Brisbane to Hervey Bay 19 - 29 August 2012

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August 28th 2012
Published: September 1st 2012
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Would you believe it but at Cairns Airport we met up with Ulrike and her daughter Theresa from Austria who had been travel companions on the first leg of our cruise on the Coral Princess to the Great Barrier Reef - its a small world. Theresa had enjoyed her diving boat trip but the weather had not been too kind and she said she seemed to be permanently wet and cold - although she did get to see some lots of marine life. We told her that we had won the quiz on the second leg of the journey and that we did have some questions on fish...... She said that she knew all the fish now and had seen all the different types on her recent dives and was beginning to recognise the differences.

We caught the shuttle bus to the Novotel, located in Brisbane Airport Village and the next day took a taxi to pick up a Motorhome from AAM again. This time though it would only be for ten days which was all we had left of our time in Australia. We set off towards the Sunshine Coast stopping at Caloundra at the southern end of the coast. We walked around the headland which had several beaches and a promenade which took you all around the foreshore. We walked along Dicky Beach where a shipwreck stood prominently on the ocean edge. The area was named after the iron steamboat, the SS Dicky which ran aground during heavy seas in 1893. It was re-floated, but again, heavy seas turned the ship about and back onto the sand where it remains to this day - although there is not much left. Dicky Beach remains the only recreational beach in the world to be named after a shipwreck........

We booked into a caravan park in Noosa and the next day visited Noosa National Park to undertake the walks we had missed on our journey this way all those weeks ago when the rain did not seem to stop and I had spent most of our time there in Noosa Hospital. We called into the National Park Office to pick up a walking map and set off. Noosa National Park is quite small and as the area has become more urbanized the park is becoming more aware of conservation and it protects several rare and threatened species including the glossy Black Cockatoo, Red Goshawk, Koala, Swamp Orchid and Christmas Bell. The park has spectacular coastal scenery and stunning ocean views along part of its diverse walks. We combined the Coastal Track with the Tanglewood Track about 13 km. The Coastal track skirted the shoreline passing several headlands with good views. We passed Tea Tree Bay, Winch & Picnic Cove and continued on to Hells Gate where the views were good and you could see the ocean pounding the cliffs far below. We then walked inland picking up the Tanglewood Track, one of the more isolated inland walks which meandered through rainforest, open eucalypt woodlands and closed woodlands which was a refuge for native plants, animals and birds. We had never seen such a mix of woodlands so close together and the terrain changed so quickly as we walked along the track. We saw many birds and flowering plants but did not spot any Koalas although they had been seen near Tea Tree Cove the day before. We stayed in the area for a couple of days before heading to Hervey Bay stopping in Gympie on our way through.

We booked into a Big 4 caravan park at Point Vernon which was just outside Hervey Bay and met up with the Managers who we had met on our way to Cairns a few weeks ago. They said that the Humpback Whales had arrived in the bay in large numbers with many pods being seen daily. The last time we were here it did not seem to stop raining but the weather was looking good and the whale boats were going out which was great. The caravan park was quite small and we met some very friendly travellers who even offered to get shopping for us when they drove into ‘town’ so that we did not have to move our van and awning.......... At 1600 hours ‘happy hour’ began and continued for most of the evening in the Camp Kitchen. Campers would bring their drinks and congregate in the kitchen area for a ‘yarn’ with other travellers, swapping stories of their travels in a lovely friendly atmosphere. We met couples from all of the states of Australia and they all made us feel very welcome. We often chatted to Bill and Geraldine who had brought their caravan over from Perth. They had arrived in Australia from Birmingham over 50 years ago and Bill still had an accent. We did a lot of walking and one day walked around the headland of Point Vernon and saw a large nest with a pair of Ospreys feeding on a huge fish - the nest was ideally situated right near the shoreline on top of a large pole which seemed to have been placed their just for the birds. The caravan park was in a built up area with many large individually designed houses in an ideal location overlooking Hervey Bay which had grown rapidly since whale watching started in the 80s. There was only a small strip of native bush left where we were and we were surprised to see several large kangaroos feeding in this urban triangle. It was surprising that they survived here but they seem to be thriving with several large joeys tucked up in their mothers’ pouches.

We booked a tour to see the whales with Freedom Whale Watch a spacious and versatile Catamaran and were picked up from our caravan park. Freedom III had a proud history, being previously owned by a renowned documentary film producer. The vessel was purchased by Keith and Sue Reid, who then sailed the boat from Port Douglas to Hervey Bay. In 2009 the boat was ready to take on its first season as Hervey Bay’s luxury three quarter day whale watching vessel. We were glad that we had chosen this smaller boat with a maximum of 40 passengers as some of the other boats were huge and can take up to 200. Freedom also only has one longer trip a day, whereas the others go out several times for shorter time slots. Several boats were moored up in the harbour and were not going out due to lack of numbers, even in this the height of their short whaling season. There were also several whale boats up for sale - it must be difficult when the season only last a maximum of three months particular in the current economic climate.

