Townsville and heading further north..

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Oceania » Australia
May 11th 2022
Published: May 12th 2022
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Wed 27th we left the mountain river cabin in Eungella to head for Townsville. We suspected a very wet campo so again a park was in order. To our pleasure, and amazement, once down the mountain, the weather cleared and we had blue skies. There was even some warmth in the sunshine. We thought that if the weather held up and we could find a stop along the way, perhaps we could open up the campo and let things dry out a little. We were in ĺuck! Chris pulled over off the highway and onto a side road where we saw a large bus shelter parking area. It was just after lunch and the sun was so warm so we thought, this would be a perfect spot. We opened up the campo and sure enough the matresses, doona etc were wet so it all came out - we had things hanging all over the shelter seats, lying on the ground- it was great to have some space and wouldnt take us that long to dry out.

Whilst there we saw a white ute go past a few times. On his return, he luckily came over and let us know that this was a bus interchange and all the school buses would be there soon!! Arghh- how long did we we have?? We had 15 minutes and made the most of it. Fortunately for us, everything was pretty much dry and we were just packing down the campo when we saw the first bus coming along the road. Phew- we made it out in time!! After our success, we were rapt to head off knowing we now had a dry place to sleep for the night. Given the volume of rain we were experiencing, we realised that we probably couldnt do our bush camps as we needed somewhere with a shelter ( to be able to cook at least) and just hope we have minimal leakage while the campo is set up. We drove all the rest of the day and pulled into Townsville in the dark. We again stayed at a park however this time it was near the esplanade but close to the Town Common bushland and wetland reserve. We found our spot in the dark and set up. It was a great spot up the back with very few other campers and although quite wet underfoot, it was very quiet.

We awoke the next morning after a restful sleep, without rain and hearing the mournfall calls of the bush stone curlew through the night. I love these unique birds with their beautiful big eyes, elegant legs and amazing posture that any ballet teacher would be very proud of. The camp kitchen facilities were the quality of some high end accommodation, and none that we had experienced in a park before. We had decided to stay an extra night here, so we had a reprieve from a day of driving and to enjoy the warmth. Given that, and therefore we didnt have to pack up and rush off, we headed out to the Town Common in search of some birds. It was a fabulous morning seeing a number of new birds and some local habitats. Amazingly, on our walk, hawkeye Chris spotted a baby frill-necked lizard- very cute!!. We came back to camp, had lunch and got some jobs done and then later on headed out for a run along the esplanade. What a great location and town! We ran along following the scenic coastline, up and over the artillery hill down towards the esplanade proper. This provided fabulous views of m
Magnetic island and was very picturesque. After the run we ventured to Castle Hill, which is a huge rock formation in the centre of town that is quite popular with locals as a training route for walkers and runner. It has road to the top allowing magic 360 degree views. We then headed back to the esplanade and to the Strand Rockpool for  swim. I can hear you questioning- a swim in Townsville?? What about the prehistoric creatures that inhabit the waters here, or the tiny but potent stingers??? Well we had it on good local advice that this was safe. It is a formed rockpool on the edge of the beach where they pump in natural seawater (& somehow have bars or filters to prevent the wildlife getting in!). Anyway, it was delightful to have a swim after the steamy day. From here we went back to camp, had a wash and cooked tea before heading down to the ice creamery where we were spoilt with delicious ice creams while watching the curlews and brushtail possums scamper about across the foreshore. It was a fabulous day, with warmth and no rain ( Blind Melon fans)!!However throughout the day we had a feeling that unbeknown to us, we had inadvertently (in the dark) set up in the wrong campspot (thats what blinding rain can do!!). We were assured that if this was the case it wouldnt be a problem as there were many other available spots. However, i think perhaps some miscommunication between the hosts meant they werent working off the same page and it was actually a problem- one we found out first hand when a new family arrived late in the day ready to set up in their spot, and found us there!! I felt like goldilocks. Anyway, the family were terrific, and as there was no clarification by the hosts, we sorted it out so that it worked for both of us.

Fri 29th we really needed to head off as we were making our way to Etty Bay, which is just south of Innisfail. Although reluctant to head off, the one thing we noticed about the location here were the midgies, aka, sand flies. The immense rain events had saturated the grounds and these despicable little creatures who suck your blood and make you itch for weeks had bloomed and were in places other than just mangroves. As you can imagine, this was a nightmare for Merlin and I as they feasted on our skin in droves. So although we didnt want to leave, a new location would hopefully provide some respite.

