
• Snorkelling with Hawksbill and Green Turtles, too many to count!
• Seeing huge Manta Rays float underneath our boat
• Being surrounded by nesting birds, swooping and 'pooping' all over the place !
• Wading through the rock pools at low tide and spotting brightly coloured fish and starfish
• Feeling the nice cool sea breeze and comparing it to the heat of the Northern Territory !


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