Keith the owner of Freedom welcomed us on board as we set off out of the harbour with only 29 passengers so plenty of space and we were soon tucking into jam and fresh cream scones and profiteroles. Keith makes these himself, 1000 at a time to serve on his boat - they were really yummy. We soon sighted whales in the distance and before long we were joined by a pod of four that came right up close to the boat, you could easily reach out and touch them. The skipper, Barry said that on their trip yesterday the whales had also came up close but today they were more active and we were astounded when they started breaching and tail slapping before lifting their heads above the waterline to get a good view of us....... We had seen photographs of the humpbacks but the huge size of these giants of the deep was just staggering. One female just kept rolling over and over and then floated completely upside down right in front of the boat showing us her ‘belly’ for ages. This is what we had come to see and even though we had seen photographs nothing compares to seeing these lovely creatures so close and we would remember these encounters for a very long time.

Humpback Whales belong to the group of whales known as rorquals, a group that includes the Blue Whale (the largest and what we had seen in Sri Lanka), the Fin Whale, Sei Whale, Bryde's Whale and the Minke Whale. Rorquals have two characteristics in common; dorsal fins on their backs, and ventral pleats running from the tip of the lower jaw to the navel area. They are characterized by the possession of baleen plates for sieving the krill upon which they feed. Humpback Whales are regular visitors to the coastal waters off southern Queensland. Each year, during winter, humpback whales migrate from Antarctic waters, pass through South Island in New Zealand, to the warm waters of the tropics for calving. The skipper said he was hoping to show us some newly born calves and said they would be more likely near the coast so he headed towards Fraser Island and we cruised along the long beach of this giant Great Sandy Island.

Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world and the only place where rainforests are found growing on sand dunes, some at elevations of over 200 meters. It has World Heritage listing, ranking it with Uluru (Red Centre), Kakadu and the Great Barrier Reef and is a place of exceptional beauty with long uninterrupted white beaches flanked by strikingly coloured sand cliffs changing from white to a golden colour. It is very similar to Rainbow Beach where we had stayed a month ago but of course Fraser Island was once part of the mainland thousands of years ago and still had a shallow sandy lagoon bottom. The roads on the island are unsealed tracks so its 4WD only but an idillic location if you have your own transport and are self sufficient brining everything with you - not the place if you like shopping though.........

We sailed along the fraser coast looking for newly born whales and soon came across a group of juveniles playing in the tranquil water and with them were two very small whales. The Skipper was confused as they looked too small to be last year’s young but they were not with their mothers which is quite rare. The mystery was solved quite soon however as appearing out of the deep were two gigantic females following the pod of youngsters. The skipper said the mothers had probably ‘allowed’ their calves to play with the others and they were following close behind keeping a motherly eye on their young. As we headed back to the harbour we came across yet another pod and one of these was a huge male - much bigger than out boat! We had such a lovely day that before we arrived back in the harbour we negotiated a price with Keith the owner to go out again before we returned to Brisbane.

The next few days we lazed around the caravan park, swimming in the ‘cool’ pool - no I mean ‘cold’ pool. The caravan park was home to many birds and we saw plenty of the colourful Blue Faced Honeyeaters which were making their nest in the palm trees - Spring had arrived in Australia. We also noticed several Figbirds, different to the ones we had seen in Cooktown as these were more green than yellow. On checking a useful bird website we saw that these were the Green Figbird found from eastern Victoria to central Queensland The females are mainly olive green/brown with a black head and a patch of bare skin around the eye, which only turns red during breeding season, males have different colouring depending on variant. The Yellow Figbird are the ones we saw at Port Douglas and Cooktown and this variant is found from coastal central Queensland to Cape York in the far north as well as the Northern Territory and Kimberleys. They have a yellow breast and underside merging into white so much lighter and the red eye stands more in the yellow body. Variants overlap on the central Queensland coastal band and there is considerable hybridisation, usually expressed as differing amounts of yellow on the underside. Figbirds live in small groups in breeding months when nests may be quite close together. After breeding, they gather in larger flocks of 20 to 40 birds. Flocks feed in fruiting trees with a fondness for wild and cultivated figs (hence the name) climbing about in trees like parrots hanging from twigs and branches to reach the fruit. The most striking part of both the Green and Yellow Figbird we had seen had been the red eye which made them easy to recognise but of course only in the breeding season.

We returned to the harbour at Hervey Bay and spent another exciting day out on the water with Freedom Whale Watch, seeing many more pods of whales swimming around Fraser Island. What a lovely way to end this second visit of ours to Australia. As we arrived on board we had a lovely chat with Bronwyn who called us from Melbourne to say they had arrived home safely from their travels and everything was fine with their house which we had looked after. We had spoken to a chap on the caravan park only the night before and he said, a friend of his was housesitting in London and also looking after the owner’s dog but on the second day the dog died. He did not know what to do with it so telephoned a vet who said that he would dispose of it if he brought it to him. He was not sure how to do this as he did not have transport so he put the dog into his suitcase and caught the tube. On the tube he met a lad who asked him what he had in his suitcase and he did not know what to say so said ‘it was a musical instrument’. The next thing he knew the chap had jumped off the tube with his suitcase - what a surprise he was in for - at least Bronwyn and Alan did not leave us a dog to look after but I hope their roses survive as Paul gave them a ‘good’ prune before we left........

