Sunday, July 31, 2011

31 July 2011 – Cairns Sunland Leisure Park, Queensland

What a difference the sun makes! We woke to the call of the birds and the rays of the bright sunshine pouring through the palms. The morning passed in a very leisurely manner; the duvet altered to now accommodate just one inner rather than the lumpiness of the domed arrangement I was obliged to tack together back in the Bathhurst freeze all those months ago, a big load of laundry done and dried by lunchtime, The Australian partly read, toasted sandwiches in the electric sandwich maker just for the novelty and the delinquent drain on our camp site bored out with an electric snake to clear the invasive tree roots; all in all a rather quiet way to start the day.

We also pulled the tent, so generously lent to us by Pauline and Neil, out of its bag and erected it, just to prove we could do so. We were in fact quite delighted with the spaciousness of the interior. This makes me feel a little more willing to undertake the expedition to the top of Cape York, the project we are currently planning.

After lunch we headed in to the centre of the city to catch the last hour or so of  Sunday’s Rusty’s market where we purchased a wonderful collection of fruit and vegetables at reasonable prices. Had we wished, we could have also had a Thai massage, our fortunes told, arrayed ourselves in hippy style rags and had random bits of our bodies pierced. Needless to say, the enterprising mainly Asian greengrocers contrasted greatly with those offering the latter services.

We did not linger in town but drove back to the camp and continued to spend the rest of the day in a relaxed fashion, catching up with my parents on Skype to wish my father a happy birthday for tomorrow, his eighty second anniversary.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

30 July 2011 - Cairns Sunland Leisure Park, Queensland

We all have those days, don’t we? Sometimes it is a matter of having climbed out of bed on the wrong side and sometimes one negative leads to another, no doubt all self-induced. And today was one of those days. So if you don’t want to suffer grumpy old grumps, give this posting a miss.

It rained all night in keeping with Babinda’s Umbrella Town nickname, and it continued while we and our fellow campers rose and went about the morning’s business. Chris wasn’t feeling his normal self, which is a bit odd when we are leading such healthy lives. However several panadol tablets later, matters had improved.

We hitched up in the mud, Chris nudging back into the tow bar because I did not halt him in time, but then he hadn’t unlocked the tow bar, so it was one all. Fortunately we had no problem pulling away from the camp, unlike some may have had later trying to leave the lower sections.

Heading north we encountered about five of the ten parties of cyclists on the Bruce Highway, escorted by cars front and back, with flashing lights and who would not allow people to pass. The cyclists, all but one party, were riding two to three abreast. We had our CB on channel 40 which is the normal truckies channel. My! Were drivers irate about the cyclists! Now I do know that Australians swear an awful lot, but this morning’s broadcast took the prize! On several occasions, cars would just pull out and pass us all in the most dangerous places, driven to doing so from utter frustration. It was truly a miracle there was not total and utter carnage on the road. Needless to say, while he did curb his language, Chris was at one with the other irate drivers.

There was little actual rain on the trip north but the visibility was very poor, and it was not until we neared Cairns that the weather started to clear. Watching out for the “I” sign denoting the Information Centre, we kept on the direct route into the city. At last we saw a sign that told us it was just over five kilometres ahead and so after a while I suggested that Chris move over to the left hand lane so we were ready to pull into the car park when we arrived. Before we knew it, we were obliged to turn left, and then realising we were lost, we stopped. The Explore Australia in our library has all the addresses of each Information Centre location, along with the local radio station frequencies and a multitude of other valuable information. On entering the caravan, I found I had left the cutlery drawer unlocked. Fortunately no damage, but neither of us was happy about that.

We set the Tomtom with the correct address and were taken down through the city, buzzing like no other, and along the esplanade absolutely pumping. We spotted the Information Centre but there was absolutely no parallel parking available or even in sight, unavailable. We drove on, and on, almost ready to give the Centre a miss and set to making calls to book a camping ground. Finally we did find a suitable park in an area where many like minded people had done the same, and set off on foot all the way back along the water front. There was a special picnic gala day happening on the waterfront at the same time as the art and craft market which apparently takes place every Saturday. Families were gathered to listen to the music and enjoy the array of food and activities on offer. But we were on a mission, to obtain a decent map of the city and a list of all camping accommodation along with a list of tariffs. Information Centers all along our travels have been able to provide us with this and it does help us to make informed choices.

We did find the Centre but were offered a couple of brochures by an elderly gentleman who was probably spending his first day on the job. He was hopeless, just like the girl in Innisfail, which does go to prove that uselessness is not peculiar to age or gender. On the visitor comment sheet at the door, I wrote “Should have better signage to centre for travelers entering the city, should have better parking for caravans and motorhomes, and should have a comprehensive list of camps available.” Chris added his score: “1/10” Grumpy old travellers!

On the subject of parking for travelers, many centres have excellent parking facilities for travelers calling in to find out what is on offer. Certainly in some towns there is a time limit on that parking, but at least it exists.

On the way back to the caravan we paused at a block of public toilets, as one does. When I emerged, Chris had bailed up a couple of middle aged people, who were two of the drivers escorting the cyclists, and telling them how it was. Needless to say there was no meeting of the minds! I did manage to draw Chris away, before he was able to continue in his direct but polite manner.

So far, we were not very happy with Cairns! Back at the caravan, we pulled out our Camping in Queensland book, knowing only too well that the 2011 tariffs quoted would already be out of date. The first park called did have vacancies but we would have to shift our camp during our stay and they were charging $3 more than the 2011 tariff. The second also was quoting $3 more than the book and did not have any week stay discount, but could offer us the one spot for a week, and so we booked and paid, because they insisted that they have our credit card details then and there. (I can understand that because I guess there are some who change their minds and leave the parks hanging.)

We lunched and then set Tomtom for our destination, and made our way to the park. The Sunland Leisure Park is quite well situated, large and every square metre has been cunningly used to maximize commercial results. All amenities are clean, plentiful and cannot be faulted. There is also a swimming pool with a water slide that looks appealing to anyone under fifteen who fancies cooling off. This was an excellent positive note for the day.

We then headed in to town to the BCF Camping store found in the yellow pages made available by the camp office, and had the gas bottle filled at the lowest price we’ve paid so far. We also picked up some fasteners Chris had seen on another caravanner’s rig, so this was again all good.

The staff at BCF directed us to another camping store where we were able to pick up some flapper straps for the awning and from there we walked about a shopping centre adjacent, home to factory direct wares. Not able to miss a bargain, I picked up a two piece swim suit, the first I have owned since Kit was born thirty two years ago. I leave any further comment to your imagination!

