We cross the Tropic of Capricorn and visit Magnetic Island

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August 4th 2008
Published: September 20th 2008
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feature photo: view from Hill Inlet feature photo: view from Hill Inlet feature photo: view from Hill Inlet

across to Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island
August 4 - we stopped off at Gladstone and caught up with Michelle, one of Steph’s mates, who was the sports reporter for the local paper (now back in NZ), and we enjoyed a good night at the Yacht Club together. The next day we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn at Rockhampton, and stopped to visit the lush and tropical Botanic Gardens there, before taking the coast road out to Yeppoon. We don’t book ahead for caravan parks, and this generally works OK but this area seemed to be a v erypopular holiday destination - we tried about 5 parks along the coast before finally finding a site at a small rather run-down park in Yeppoon. It’s the Mexicans again - hordes of Victorians up sticks every winter and head north to get some sunshine and warmth - the locals call them the Mexicans, from south of the border, and lot of Queenslanders don’t like the way invade their state in winter! We counted 200 caravans and campers driving south the next day on our run through to Mackay - but there were still plenty of them when we got there. Still amazed at how many Australians are on the road - how many over 50’s are still at home we wonder?

We were definitely still deep in sugar cane country- the miles of cane fields make the area look so lush and green. We did a day trip out to Eungella National Park from Mackay and we ascended into the heavens via a very steep mountain road to the small town of Eungella, perched up the top, and set amongst magnificent tropical rainforest. Mackay itself is a rather nice city in the midst of the cane and the caravan park was set in tropical vegetation, as was our next park at Airlie Beach.

Stopped at Cape Hillsborough National Park on the way up to Airlie - here the beach was deserted and beautiful and the walk around the top of the headland was one of the best we have done so far - and quiet and peaceful - with lots of butterflies and birds. Quite a contrast to Airlie Beach, which was rather a shock. AB is in a beautiful setting on Shute Harbour and is the gateway to the fantastic Whitsunday Islands - but someone seems to be hell bent on ruining the place - the town
Banyan trees, Rockhampton Bot GardensBanyan trees, Rockhampton Bot GardensBanyan trees, Rockhampton Bot Gardens

these ones seem to have got themselves all tied up!
is another Byron Bay - chock full of tour operators, backpacker hostels and souvenir shops and they are busy filling in part of the harbour to build another marina and multi-storey apartments! And to our surprise, we found out after we checked in, that our caravan park was next door to the airport, which was also a major construction site - they are building 50 apartments each with their own hangar so the owners can fly in! Changed caravan sites to one further from the dust and noise and wouldn’t you know it, they stopped work for the weekend just after we moved the van!

Hey it’s not all bad - the landscaped swimming lagoon area on the foreshore is lovely - there are similar places on the waterfront in Townsville and Cairns, as the beaches are not safe for swimming in the summer because of marine stingers and other nasties. On Sunday, we did a day trip out to the Whitsunday Islands (well, not all of them as there are quite a number, I forget how many) - and this was another trip highlight.

Faced with a myriad of brochures on trips out to the islands - we enlisted some advice from the helpful staff at our park, and ended up with a good one - Reefjet had a great crew (Stu turned the safety briefing into a hilarious comedy act) - and they took us out through the Whitsunday Passage to Tongue Bay, where we walked up to Hill Inlet to admire the view across to Whitehaven Beach, which was stunning! This is the beach on the “where the bloody hell are you” Australian tourism ads. The combination of white silica sand and turquoise blue water is quite dazzling. From here got picked up from the beach below in a rubber dinghy and ferried back to our boat and onto Whitehaven Beach - this was quite exciting as we were racing the outgoing tide. The further north you go, the bigger the tides are and the crew must get the timing right or you could get stuck there! Whitehaven was fantastic for swimming with warm crystal clear water. After lunch, we went across to Border Island for snorkelling, this time off the back of the boat. Great variety of coloured fish and some really impressive coral, including staghorns. We were lucky again with the weather as it turned out warm and sunny after a cloudy start.

Our last stop before Townsville was Bowen, which is where they filmed the movie “Australia” with Nicole Kidman (comes out in November I think). It is easy to see why they chose Bowen as a set for Darwin in WWII, as it is a small country town with very wide streets and few kerbs or footpaths. We liked it very much and hope that it stays as it is. There are some really nice beaches around the town, especially Horseshoe Bay, and the town lookout has stunning views out to Gloucester Island and the northern Whitsundays.

Like most of the cities along the Queensland coast, Townsville is set on both the river and the ocean. We thought the city centre needed some work but the sea front was pleasant, and towering over the city is Castle Hill, with great views all around. A few highlights here - the lush and tropical Queens gardens, the Palmateum (a huge garden devoted solely to palms of every variety) and Magnetic Island.

We spent two days over at Magnetic Island, affectionately called Maggie by the locals, and treated ourselves to a night in a motel at Picnic Bay. Maggie is a 30 minute boat ride over from Townsville and it’s quite small so it was easy to get around on bus and by foot and we left the car back on the mainland. We were pleased we didn’t take the bikes over as it is very hilly. Basically it’s made up of a pile of large granite boulders - a very interesting landscape. We loved it - there’s very little high rise and it was quiet and peaceful despite there being quite a few tourists around. We pottered around the beaches which were good for swimming and some snorkelling too. There are lots of walking tracks on the island - one track takes you up to the Forts which were a major part of Australia’s defence in WWII.

Back to Townsville and it was a bit like being in WWII really, or a scene from MASH, as we were right near the airport (again) and it is a major military base, so there were planes and choppers going right over the caravan park!

Next stop: Far North Queensland

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scenery near Cape Hillsboroughscenery near Cape Hillsborough
scenery near Cape Hillsborough

sugar cane among the palms

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