As we drove north, the clouds congregated and the rain came. We arrived in Etty Bay to it pouring and the grounds being so moisture rich that we could see the evidence of others falling foul to the soft ground. We got to our camp spot and set up. Although a beautiful setting the conditions were challenging. Luckily for us, our friends were staying in a cabin so we were able to cook in there with them. It rained heavy and constantly all night long. Initially we had intended on spending 3 nights in this beautiful locale as we wanted to try and find the cassowary and enjoy the surrounds. A check of the rainfall radar highlighted that the rain was getting worse ( not sure how it could be worse??) rather than better and so we made the decision to head off that day. This was saddening as we really wanted to see the Cassowary and enjoy this spot. Whilst making this decison looking out at the rain from our friends cabin, Chris exclaimed " we just need a cassowary to walk by and then we can head off". Merlin quipped, "there's a cassowary" and Chris and I both thought he was entertaining us with his usual humour. But he was for real, as we looked and a cassowary was quietly ambling by the camp spots!! We couldnt believe it- the unvierse was definitely on our side! We spent the next hour slowly following, watching, photographing and journeying the grounds with this cassowary, who we found out is a local and has been there for about 30 years. Lucky for us, she is quite bold and determined and not fussed by us humans gawking at her beauty.

As the cassowary headed back to the bush, we noticed a very slight break in the rain. We got cracking in packing up and then folded down the campo using as many tarps etc as we could to stem the damage of what would be, wet mattresses etc. As we were doing this- we noticed some campers had arrived next to us and were trying, unsuccessfully, to set up their tent in not only challenging conditions but on inch deep wet grounds. We helped as much as we could and gave them the weather info. I felt sorry for them over the next night and just hoped that somehow they could stay dry.

Once packed up we headed to the beach (in the stinger net protected area that we were told was ok for crocs unless super turbulent - is that by Vic standard or Qld standards??? Who knew??) Anyway we all had a great swim/ surf in the beach and then washed up ready to head off. Although it was a very quick visit we were so lucky to see the cassowary and have a bit of fun in the beach.
We kept heading north and arrived in Cairns at the Crystal Cascades Park which is just on the outskirts of town adjacent the lush bush. The people at the park were fantastic- they let us choose our spot and were very obliging when they saw we had converted half of their camp kitchen into our laundry - drying out mattresses, towels, tarps etc.. Although we still had rain, there were breaks where we had a glimmer of sun and dry weather. Again underfoot everything was soaked but once set up, we were staying for 4 or 5 nights, so wouldnt be moving anytime soon.

The next few days through to 5th May were spent doing work/homework and admin in the camp kitchen, along with lots of other fun activities- birding along the esplanade, at the botanic gardens and in the diverse creekside vegetation just behind the park. We were again delighted to share the park with bush stone-curlews and other amazing birdlife such as the metallic starlings, fig-parrots, to name a few. Every day rain was forecast and true to the predictions, down it came- making photography difficult and often few and far between. We went on walks and runs nearby and to the Crystal Cascades (even though the mozzies tried to carry us away!!). Some rev head go kart racing was had, as well as a trip on the SkyRail cablecar up and back to the quaint Kuranda village. Merlin was sure I was going to let loose again and begged me to keep the screaming to a minimum. He was very impressed when no exclaimations were forthcoming, and I just sat in my seat and hardly moved!! The cablecar, for all of its high risk issues and the flimsy cable it runs along, is actually the best way to travel up there- we had spectacular views and even spotted some fabulous birds in the tops of the trees below us!!Once at Kuranda we saw the stunning butterfly displays and enclosure where we walked amongst various local species. It was saddening to learn that the striking Ulysses Butterfly only has a lifespan up to 10-15 days- talk about making the most of your time on this earth- so much to do, so little time!!