Our camp at Cairns
Back to the camp, dinner and then blocked drains; first the sump and then our own system, courtesy of my carelessness. Chris pottered about in the dark, poking a screwdriver up the waste, and I pumped with the plunger, until the problem this end was fixed, however it leaves the sump to be dealt with in the morning. What a note to finish the day!!

Tomorrow is another day, the weather seems to be improving and we will review this coastal city with fresh eyes in the morning.

Friday, July 29, 2011

29 July 2011 - Babinda Rest Area, Queensland

I heard little of the rain that fell in the night, and slept the sleep of the just. On opening the blinds, the day revealed was overcast and the clouds threatening ongoing rain, not good weather for charging the solar panels nor encouraging outdoor pursuits.

We lingered long after breakfast, and then after chatting with the neighbours, well seasoned winter nomads from South Australia and receiving much advice from such seniors, we elected to pack a picnic and set off to explore the area, despite the weather.

Josephine Falls
After calling in to the local newsagent to buy the daily newspaper, we traveled nine kilometres back south on the Bruce Highway, just past Miriwinni, then turned off to follow the Russell River up a wide valley, through yet more banana and sugar cane plantations and the tiny settlement of Bartle Frere named after the mountains lying to the north, and up to the Josephine Falls where the creek by that same name plunges over granite boulders, forming turbulent tiered falls. The sealed well formed path follows the creek for 750 metres through lush rainforest, mostly unscathed by the cyclone. It is well publicized in the tourist literature, this a popular place for travelers. It drizzled most of the time we were there, but our views were not diminished. The falls are situated in the Wooroonooran National Park, a huge area covering the Bellenden Ker and Francis Ranges.

 It was not quite lunch time so I suggested that we head for the Eubenagee Swamp National Park, an area of wetlands I had spotted on the map, just east of Miriwinni on the road to Bramston Beach. A few obscure lines in the tourist blurb said it was well signposted and walking tracks took one through wetlands along the river bank to a grassy hill offering views of Bartle Frere and the swamplands.

We decided that the wombles in the National Park Service must be like those in the New Zealand Conservation Department, in that they really don’t want the general public trespassing on land now earmarked for flora and fauna. The sign was small, the car park almost invisible and any other services non-existent. We set up our picnic chairs between a cane rail line and the edge of the forest, and waved at the traffic that sped up the road, including a police car when I had the pocket knife in my hand cutting up fruit. (Not a good look!) As we were finishing with our cups of coffee, two unrelated walkers came out and told us about the crocodile up the path. There was an "Achtung – Beware of Crocodiles" sign, and the Alice River is murky and inviting for these prehistoric creatures, so we were of course planning to be wary.

Eubenagee Swamp: spot the croc
The path along the river was like that to the Josephine Falls, well formed of gravel. After about a kilometre, we reached a grassy knoll, which we duly ascended. At the top, a great expanse of lagoons filled with water lilies and surrounding swamp was laid out before us. And across on the other side of a lagoon, just about 100 metres below, lay the famed 17 foot crocodile with his head partially obscured by the scrub. We descended the hill through the flattened grass where others had obviously done the same, then Chris yelled across to it, “Boo!” in an attempt to wake it up. The croc obviously was too clever to be fooled, knowing it to be a ruse for portrait takers, so we came away with shots of a headless croc.
A closer shot of the scaley monster

Views of the mountains were obscured by clouds; interpretative panels had already explained to us that Bartle Frere was only visible four days out of five. Apparently it rains 250 days of the year here in the shadow of these mountains and so we were experiencing a taste of the real Wet Tropics.

We then headed back up the Bruce Highway to Babinda, turning off at the town itself, driving west up the more intimate valley of the Babinda Creek. The plantations soon gave way to forest and we arrived at The Boulders, again in the Wooroonooran National Park, but this time south of Bellenden Ker.

The Boulders
The Boulders are so called because of the huge granite rocks the creek flows over, smoothed by the force of the water which was not very evident today, but is no doubt so much more in the floods of the wet season. The picnic area was lovely; wrong place, wrong time, however we did enjoy the walk down the river beside the series of falls through the rocks.

As we came back down to Babinda, we parked and walked up and down the street. This town is an RV Friendly town which gives it the big tick as far as we are concerned. Of course this is illustrated by the fact that we have this excellent park where we are right now, with toilets, cold showers, potable water, a dump station, and where we are welcome to stay 72 hours. Apart from this excellent spot, there is a smaller camp, with room for just ten parties up at The Boulders where one is welcome to stay free for 48 hours.

Babinda is a very small town, with just short of 1,200 people counted in the 2006 census. The sugar mill seems to be closed but the town has not died. Apparently when Cyclone Larry hit in 2006, 80% of the buildings were destroyed. This has obviously proved to be a blessing in disguise and the repair work was cleverly done, because while none of the buildings appear to be new, they are well maintained and attractive.

The rain has come and gone all day but did not spoil our day. The camp is again full this evening; this morning between 8.45 and 9.30 am, campers were arriving to take up the places vacated by those who had chosen to move on.

We have just heard on the local news that a 1.5 meter crocodile who emerged from a drain in the main street in Cairns yesterday, has been captured and is being relocated to a crocodile farm. A shot in the head would have been more appropriate! We are heading for Cairns in the morning.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

28 July 2011 - Babinda Rest Area, Queensland

This evening we are parked beneath the imposing rainforest clad Mt Bellenden Ker, just north of Queensland’s highest peak, Bartle Freer at 1622 metres. While I can hear the air brakes of the trucks as they hurtle down the Bruce Highway, we are tucked away out of sight at this delightful rest area on the banks of the Babinda Creek along with about twenty other caravans and motorhomes.        
May I come in?
We reluctantly left our inquisitive cassowary this morning before the checkout deadline of 10 am, and drove back toward the Bruce Highway stopping at Mourilyan to visit the Sugar Museum. We spent about an hour mooching about the exhibits, Chris examining the agricultural machinery and me, the history of the Kanaka labour. While I have read this over and over and seen the same stories or those very alike, I am still fascinated by the whole business. 

One new little snippet that came from my repeat lesson was the fact that the mangoes growing in the Solomon Islands were actually introduced from Queensland when the islanders were deported back after the labour laws changed. I had always thought that mangoes grew naturally or rather, originated from such places. Perhaps the same is true of those that grow in Vanuatu?

We watched a couple of excellent DVDs, both produced by the Sugar Cane Industry and therefore full of propaganda and buzz words to impress. There was however still much of interest even dismissing the PC-speak.

