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Published: August 8th 2019
After several days living out of the jeep, we experienced having a two bed apartment in Cairns as living in a mansion! Added to that, we were very excited to meet up with our visitors from home: Granny and Grandad were in Cairns waiting to join us for this leg, having already enjoyed a few days meeting up with Grandad's cousin Kyran who lives here. We had planned for three days in Cairns to allow plenty of time to catch up with with Kyran and to soak up the chilled out 'Cains' vibe.
After Kyran's generous airport pick up service, Senan promptly passed out in the back of his car on the way to the hotel. He got a good nap in while I set out to locate Granny and Grandad who were staying in the same complex. As that day was also Granny's birthday, she and I hit the shops for a catch up and an overdue dose of retail therapy. Upon our return a fully recharged Senan was super excited to see his visitors and was keen to tell them all about his travels thus far on planes and helicopters. Granny got a celebratory birthday dinner that evening,
with extra help from Senan to blow out the candles, while enjoying an extra long birthday as the birthday wishes poured in from Ireland all evening and continued through the night.
While Granny and Grandad were off snorkeling(!) on the Great Barrier Reef the next day, cousin Kyran brought us to the Hartley Croc Farm. It's a busy tourist trap to the north of Cairns, but it was quite fun as you can get your fill of snakes, a crocadile boat trip, an exhilarating croc attack show, get up close to cuddly koala's and Senan even got to pet a baby crocodile at their Croc farm. It's an interesting one as during the croc farm visit you hear about how they believe they are actually assisting the Crocodile species survival by pushing up supply by farming them for their pelts thus making them less valuable to catch in the wild. Dinner that evening was, en famille, at the Cairns Night Markets, where I got another hit of food court - I really am like a kid in a candy shop when we visit them!
On our last day we left Senan with Granny and Grandad in a kiddy
heaven playground on the Esplanade called Muddys - while I hit the shops for a long over due hair salon visit and a mani/pedi which went a long way to making me feel human again after the weeks of dust! Overall it was just really nice to take a day off from constantly being on the go and just do some normal things.
The day we were due to leave Cairns, it started raining. That wasn't what we expected in Cairns, however chauffeur Kyran saved the day by bringing Phillippe to get the camper, while the rest of us packed up again for another move. On the plus side, the camper is similar to our Perth abode, so it was easier to redistribute all our belongings, following the same rules, just adding Granny and Grandad's cases to the mix.
We bid Kyran adieu and headed off slightly inland towards the Millaa Millaa Falls. It was a bit of detour but was worth it as it gave us the opportunity to experience the misty mountainous tropics up close, stepping back in time to enjoy afternoon tea at the Nerada Tea plantation.
Our first camping pit stop was in
Mission Beach. It's not so far from Cairns as the crow flies, but it was close enough to ease us all into our camping experience. Rather than pack the five of us into the campervan at night, we found campsites that had cabins for Granny and Grandad to sleep in, while Senan, Philippe and I 'slummed it' in the luxurious motorhome. In a case of 'it's a small-world', upon arrival at the campsite we learned that a local songstress named Jenny Brosnan (which is Granny's maiden name) was singing at the camp kitchen. We literally pulled up our own pew (camp seats) and mixed in with the other campers, listening to the country tunes while sipping some afternoon drinks.
Although he hid it well, Philippe wasn't feeling great at this point, but soldiered through it as we put some solid miles on the clock to get as far as Townsville. As Philippe stayed close to 'home', Senan, Granny and Grandad and I set off on foot to explore the strand promenade - a walk that turned out to put a lot more steps on our pedometer than we intended, but was a nice way to get a sense of
the vibrant beach culture.
Townsville was our gateway to get the passenger ferry to spend an overnighter on Magnetic Island. In a moment of fun we decided to rent two 'topless' Daihaitsu cars to whizz around the island. After checking into the Arcadia Hotel, the boys car and the girls car buzzed over to Picnic Bay for lunch and then back towards Horseshoe Bay, stopping off at the Forts for a short hike, being rewarded with the magical experience of seeing Koalas in the wild. We even saw a baby koala on its mammy's back!! We caught sunset beside a seaside playground in Horseshoe Bay and then trundled back to the hotel for dinner and drinks in the company of some roaming birds.
Time waits for no one though, and we were up and at it again early the next day to return the rental cars by ten and catch the ferry back to the mainland. With Granny and Senan deep in discussion in the back, all the while eagerly keeping an eye out for the next sugar cane filled Thomas the Tank Engine, we managed to put some more mileage on the clock to get as far
as Airlie Beach, arriving early enough to have an afternoon off to prepare ourselves for an early call for our Whitsundays tour the next day.