Back on board’ the skipper said that there had been a very rare sighting that morning of a very large Southern Right Whale with her calf, probably only a week old in the bay. The whale boats were keeping quiet so as not to alert ‘everyone’ in Hervey Bay to get out on the water....... This was only about the seventh sighting of one of these species of whales found in the bay over the years of whale watching. We headed to Platypus Bay where it had last been seen but we did not get a sighting which was a shame, the mother was keeping her calf well hidden............... Amongst more than 16,000 Humpback Whales making their migration past the Fraser Coast last year there was a sighting of a Southern Right Whale and her newborn calf so it looks like they might be gradually moving further further north. They generally only migrate as far north as Byron Bay before returning to Antarctica. The skipper informed us that last year a Humpback Whale was seen nursing a Southern Right Whale calf, which apparently is not uncommon. Approximately 10,000 Southern Right Whales are spread throughout the southern part of the Southern Hemisphere.

We were unsure of the difference between the two whales but the boat had many books and photographs on the subject and generally it is as follows: The Humpback Whale got its name from the way it arches its back as its begins to dive. They are generally energetic with a haunting song which is made up of clicks, moans and an eerie high pitched wail which we heard whilst snorkelling on the Barrier Reef recently. It can grown up to 16 meters and expels a single cloud of vapor when it surfaces to breathe. They have a small dorsal fin on their back and the head is covered with barnacles which are also found on the pectoral fin. The pectoral fins are scalloped and are white along with the underside of the tail and belly. Although our skipper said that recently they are seeing many variations of colour and some have so many spots that they have named one panda! The head and body though is usually dark grey or black in colour. Most females give birth every two or three years, but several females have calves annually. Humpbacks and other whales have only one baby at a time, a whale has never been seen with two live young. The calves are usually about 13 to 15 feet long at birth. They have their own unique moves; Fluke Up Dive, Pectoral Slap, Tail Slap and Breaching, when the whale launches its body from the water, making a splash as it re-enters. The Southern Right Whale moves slower around shallow waters and is readily distinguished from others by the callosities on its head. Callosities appear white due to large colonies of cyamids (whale lice). It has a broad back with no dorsal fin and its pectoral fins are a broad rectangle shape. The tail is also broad with a notch in the middle and its skin is dark grey or black with small white patches on their throat and belly. It expels a ‘V’ shape cloud of vapor when it surfaces to breathe. Southern Right Whales are pregnant for about a year and on average give birth to one calf every three years. They often spend hours in the same location as the mother whale teaches the calf life skills before returning to the Antarctic. Their moves include the Fluke Up Dive the same as the Humpback, Pectoral Fins Up when the whale is laying near the surface, this can occur with a calf suckling attached. Spy Hop is when a whale raises its head out of the water to take a look at whats happening on the surface and we have seen the Humpback do this as well.

We cruised past Platypus Bay travelling along the Fraser Island and soon spotted several more pods of huge Humpbacks who swam up really close to our boat again. They were not so active as they had been a couple of days ago with no breaching, although plenty of tail and pectoral fin slapping which looks just like them waving - to the delight of the passengers on board. Hervey Bay is such an ideal place to see these magnificent creatures, its just as well we do not live here or we would be out on the water every day as it only takes about an hour to get to them. Each time you take to the water its such a unique experience and one you will never forget - but that’s nature for you........... back at the caravan park everyone wanted to know how our day out on the water had been - ‘just perfect’ as also had been our travels around Australia again. Tomorrow we pack up the motorhome and head back to Brisbane to catch our flight to Dubai.

On the way to the airport we took a small detour off the Bruce Highway to the Glass House National Park. We stopped at a lookout point to have some lunch overlooking these strange mountains. They are subterranean intrusions of magna formed throughout the area some 25 million year ago. Over time the softer rock surrounding the intrusions has been eroded away. This has left the hard solidified molten rock spire that are the Glass House Mountains we see today. When Captain Cook first sighted these mountains in May 1770 he named them ‘The Glass Houses’ after the shape of the glass kilns back in the north of England with which he was familiar. As we ate our lunch a huge male Black Striped Wallaby came out of the bush and stood right by us. We walked around the area and spotted lots of the lovely Scribbly Gum and Grass Trees as well as numerous birds, a lovely farewell to this delightful country. We continued on to Brisbane where we handed the van back and caught a taxi to the airport for our flight to Dubai and our onward journey a few days later to the UK - see you there................

PS: We cannot wait to see all our family and friends again although we will miss all the friends we have met and new friends we have made in this wonderful country ......but we will be back....................Our next trip though is to Costa Rica - so hopefully we may see you there as well!!!!!!!!!!!

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