Close up and personal with a cassowary
Sugar originated in the South Pacific and has been grown in India since at least 1000 BC. These are two facts gleaned from the marvelous interpretive panels, however they do confuse me. This suggests that Indians traveled by boat down to the South Pacific, dug out some cane and took it home to plant. This is all news to me and will be to many more far more history savvy that I!

Certainly sugar cane arrived with settlers in the First Fleet, but the first crop of any substance was at Port Macquarie when a chap by the name of T A Scott brought cane in from Tahiti and produced 3.5 tonne in 1823.

Queensland grows 95% of the sugar cane grown in Australia, as far north as Mossman, with the balance grown in the coastal region of New South Wales from Grafton north. The plantations vary from 100 hectares to 1,000, with a trend toward the larger blocks as small holders are being bought up by the larger growers, much the same as is happening to pastoral land in New Zealand. Currently there are about 4,000 families on those holdings. For about 60% of those farmers, one third of the costs incurred in growing the cane is for water.

The second DVD explained the evolution of cane cutting machinery in an informative and entertaining manner. Certainly the attempts of invention are enough to fill a history book alone, and one has to give the Australians top marks for being so forward in their thinking and eventual success. It should also be noted that with Brazil, Australia is the top sugar producer in the world.

So as you can see this was an interesting museum to visit, but sadly like so many of the art galleries we call in to, there were incomplete exhibits. And Chris felt short changed. I was more frustrated by the fact that the official notices about asked for forbearance and advised that certain exhibits would be ready for public viewing by April 2011. Now I realise that the people in this region have had other things on their minds this year, far more pressing than pleasing a few grumpy tourists, but why don’t they simply change the dates on the notices and we would all be a little less grumpy.

We drove on north to Innisfail, a short distance, and called at the Information Centre. As we entered, we were just about knocked over by the musty smell, and not at all helped by the young girl who approached us. We really did wonder what qualities she had exhibited to her employers; we personally were at a loss to see them. Give us the wrinkly volunteers any day!

We made our way to Anzac Park and visited some cheapy shops on the perimeter to buy some essentials, including some travel DVDs for those TV-less nights. After lunch we walked up in to the town, an impressive collection of shops and offices built over several blocks on the edge of the South Johnson River. These streets are elevated and sloping and therefore not so flood prone as so many towns we visit. Much of the town was devastated by a cyclone in 1918, and underwent a massive rebuild in the architecture that was leading edge of the day; the Art Deco style. The result is a very attractive country town, surrounded by banana and sugar cane plantations. While Innisfail is hardly on the must-see list for tourists, it can be proud to present itself as a pleasant place to break the journey, and a pleasant place for would-be residents.
There is a delightful tale to be told regarding the naming of this town. It was originally called Geraldton, however in 1910 the crew of a ship loaded with timber confused it with Geraldton in Western Australia and took their cargo to the wrong place. A public meeting was held soon after and the name was officially changed.

Our dear New Zealand friend Sue was aware that we were closing in on Innesfail and suggested that we call in on her brother, who works at the local Fire Brigade. This we did and after we reminded him that we had encountered him back about twenty five years ago and swapped family style updates, he invited us to call on him at his home at Kurrimine Beach. We had passed the turnoff to this apparently unspoiled beach yesterday, unaware that Steve lived there with his family. Perhaps we will pay a call when we return south, assuming that we do travel back on the Bruce Highway

We had thought to stay at the rest area just four kilometres north of Innesfail, however when we called in and saw that while it was convenient, it was on a corner of the highway and it was also still relatively early to make camp. And so we continued up for another twenty nine kilometres to Babinda, whose charms had been shouted by many campers met over the past few weeks. What a good decision this was! While we were beaten to the best spots by those who had arrived earlier, we still secured an excellent overnight camp.

Soon after we arrived here this afternoon, Chris and I were suddenly distracted from our afternoon coffee by a crash outside. When we were in Sydney, Lance (from an insurance risk background) told us that there were 300 injuries every year caused by branches falling on campers. One was only just avoided this afternoon. A branch fell halfway down, nearly landing on either a very smart motorhome or a Spaceship camper. Chris and the driver of the motorhome lassoed the branch with a collection of ropes and chains and brought it down before any damage could be done. The tree was healthy and there was no evidence that the branch was about to fall; this has been a good lesson for all.

27 July 2011 - Etty Bay Caravan Park, Queensland

I am more surprised than anyone to be here in this delightful bay, in the company of only a few campers, two cassowaries and of course, my husband. Today was one of those days when plans come to nothing but an excellent result is achieved after all.

Last night’s roadside camp filled up as the evening progressed, the trains did not pass in the night and the cheeky truckies stopped their tooting as night fell. Apart from waking to hear a short but heavy shower of rain, the night passed very peacefully.

We were away by about nine thirty, heading for Tully, just 22 kilometres up the road. Tully is famous for bananas, sugar cane and rain. The sun was shining as we broke camp but the rain greeted us as we approached Tully.

In 1902 Chinese started growing bananas along the Tully River and before long were shipping them as far as Adelaide. When the First World War arrived, shipping of bananas took the back seat to shipping of more important cargo and the Chinese abandoned the industry.

Then in 1934, one Stan Mackay arrived in Tully and soon started growing bananas, reviving the industry and guiding it to new heights. In 2009, 70% of Australia’s bananas were produced in Far North Queensland. Today many shop windows display signs supporting a ban of any import of bananas from other lands; the industry is self-serving and very keen to keep those per kilo prices right up there. Heaven forbid what would happen to the price if say bananas were allowed to come in from the Philippines!

The sugar history of the region is pretty much a continuation of that encountered down the coast, and no doubt on north as well. The first sugar cane in the district was grown in 1865 by a Mr Davison along Queensland’s Murray River down toward where we were camped last night. The following year, floods destroyed Davison’s cane crop and swept away the intended mill site. In 1881 another chap by the name of Tyson attempted to establish a sugar plantation on the Tully River but soon gave up when the sugar prices slumped and Kanaka labour was prohibited. It was not until many years later, a Government Royal Commission recommended that a sugar mill be established in the area, and so the Tully Sugar Works was proclaimed in 1923.

It was only then that Tully was surveyed off and the town was born thus making it a relatively young town in the context of others in the country that came into being eighty or so years before.
Alas, Tully is one of the most unattractive towns we have come across in Australia. Yes, I know that it suffered just terribly in Cyclone Yasi, and that accounts for roofs and shop fronts missing and the fact that so many trees in the town and the hills about are denuded of leaves and branches. But we would venture to suggest that Tully was ugly before the last cyclone. It could have something to do with the fact that the mill is basically in the main street? We walked up and down the streets as is our wont, remarking as we came to the top, “perhaps that one running at right angles is the main street?” A local chap was close behind us and heard our question, advising us that we were already in the main street and this was as good as it got.