However, possibly the best day was the day we went out on a boat to Michelmas Cay and Hastings Reef. Michelmas Cay is a tiny sand island situated about an hour and a half off the coast of Cairns and is part of the unique Great Barrier Reef. It is a tiny solace for numerous seabirds and happens to have some amazing coral reefs and fish life its surrouding waters. This was going to be tricky as you know Chris doesnt have sea legs but it was a short trip (relatively) and with the prospect of some great bird sightings and photograpy opportunities, he was willing to give it a crack. Merlin was also keen as this would hopefully provide some new birds for him to see as well as some great snorkelling opportunities. We came prepared, having our mandatory ginger seasick prevention 30 minutes ahead of departure. The trip out started well but a little way in, the rocking started playing havoc with Chris' senses and thus his brain signals, and the uneasiness started to build. We focussed on the horizon ( not the pitchin and tossin) and luckily were there before we knew it. We got to land and it was a welcome feeling. Here we all spent time  spoting all the birds not prevously seen, or at least for a very long time, such as Common Noddy, Sooty Terns and the Great Frigatebirds ( just to name a few). Chris then got into photography mode and was in his element. Merlin and I also had some fun, getting our photographic creativity happening (see pic). Out here there were no bities, we had sunshine, clear to cloudy skies and warmth- so it was a welcome respite. Merlin and I donned our stinger suits and ventured into the warm waters- the coral and sea life were so striking. After this we headed back on board, had lunch and then ventured out to Hastings Reef. This is further out and is a deep sea reef. Here we all donned our suits and snorkeling gear and jumped into the ocean. The corals and fish were even better at this location. Although the corals were definitately less vibrant than our previous trip 9 years ago, it was reassuring to still see some individual coral structures showing  brilliant colours. The diversity in size, shape, colour and numbers of fish species was amazing. We all had our favourites, mine being the False- eye Toby, Chris' was the Foxfaced Rabbitfish and Merlin's was the Striped Surgeonfish. We spent about an hour or so exploring the reef and then it was back to the boat ready for the trek back to land. The start of the trip back was as expected, a little choppy. Luckily, the early mornings and late nights caught up with Chris and Merlin and allowed them some time to rest their eyes on the return journey. This in turn, meant that motion sensors were not messed with and we safely made it back onto land. The trip was fabulous and all the crew so friendly and knoweldgeable. We even got the hot tip on the best Thai food in town and they were right. Following the yummy dinner, we went in search of some Rufous Owls and luckily came across one in town- a wonderful way to finsh off a fantastic day.

Finally the day came for us to leave Cairns. On Fri 5th we spent the morning running and then birding. We packed up and then headed out and were on our way to Bonadio RV and nature park in the Atherton tablelands. We had been told about this place at Etty Bay. It was a camp spot along a fabulous creekline which boasted many birds but also platypus. It had the essential elements (an amazing rustic, wildlife viewing and functional camp kitchen) and easy going hosts. This fortunately was one of our shortest travels, which was terrific.  We got there, set up camp and as we were about to explore the host came for 'feeding time'. There was no way we were missing this so we followed him into the camp shelter and sat to watch the animals visit. Here, a number of brushtail possums and red-legged pademelons came in to the yummy peanuts on offer. They were very friendly, allowing us to get up close enough to give them a little scratch. We were even able to feed a few - we didnt feel like tempting a trip to the Atherton hospital, so Merlin didnt handle the nuts directly but we found a solution so he was able to experience the fun of the little creatures hands grasping for their treats. The next few days were terrific, despite the constant rain. The birding was amazing, allowing us great views of the grey headed robin, emerald dove, spotted catbird and many more, as well as our favourites, the bush stone-curlews. Merlin and i were extremely lucky to spy the elusive platypus in the creek. We went in search it and whilst patiently scanning, a juvenile platypus surfaced, paddled around for a few seconds before diving down under again. We watched and waited. He popped up again and this time we timed him- 5 seconds surfaced, then under water for about 35 seconds. On this went for some time and each underwater event traversed about 10m of the creek, until we lost him in the reeds- such a wonderful experience to see this little guy. Whilst the rain had been constant, all reports were that it was going to be really heavy from Sun 8th and in the course of the next 3-5 days, we could get 5 times the normal amount of rain for May. As such we were already booked into Chambers Wildlife lodges on 9th and 10th which was fortunate. I rang to see if we could secure additional days either side and again the universe was shining on us- they had just had a cancellation so we were set-  now we would be right for the worst of it.

Sun 8th we had to get the campo packed up before it pelted down, but we also wanted to dry it out from the wet night.  It was a balancing act- after two attempts we were able to get it dry enough to pack up and do the packing in a slim break in the weather.  Once done we were free to explore and enjoy the trails before heading out. These next few hours were probably the best photographic hours Chris has had on the trip so far, as he generally had a break from the rain and he found a little pocket of bush teeming with birds interested in checking him out. We said goodbye to our bush stone curlews, pademelons and possums and headed off. Although sad to leave, we were excited to get to our next destination (Chambers Wildlife Lodge) and we knew Bonadios would definitely be a place to come back to when the weather was kind.

Additional photos below
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