Early call it was, when the alarm went a 6.30 so we could be ready for the bus pick up at 7.10am. Armed with swim gear, a gallon of suncream and a heap of towels, we signed ourselves in and made our way to the Dervent Hunter, our beautiful tall ship for the day.
After Senan befriended all the crew and other passengers and ate his way through ALL the biscuits, he eventually accepted to wear his supercute life jacket all day. Philippe and Grandad were recruited to help with hoisting the sails. As an added bonus to the day we managed to see whales waving and breaching out in the water! (And when they were gone, Senan informed that they were 'gone for a swim' ...too cute!)
As we were preparing to reach our first snorkeling drop off point, Philippe and I were doubting on whether to bring Senan out in the water or not. I have to say that the crew were fantastic - finding a teeny stinger suit, wet
suit, and snorkel mask (for the picture only!), and they even produced a wave board with a window in it so Senan could join mammy and daddy snorkeling and see the coral and fish through the window. Snorkeling the reef remains a special experience - the explosion of colour beneath the water continues to amaze me. We were even lucky enough to see a green turtle swimming around!
After an hour of bobbing around the bay, we upped anchor and headed around the corner. By this stage Senan was making noises about needing 'a little sleep', so he and I remained on the tall ship as Philippe, Granny and Grandad headed off for snorkeling part II - where apparently the turtle they found was even bigger!!
Senan eventually nodded off on my lap and was transferred into the couch in the captain's cabin, where he remained KO'ed despite the engines starting again a while later! As the winds rose up, we made good time back to shore, holding on carefully as we drank a nice few beers in the sun on deck.
From Airlie Beach we headed further south to Rockhampton. To minimize total travel time we
took to stopping for lunchtime picnics at local parks with hotplates (and playgrounds of course!) and just eating out of our campervan fridge. Usually there was another visitor nearby so it was a nice way to have a bit of a chat with the other tourists, while stuffing ourselves with sandwiches.
We arrived late to a rather rubbish campsite in Rockhampton. We figured it was only for one night, and it allowed us to make a brief stop at the nearby Capricorn Spire the next day for the geography buffs amongst our motley crew.
We went from Rockhampton to Bargara, and managed a brief stop to sample some rum at the Bundaberg Distillery (basically the Guinness Storehouse of Queensland!). After traipsing around multiple campgrounds in Bargara looking for a cabin and a camp spot we finally gave up and located a family apartment in the centre of town where Senan got to have a lovely Thai takeaway with Granny and Grandad while Philippe and I stole away for a dinner, sans highchair.
We hit the road early heading towards Caloundra, managing to squeeze in a random small wine tasting at 'the Hill of Promise' a few miles
outside Maryborough. (It wasn't my sort of wine as it turns out... or maybe it was just that it was 11.15 on a Sunday morning!) .
It was notable that as we inched that bit closer to Brisbane we returned to the land of smooth road surfaces (ie. we could all actually hear each other in the van!) As we reached the final 24hours in the campervan, it was time to start eating the cupboards bare. It's amazing the creativity that hits for a random 'tapas' picnic spread when the alternative is throwing it out!
After a final night and late check out from a lovely campground in Caloundra with a heated pool and a cool water slide (illiciting kamikaze moves from a fearless Senan, who even convinced Grandad to give it a go!) we trundled our way onwards to Brisbane. It was weird to be back in a big city after the best part of six weeks on the road. It's almost like we immediately felt that bit more unsafe (well the junkies I bumped into while checking into our hotel didn't help the matter) but even with that , it was weird to have to be
aware of pick pockets and locking stuff in a safe again.
We spent our last evening with Granny and Grandad wandering through the city. We even managed to meet up with Paul, a friend from Ireland who lives out here, who we visited 10 years ago on our last world trip. Brisbane is a bustling city, but in truth we barely got to scratch the surface during our pitstop there.
After big hugs and kisses with Granny and Grandad, with promises to see them soon back in Ireland, we made our way back to the hotel to figure out how to to avoid a climate protest that was threatening to influence our trip to the airport the next morning. In the end we decided to just leave ridiculously earlier. We set about, yet again, squeezing all our belongings into our luggage. It's one part of the traveling that I won't miss...
Senan has grown very excited about all things planes related, so he was absolutely buzzing with excitement as we made our way through Darwin airport, ready for the next leg of our trip: It's Fiji time!!!!
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