Apart from the fact that it would have been enormously disastrous if the mill had been destroyed, a little part of me wondered if it would have been kinder if the whole town hadn’t been flattened like Darwin in Cyclone Tracy (but with no loss of life, of course) and then rebuilt in a more pleasing manner. I am sure that such a terrible thought would have me assassinated if any Tullyite were to read this!

I ask myself, why would you want to live there! And this opinion should be considered in the context of Tully being the wettest town in Australia, having an average rainfall of 4.17 metres. The highest recorded annual rainfall was 7.93 metres in 1950, and the most rainfall recorded in one 48 hour period was 52 inches (1.32 metres) in March 1967. The lowest annual rainfall recorded was 2.25 metres in 2002 (a drought!) Tullyites do indeed have a sense of humour of which I am really glad. They have built a fibre-glass gumboot in the main street reaching to the height of that highest rain fall and it does draw the tourists in off the highway in the hope of adding to the shire’s coffers.

Mission Beach
We did contribute a miniscule amount to the economy of the town before moving north, or rather east across to the coast, keen to see Mission Beach and the satellite settlements. These too bore the brunt of February’s cyclone and still bear the scars. The beaches are no doubt changed beyond recognition, however we had never seen them in their pre-Yasi state, and so could only comment on how matters are now.

Sunny sands at Mission Beach
South Mission Beach is lovely; golden sands and Dunk Island just four kilometres off shore. The trees will recover and many of the attractive houses, some old and some much newer, are being restored. There are few facilities there, in fact it seemed that the camping ground was the only property not private. Further north, Wongaling Beach offers a supermarket and a few other necessities, and again is a rather pleasant place. And then, further north again, one comes to Mission Beach which is absolutely delightful, again with golden sands and lined with palms that in time will wave in the breeze, beckoning the tourists once more. The little village was buzzing, the cafes full of tourists, however we suspect less busy than other years.

We intended to stay at the Council Caravan Park which charges a very fair price, however the powered sites were all taken and we were not willing to pay little less for an unpowered site. We decided to return to the Bruce Highway and make camp at one of the roadside rest areas advertised in our bible.

For the first time for a long while, we were left traveling on, searching for a camp, finding the two areas most unsatisfactory, the first at El Arish very small and too close to the official camping ground and the second too small, beside a croc infested river (per the “recently sighted” signs) and right beside a bridge over the Highway. (While we were within our rights to stay at the rest area just north of El Arish, our NZMCA training suggests that it is just not right to camp so near a commercial facility.)

I had been harping on about Etty’s Beach ever since Dot, whom I met at Talullah’s birthday party, had told me about how the cassowaries were just wandering around and what a pretty place it was. Both Chris and I were keen to see cassowaries in the wild, and today as we had driven through the Cassowary Conservation Area as we passed through the rain forest to Mission Beach and up that part of the coast, we had seen at least fifty signs to alert us to the fact that somewhere out there were the elusive birds: Speed kills Cassowaries, Cassowaries crossing next 2 kms, Cassowary Conservation Area, Cassowary Drive, Cassowary Crescent and so on. But not a cassowary in site except for those pictured on the sign boards, just like the koalas!
Curious cassowary
Etty’s Beach was shown in our bible as a day park only, but I was sure that somewhere in all the tourist literature, I had seen there was a caravan park there. Chris agreed that we would drive out to the bay, find out if there was a caravan park there, if they had vacancies, and then if the price was acceptable, stay there. If not, we would return to the Bruce Highway, and travel through Innisfail which we were closing in on rapidly about two days earlier than intended, and stay at a rest area that was reportedly  a few kilometers north.

And so we turned off the Highway at Mourilyn and headed out to the coast yet again, up and over the small Moresby Range, down through the rain forest and then suddenly there we were in this intimate bay. All conditions met, including a cassowary that came at once to investigate us as we returned to the vehicle after paying.

Cassowaries are very strange birds, not unlike moas, growing to two metres tall, but with soft black feathered coats and colourful heads. Their club like feet bearing savage claws can tear a man to bits in a flash. Warnings everywhere say: Do not feed cassowaries, do not approach cassowaries, and so on.

We have been wary of the two that patrol the park. They are wild but very accustomed to the campers. We are so tempted to touch them, to feed them, even to embrace them but are also mindful of the warnings.

Tonight, unable to get television reception, or internet for that matter, we will have to be satisfied with the sound of the gentle waves breaking on the shore.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

26 July 2011 - Bilyana Rest Area, Queensland

As I start this, I am sitting on the bed, with the warm sun streaming through the window, fresh from an early shower. We are camped once more beside the Bruce Highway, once more alongside the railway, but screened from the former by a belt of cyclone effected coastal rainforest. Apart from the odd train, the drivers taking delight in tooting their horn as they pass, it is a wonderfully private camp.
We came away from the Palm Tree Caravan Park at Ingham well before check out time, having appreciated the warm and friendly service the owners, Craig and Kate, offered. We would be pleased to call again if we felt the need to stay over at Ingham  and would certainly recommend the camp to anyone else.

Pausing at the Coles in Ingham, we bought fresh bread, the day’s newspaper and some other odds and ends, then headed north once more, initially traveling some of the highway we had covered yesterday returning from Lucinda.

The road continued across the valley plain, through sugar cane plantations, and then climbed up over the southern reaches of the Cardwell Range, as steep as we have encountered since returning to the eastern Queensland Coast, revealing the magnificent mountains on Hinchinbrook Island and the Channel of the same name as we came over the top. We then traveled on down through the bush clad hills, to Cardwell, 53 kilometres north of Ingham. 

Cardwell was one of the settlements more seriously effected by the cyclone in February and evidence is all around. The hills behind the built up area are covered in trees stripped of leaves as are those that remain along the coastal strip. Many roofs remain un-repaired, just covered by tarpaulins, and some structures wait almost bare in their framing for rebuilding. The highway runs along the sea edge in front of the town, a strung out affair, and immediately after the cyclone had passed through, half the road was gone along with the beach front. This has been restored to functionality but lacks the charm it apparently once had. One shopkeeper told us that it was funnily enough a plus, because now he could sit at his shop counter and see right out to sea, whereas before the trees along the foreshore had entirely screened all but the highway.

The development of residences and marinas at Hinchinbrook Port  sits to the east as one approaches the township, announced by smart large gate portals. Behind the walls are the remnants of the ruin that headlined immediately after Yasi had finished there, illustrated by piles of luxury marine craft piled one on top of the other. One local’s opinion was that in the building of the marina, the mooring posts had been reduced in length by a couple of metres, because at their original height, they obscured the splendid views of the channel and Hinchinbrook Island, hence the craft had slipped their moorings in the midst of the storm. We had read this opinion before in the media however as to it’s truth? I imagine that is a legal matter or at least one of great controversy.

I had been curious to see how it all looked now, almost six months on, however when we asked the woman in the Information Centre if there was a suitable park at the port for us to lunch, she was quick to suggest an alternative spot; the Coral Sea Battle Memorial further around the bay.

We found the suggested park, had lunch in the caravan then went for a wander about the park area. Again, the trees were stark, the area quite bare, the beach lined with uprooted trees, the plaques suitably dismal to mark such a battle.

It was time to be on the road again, and so we completed our planned trip, through more cane fields and banana plantations. I suspect however we will not be doing a tasting of the local produce; in Ingham we did find a deli selling bananas at $7.90 a kilo, which beside the supermarkets $17 a kilo was a steal, however we do not want to encourage these greedy producers. Bananas have been off the menu for a while now.

Monday, July 25, 2011

25 July 2011 - Palm Tree Caravan Park, Ingham, Queensland

All the hard work of sitting up late and still having to cope with the daily grind of traveling and sightseeing paid off last night when Cadel Evans stood on the podium in Paris, winner of the 2011 Tour de France. Our routine and sleep patterns can return to normal. We are now only slaves to Masterchef which will wind up in the next week or so. What would we do without our television!

Before we headed off for our day’s adventure, Chris popped over to the office and paid for a further night. We then drove in to the centre of the town and I went in search of an open hairdresser’s salon to deal to my unruly locks, now uncut since the first week in Goondiwindi at the beginning of May. How bad is that! The only hairdresser who could fit me in wanted too much money, so I decided I could manage for another day or week or even month.

I stood in the queue at the Post Office, head and shoulders taller than five women and one man ahead of me and was reminded of how I used to feel all those years ago standing in the queues at the markets in Spain, when I seemed to tower above most of the other women (bearing in mind that I am only five foot five and a little bit). I then twigged: these were all Italians or Italian descendants, not too different for their Latino cousins in Andalusia.

It was already about 11 am so we drove on out of town, heading north east, past the Victoria Sugar Mill, busy sugar cane plantations, sugar trains chuffing up and down, across the roads, and through to Halifax. There we stopped to read the informative History of Halifax signs in the middle of the town.  I was delighted by the story of how just one year after the bulk of the land around the town was allocated by the government, it was auctioned off to interested parties in the mid 1880s. A map of the plan was printed on to handerkerchiefs so that all interested bidders could have a reference as they worked through the auction process. Quite a novel plan!

We wandered off along a gravel path through dense tangled scrub that led to the Herbert River, obviously repaired since the earlier floods and cyclone. There were no signs and as we wandered, I did hope we would not find ourselves wandering in circles. Chris was more concerned that we might find ourselves face to face with a crocodile; that possibility had slipped my mind. However the momentary concern was unfounded and we were soon back to the main street which was pretty much deserted except for the pub, a small supermarket cum post office and a few other caravanning tourists like ourselves.

Halifax’s raison d’etre these days is that it is home to those who work in Australia’s oldest working sugar mill at Macknade, situated just a few kilometres down the road. It is quite surprising that this Herbert River Valley supports two mills, and that there is another about to be built on the Townsville side of Ingham. The resource consents, or the Australian equivalent, are currently being sought. This planned mill will also manufacture ethanol from the sugar waste and offer tours; hopefully this will work in their favour. Once this is built, the mill at Macknade will close. 

Lucinda is just less than ten kilometres further on toward the sea and home to a bulk sugar export port and the long loading wharf jutting far out in to the Coral Sea, with the largest conveyor belt in the world. Bulk sugar is transported from the mills at Victoria and Macknade, then transferred out to the deep water berth on the conveyor at the rate of 40,000 tonne per hour. The facility was opened in 1979.

Lucinda is also home to a very small store and a caravan park absolutely packed with southern Australians camped up for the winter months.

Lucinda's long long jetty
Before lunch we checked the beach out and the surrounds. The jetty dominates the foreground, with the high rugged peaks of Hinchinbrook Island, home to the world’s largest island national park, covering 39,350 hectares.

Walking barefoot in the sand
While checking out the interpretive panels about the jetty, we chatted with a chap who lives just down the coast at Taylor’s Beach, at least when he is not doing his week long stint at a copper mine west of Mount Isa. His kind who are flown in and out for their shifts are known as FIFOs and there has been much controversy surrounding this work practice in the newspapers recently. One of the complaints relates to the fact that these workers bring all their pay home with them, injecting none of it into the rural communities where they are working, and the mines themselves are often bulk buying the supplies for their workers out of the district. As a result the small towns are shrinking and dying despite the wealth that is being extracted from their very neighborhoods. Another complaint is that workers are being pulled out of rural jobs to take up mining jobs, and then the employers in the rural areas have no one to fill the vacancies.

This chap we were talking to, way past the regular retirement age, is earning about ten dollars an hour more than he could get here, driving in the sugar cane industry. The Planters here are desperate for workers, and I do think that if we were not heeding purposefully toward Cairns to collect the duplicate registration sticker, Chris would have been tempted to find out more.

The loading plant is currently un-operational due to cyclone damage. Apparently at the peak of the storm there were ten metre waves breaking over the end of the wharf, and the damage sustained will be very very costly to repair. With the sugar harvest now underway, there is no way it will become operational for this season. The future of the jetty is in fact under question because it has passed its construction use-by date. If it is not repaired it will have to be totally dismantled because the powers that be now consider it to be a maritime hazard.

There on the shore, was a propeller blade mounted on a concrete plinth which was explained by our informant so much better than the words on the plaque. Back in 2002, two locals agreed to have a race to the top of the mountain on Hinchinbrook Island. When they got there, they found the wreck of a B24 Liberator bomber that had disappeared in 1942. Just like the discovery of the S S Yongala south of Townsville, a long unsolved problem was no longer so.

We were enthusiastic about Ingham and the Herbert River valley, egged on by the proud Taylor Beach resident. So much to see, we said. But it was a shame that the access to the Broadwater State Forest was still closed. We were then informed that the official story of storm damage was a great big cover for the fact that the forestry fellers were in there milling and did not want the hassle of dealing with tourists.

The last and final gossip was highly entertaining and revealed great rivalry between the Mafia of the area and The Others. The Mafia own the land, the contracting companies, are the councilors and call the shots. I imagine the fact that so many of the Italian immigrants all those years ago came from Sicily has given rise to this misnomer. I would also suggest that the “Mafia” are very hard working go ahead people and have been resented for their success. And certainly there is great evidence of success for these people; so many of the homes in the area are grandiose as is so oft the story of these Mediterranean people who "make-good” in the new land, and of course there are all those palatial mausoleums. Our informant was of Irish heritage.

After lunch, we went for a walk along a path back from the beach past pandannus and palms, then back along the sandy shore. The tide was out and it was evident why the jetty is so long. The tidal flats extend for miles and miles. It seems they extend as far as the islands of Pelorous, Orpheus and Fantome, and then in the distance, Palm Island, the famous Aboriginal Community.

We came upon a chap with a strange pipe-like apparatus, pointing it into the wet sand, and then pulling it out. On investigation we found he was operating a vacuum pump to extract yabbies. In a paint pail, there were dozens of live critters swimming about, oblivious to their fate as bait. We had never seen yabbies before nor seen such  hunting methods. This fisherman was one of the many campers parked up in the caravan park. He is from Gippsland in Victoria and recounted his flood story to us, having lost his caravan in Emerald. Unlike so many of the flood victims in Brisbane who are still waiting for their insurance companies to pay out, he had his payout within a couple of weeks of the deluge and was able to replace his van. It is good to hear positive stories!

Further along the beach, as we marveled at the art work created by sea creatures on the sand, we came upon another couple doing the same. Neil and Judith are from Christchurch, having spent about three years doing what we are. We spent some time in the sun and bare feet swapping travel stories and sapping their knowledge of places we have yet to go.

I marveled to Chris how many Kiwis we seem to have run into just lately. We decided that we are perhaps becoming more sociable, but hopefully that is not a sign of needing to seek the company of others rather than be content with just each other! God forbid that should ever happen!

When we returned to Ingham, I spotted another hair salon, devoid of customers and checked out availability and price. Jo decided I was a pensioner and seeing that I had climbed out of a caravan pulling vehicle, a grey nomad to boot, and quoted me $22 for an excellent cut that will take me through the next couple of months.

I also noted that the Australian – Italian Festival was to be held the first weekend in August, contrary to all the other tourist literature that is about. Although we have not missed it, we will not be hanging about to attend what is most likely a wonderful celebration.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

24 July 2011 - Palm Tree Caravan Park, Ingham, Queensland

Another day in paradise, as is so often used as a greeting from one camper to another here. The day started cooler, at about 9 degrees and I wished that I had put that extra blanket on the bed last night.

We had watched, or rather attempted to watch, the rugby last night between periods of psychedelic flickering on the television screen possibly caused by the amount of smoke in the surrounding atmosphere, or perhaps by a vindictive crew of truckies screwing the radio waves every time they passed the caravan park. No, the latter is very unfair; we have no idea why it happened, but it was very frustrating.

I sat up late to keep Chris company, taking the opportunity to cull photos from this blog, having reached my limit. I had not realised there was such a restriction, however Olly has put me straight, yet again, ironing out some irritating little problems I was encountering. How I appreciate that assistance, being such a techno-dinosaur! I did however give up the all night vigil at about 11.30 pm and thus missed the winning run of Cadel Evans at Grenoble.

So this morning when the sun rose promising another beautiful day, the locals were really on a high; a ridiculous hope of a national holiday to celebrate their kinsmen Tour de France win and celebrating the Wallabies thrashing of the Boks (despite the fact the game was “oh-so-ho-hum”)

Sadly it was also a day to mourn with the Norwegians, the horror of the lone crazy assassin of so many, and to hear of the loss of  modern music’s sad, but talented, Amy Winehouse.

But also this was happily a distraction from the other two main subjects that monopolise the news here: Julia’s falling popularity and her carbon tax that is promised to save the world from global warming.

On a personal level however, it was a perfect day to undertake the expedition we had specifically paused in Ingram to make. The Wallemen Falls are Australia’s highest sheer drop waterfall at 298 metres, situated just a little more than fifty kilometres west of the town. We knew we should not pull the caravan up to them, and while we had considered the possibility of unhitching and parking the caravan at say, the Information Centre, while doing the trip, we had decided that staying here in Ingham was the better option.

The Wallemen Falls
We packed up our lunch as is our habit, and headed toward the Girringun National Park. The road passed through acres and acres of sugar cane plantation, eventually changing to open wooded pasture well stocked with floppy eared cattle, and then through pine forest, much of which has been laid waste by Cyclone Yasi. Once in the park, the narrow road climbed steeply, winding eight kilometres through gums, turning into rain forest, all of which has suffered as the pine plantations below. Once the top of the range was reached, the road widened out and we sped along the remaining ten kilometres, on through the forest, back again to woodland, until we reached the Stoney Creek which appears to run north before plunging down the most spectacular sheer sides of a gorge that is as equally awesome as those seen in the Blue Mountains, if not more so. We stood for some time at the various viewing points before driving around to the picnic and camping spot on the creek where it runs innocently through bush and rocks, home to platypus and turtles, the former too timid to greet us.

We lunched under lovely gums, but remarked about the paucity of birdlife we have come to expect. This is of course because the trees have been stripped of so much foliage and are no longer attractive to the usual birds.

Ingram's cemetery
With the sun still high in the sky and the temperatures soaring, we descended from the Park, back to Ingham and east to yet another cemetery. When examining the maps for the day’s trip, I had noted that the cemetery that was considered to be a tourist attraction was not the old one we had called on yesterday, but the new one situated in the middle of the cane fields on the outskirts of the town. Even as we got out of the cruiser, we could see this was so much more than yesterday’s offering. The opulence and decadence of these structures, hundreds of them, was mind boggling. So many of the deceased had been born in Sicily and other parts of Italy, probably leaving their homelands after years in relative poverty. Their surviving relatives made sure that they left with an exhibit of richness, as obscene as it is.

We returned back to camp, early enough to catch up with Larissa, Kit and my parents on Skype. Tonight Chris will watch the victory ride in to Paris and then our lives will return to their normal routine, well, at least until the Rugby World Cup which starts next month.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

23 July 2011 - Palm Tree Caravan Park, Ingham, Queensland

Six months today! Six months since Chris and I arrived in Australia to start this great adventure. In many ways it seems longer than that, and in others, as if it were only yesterday. There is however no celebration other than the enjoyment of another perfect sunny warm winter’s day in the tropics, a delicious satay chicken prepared by the chief cook and hopefully the entertainment of the first Tri-nations Rugby Test between the Boks and the Wallabies.

We saw no point in stretching the boundaries by staying beyond our 48 hours at Bushy Parker Park at Rollingstone, as we had seen all there was to see there and were keen to see what the next location held for us. As we headed up the Bruce Highway, the great palls of smoke created by forest fires caused a haze to the west but no obstacle to our path.

The road up from Townsville had followed the flat narrow coastal plain, but as we neared the Hinchinbrook Shire, we passed over low hills and there ahead of us, the coastal plain widened out, all the way up the Herbert River Valley to the mountain range to the west.

The main town in Hinchinbrook is Ingham with a population of just over 5,000, 60% of whom are Italian or of Italian descent, having all immigrated in the early 20th century when the laws changed regarding the abusive use of Kanakas in the sugar plantations. This ethnicity is celebrated annually with the Australian Italian Festival held here in May. We are here in July so again our timing is out.

To the east of Ingham lie the beaches of Lucinda, Forest and Taylors, the first of these home to an offshore sugar loading jetty, stretching almost six kilometres out to sea. It is unfortunately not currently operational, having been victim to Cyclone Yasi which laid waste to an area from here north west to Tully.

Ingham is home to the Victoria Sugar Mill, the largest sugar mill in the southern hemisphere, and of coarse the centre for the sugar plantations that cover the plain from just north of Rollingstone as far as …... we have yet to discover.

Apart from being the inspiration of an important annual festival, the Italians have left a legacy in the old cemetery, unusually on the must-do list for tourists. Here there are many elaborate mausoleums and chapels, most marked with Italian names and descriptions all in Italian, featuring tiles, marble, white stucco, and gothic style windows and doors. While this kind of morbid memorial spending is evidenced throughout Europe, it is more unusual in our neck of the woods, and therefore the novelty makes it worth the visit we made this afternoon.

We called firstly at the Tyto Wetlands Information Centre, which has a wealth of information about the birds in the region, and the restoration and preservation of existing degraded wetlands, and the replanting of naturally occurring vegetation and the creation of permanent lagoons over a 120 hectare area which is now home to over 230 species of birds.

We also confirmed that the only caravan park in town was in fact the Palm Tree Caravan Park and established the tariff we could expect. Falling just a dollar short of the thirty we find exorbitant, we decided to make it our temporary base and so made our way to the park and set up camp, after first proceeding further into the town and stocking up on badly needed fruit and vegetables.

Water lilies in the Tyto Wetlands
After lunch, we spent about an hour and a half wandering around the Tyto Wetlands, encountering crocodile warning signs but no crocodiles, crimson finches, wagtails, kookaburras, egrets (without the cattle), wood ducks,  kangaroos, wallabies, tourists from Western Australia and three people on horses. The water lilies in the lagoons are absolutely spectacular with their beautiful mauve and pink flowers standing high above the water surface on long stems.

Friday, July 22, 2011

22 July 2011 - Bushy Parker Park, Rollingstone, Queensland

Last night was a very big night in the Alps, those in Europe currently being assaulted by hundreds of sports cyclists and thousands of fans, watched by millions of armchair sportsmen, not least of all my husband, who sat in front of the screen until Andy Schleck reached the stage end, pushing the local favourite, Australian Cadel Evans back to 4th in the over all placings. With only three more stages left to ride, excitement is at pitch level and battery power is being stretched to the limit, especially since we are on day three of free camping.

I was not surprised therefore when Chris expressed a desire to spend another day here, taking us out to our allowed time limit. The council parks’ “policeman” was here yesterday morning, recording everyone’s number plates on an official looking clipboard. He would normally return in 48 hours to check whether there were any rebels among the grey nomads using these excellent free camps, however we are all working on the assumption that he will not work over the weekend, but will be here bright and early on Monday morning. So this means the likes of us, could in theory, spend four nights in any one of the parks. This is for us however, all very academic. We do intend to leave tomorrow and head further up the road.

Today has therefore been a slow day, allowing Chris to recuperate in readiness for another exciting night. He has in fact been very busy doing maintenance work about: removing and reinstalling the pelmet above one of the bedroom windows which was originally poorly assembled, and installing the new wind deflector on the landcruiser’s roof rack.

After successfully completing these projects, we walked the short distance to the general store to purchase a newspaper and a budget loaf of bread for a luxury price. On our return, we met up with a couple on cyclists who turned out to be Kiwis from Nelson who travel six months every year in their Winnebago motorhome here in Australia and spend the rest of their year back in New Zealand. Jack and Sheree are about our age and currently camping out at the council free camp at Balgal Beach, just five kilometres away.

We spent some time chatting with them and in the process learned that the Cairns Showground which advertises in the CMCA book as being available to campers at an excellently fair tariff, is no longer so. I had been delighted to see this in the bible, and was therefore quite devastated to have this dashed. It means that there is nothing available to anyone in or close to Cairns under about forty or fifty dollars a night. Obviously they do not want the money that us, the grey nomads and other tourists touring as we do, spend in the towns we stay or pass through. One is tempted to give a rude sign and tell them to go you-know-where, however that might yet be another case of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.

Fishermen at the mouth of the Rollingstone Creek
After lunch, we went for a drive out to Balgal Beach, where the Perth brigade was heading after they left us at Black River Stadium. We had heard stories at Bluewater Park that Balgal Beach was incredibly busy, that campers were lining up to take the place of those departing, as early as eight o’clock in the morning. We wondered therefore whether our friends had actually managed to stay at Balgal Beach, or had pressed on to another camp less busy, perhaps here at Rollingstone.

Balgal is absolutely charming, situated at the mouth of the Rollingstone Creek with a long stretch of white sand along the sea frontage, a boat ramp and obviously before Cyclone Yasi had an excellent pontoon. There is a store cum pub cum takeaway next to the boat ramp, with a back drop of mangroves and the mountain range to the west.

We walked the kilometre or more along the esplanade, detouring down to the sandy shore to gather coconuts. There were many remnants of coconuts that had long ago fallen and dried up, and those that had been harvested, carved up and eaten then and there. We were interested in the golden globes that hung on the palms high above us. Chris managed several excellent shots with a small premature coconut, but those in the palms stubbornly hung on. He then found a very long stick and poked and prodded from below, and then finally success. This was all very entertaining; people would pay money to watch such a show, but we were satisfied with the two coconuts felled, deciding that the others could remain hanging to challenge others. We returned to the car carrying a coconut each, looking rather absurd.

Poking for coconuts
We had a close look at the camp, noting the Nelsonian’s motorhome and their friends’ one parked alongside. Rigs were all packed in like sardines, not unlike those at Bluewater. The camp is not even half the size of that here, and the wind swept in from the sea.

Several fishermen stood out near the river mouth in the hot sun casting for bigger fish than those hooked while we watched. It is a delightful spot and for avid fishermen, probably more attractive than this camp here. We came away with no regrets that we had chosen to stay at Rollingstone.

No sooner were we back that we had a visit from a man and his eleven year old son. I had noticed him and two children yesterday evening; children tend to stick out like sore toes in this environment. Today was Talullah’s eighth birthday and she was lamenting the fact that there was no one to have a party with, so Father was circling the camp inviting everyone to come over to the rented Apollo motorhome to create a birthday party atmosphere. He hoped that a few people would accept the invitation and was overwhelmed by the response. About fifty people assembled carrying their chairs and their respective drinks, making a very large circle out from the Apollo. There were a couple of dogs brought along who leapt about playing with the brightly coloured balloons until they burst, whereupon everyone clapped their hands in delight. Talullah did cartwheels and everyone clapped again, then she moved about the circle with her brother offering crackers and dip. Then there was the cake and candles which were duly extinguished amid more clapping and cheering. The cake did the rounds and most people politely took a little piece, trying not to spoil their appetite for dinner. And so Talullah ended up having a wonderful party, with dozens of guests, albeit all old enough to be her grandparents.

She and her family have traveled from England and are spending six months here in Australia sightseeing. They will then travel on to New Zealand to spend the same amount of time there before returning home. What an adventure for them all!!

We found ourselves sitting next to a couple from Auckland who spend four and a half months every year here in Australia and the rest of the time living in their boat which is moored at Gulf Harbour. Bruce and Dot have been coming over here for the last seventeen years, having taken the mad leap as we have before the official age of retirement. Naturally they are somewhat older than us, but still young enough to enjoy this endless adventure.

As I write this, Chris is prising the coconut from the shell. Generously he offered half of this to Talullah as a birthday gift but as he savours the especially tasty flesh, is hoping that the English tourists will appreciate this delicacy as much as he is. If not, he would quite like it back so he can.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

21 July 2011 - Bushy Parker Park, Rollingstone, Queensland

Tonight we are parked up in another council blessed free park not too far from the Bruce Highway and the railway line, but this time in Rollingstone. We did not bother counting the parties in tonight, but there are surely more than forty, compared with the more-than-thirty last night. Rollingstone seems to have only a BP on the highway, a general store advertising “Cheap Fuel” however their fuel pump is out of action and probably has been for a year or two, and this excellent recreational area. Up the road there is a Big4 Caravan Park and back a bit is a prickly looking pineapple plantation. We had hoped to pick up a pineapple for as little as $1.50 as we did beside the Ross River in Townsville, however there are no gate sales here, only a box outside the BP shop at $3 a pop. That is the top dollar we consider fair, so squeezing into the budget, we did of course buy one with our diesel and enjoyed it with greek yoghurt topped by muesli for desert this evening. Delicious!!

Our camp at Rollingstone
We were away from the camp at Bluewater just before ten, on the road and at Rollingstone before you could say “Jack Robinson”. Truly we have traveled such short distances over the last couple of days! There were quite a few vans already set up, some staying another day to fulfill the 48 hours allowance. One of these was a chap we had run into at the Six Mile Creek camp just south of Gympie and again at Giru about two weeks ago. He is traveling with a car and a little caravan of maybe twelve foot, undertaking further research and marketing his website advising travelers such as ourselves where to find free or super cheap camping spots. We spent some time with him at Giru and found him to be an interesting chap, Scottish born, well traveled, now widowed and passionate about his crusade and Australia, his adopted country of forty years or more. I did check the website out, but found it at this still developmental stage, to offer not a lot more than we are already gleaning from our travel bibles. And truth be told, we are still very book based rather than using computer based references. I guess in a few more years, that may be the reverse, providing we don’t stagnate.

Chris and I conferred about plans for the day, having come to no decision to that point, and agreed we would follow my suggestion of a day trip up into the Paluma National Park. I quickly packed up lunch, Chris unhitched the van which our Scots mate offered to keep an eye on, and then we set off further up the Bruce Highway, then inland to the Mount Spec section of the park.

The inviting swimming hole on the Big Crystal Creek
We first visited the Paradise Waterhole on the Big Crystal Creek and the Rockslides, further upstream where the amazingly crystal clear water flows through the large rocks. At the Waterhole after lunch, the water was still so clean and clear and reminded me of the beautiful waterholes that were the centre of the Australian Survivor programme some years ago. They had to be swum in. There were no crocodiles and no stingers, just hundreds of tiny fish. So I took most of my clothes off and jumped in, still maintaining some decency. We should have taken our togs, but never actually expect to go swimming, and there was only one other couple present; she in the itsy-bitsiest bikini and he with the baggy togs and camera. Once refreshed and absolutely satisfied with my mad impulsiveness, we sat in the sun until my skin was dry and then dressed once more.

Bridge over Little Crystal Creek
We then drove up the more southern road, several kilometres up a very winding road to Little Crystal Creek, where another crystal clear creek flows over a series of falls into a gorge, passing under a beautiful quaint masonry bridge. Here too was a picnic  area, but this one was in the shade and shelter of the gorge, probably more attractive on a hot summers day rather than a cooler sunny winter’s day.

Just up the road, at about 1,000 metres above the sea level we had left at camp, sits the very small township of Paluma. Apart from having wonderful viewing spots, and wonderful rainforest which we did a short walk through, Paluma boasts a couple of educational centres (for school trips and the like) and a collection of houses dating from the early to mid twentieth century, most of which have had little done externally since being built. Tin was discovered here in 1875 but soon declined due to poor access, high transport costs and low tin prices. The National Forest was milled through to the mid 1970s. In 1988 the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area was formed and that saw the end to all timber harvesting.

When we had left the Big Crystal Creek area for the Little, we had noticed several areas of the forest that seemed to be burning. As we climbed the range, it became more evident and we could even see the burning areas right up to the road edge. Given the lack of panic, it would appear that this was part of the controlled burning regime that the National Parks undertake from time to time. When we reached the McClelland’s Lookout at Paluma, much of the vista below us was obscured by the smoke drifting up from the fires below.

Smoke rising
We returned to find even more campers in, and to find that most of them carry fireplace gizmos made out of the most amazing pieces of “junk”. (Charlie and Geoff of the Perth Brigade carry the circular internal drums of clothes driers.) We find ourselves to be the oddballs, without portable fireplaces and a dog, and we will willingly remain so. The problem of carting such grubby appliances on the road far outweighs the desire to have our own hearth.