10th June 2012 – Airlie Beach

We’ve had a really lovely few days in and around Port Douglas, and we’re really appreciating the North Queensland weather! It’s been bright and sunny every day, and wonderfully hot, but not humid – perfect holiday weather. The morning after our last blog, we had a nice unhurried morning packing up at the holiday park, and then headed into Port Douglas to run a few errands – I wanted to buy a hat, after I realised how hot the sun was and how ridiculously easily I get burnt! So we parked up and wandered up and down the main drag in Port Douglas for a while – it’s a lovely place, and really somewhere I can imagine spending a couple of weeks’ holiday, very relaxed. We drove up to the lookout point at the top of a hill in town, and looked over 4 Mile Beach, which is the main beach that has all the resorts on it – it looked amazing from up there! When we wandered back to the van we were hungry, so we got some lunch together and sat and ate it at a picnic table in the park, which was lovely.

View over 4 Mile Beach from Port Douglas lookout

After lunch, we drove north through Mossman to the beginning of the Daintree National Park, which you reach by crossing on a river ferry. The ferry was leaving as we drove up, so we drove straight on to it and watched for crocodiles along the river as the ferry went across – no luck, though! When we got over to the Daintree, the landscape changed immediately – we were driving through dense rainforest, it’s an absolutely amazing place. We stopped at a signposted boardwalk through the rainforest, the Dinjalba walk, and spent 40 minutes or so wandering along there. Then we went back along the road to the Rainforest Discovery Centre, but when we went in to find out about it, we discovered it was $35 entry fee to basically do more walks, so we decided not to bother! We carried on down the road, stopping for an icecream at a roadside stall and a rather wary walk on a beautiful but apparently crocodile- and jellyfish-infested beach, and then drove all the way up to Cape Tribulation, which is as far as the sealed road goes – after that, it’s 4WD only. We walked up to the Cape Trib lookout, which was a lovely view across beach and rainforest – it’s the only place in the world where two World Heritage sites meet (the Daintree and the Great Barrier Reef), which is pretty special! It was just starting to turn to dusk as we walked back down, so we drove a few miles down the road to the campsite we’d booked. It was a National Parks campsite at Noah Beach – you have to pre-book all the NP sites, either online or by phone, and you get assigned a specific site on some campsites – we did on this one, so when we arrived we drove through the site to find site number 3, and happily parked up in our own secluded little grove, where we could hardly see the campers on the sites to either side of us! The facilities weren’t particularly extensive (composting loos and a tap), but for $10.60 a night we weren’t complaining! I think we’re going to stay in NP campsites as often as we can, it makes a big difference to the average cost of campsites, as most of the commercial van parks are between $25 and $40 a night.

Where two World Heritage sites meet

Chris on a boardwalk in the twisty treed rainforest

Daintree river ferry

Watch out for crocs

Nix looking out over Cape Tribulation

Noah Beach campsite

The next morning after breakfast we had a walk around the Maardja boardwalk, right next to the campsite, and then started making our way back to the ferry. As we drove along the road, three cassowaries suddenly came out of the bush ahead of us and started meandering slowly across the road! We got a great view of them, they weren’t bothered by the car at all, and carried on wandering along the side of the road as we got close to them. I was so excited I fumbled with the camera and got really crap photos, but they were wonderful – the male was at least 6 foot tall, with a bright blue head, and had two females with him which we later found out were probably his babies, as the males raise the chicks. It was really wonderful to see them, we felt very lucky! We stopped for an icecream later and told everyone at the icecream place that we’d seen them, which got everyone chatting about their various sightings. They’re highly endangered and there are only a few places in Queensland, and a couple of places in Indonesia, where there are still wild populations, so it felt like a big deal to see them!

Blurry over excited photo of a cassowary

Inspired road sign graffiti watch out for cassowaries

We crossed on the ferry and drove back to Port Douglas – I had realised the day before, when I went to put up a washing line between trees on our site to hang up our towels, that I had left our travel washing line (borrowed from Holls!) hanging between some trees at the site in Port Douglas! So we stopped back in there to pick up our washing line (still where we’d left it!) and also called Karen to find out what her plans were. She was out sightseeing in Kuranda for the day, so we agreed to meet her at her hotel later that evening. We had a slow meander down to Palm Cove, checked into the van park there and got showered and changed into clean clothes, and then went to meet Karen, 10 minutes down the road at Trinity Beach.

Karen’s staying at a lovely apartment with a beautiful view of the beach – we went up to her apartment and had a cup of coffee and started chatting – it was really lovely to meet her, I’ve been looking forward to it, and Chris has been looking forward to seeing her again. She’s absolutely lovely, we all chatted non-stop all evening, and it was so much fun to hear stories about her family growing up, and her parents, and everything – I’m always fascinated by stories about their family, as there were 15 of them, and you just imagine how amazing (and busy!) their parents must have been, to bring up so many of them! We’re going to stay with Karen in Adelaide when we get there, and we’re also hoping to catch up with Chris’s other aunts and uncle who live there – it’s lovely to be able to meet so many of the Melia family while we’re here! We also met Karen’s friends Sonja and Jeff, who she’s on holiday with – Karen took us out for a great dinner, and we had a lovely evening chatting all together.

We eventually left Karen and her friends (after giving them a quick tour of our van – we’re very proud of it and love to show it off!) and went back to Palm Cove and straight to bed. We got up quite early the next day, as we knew we had a lot of distance to cover! We were heading towards Airlie beach, which was 650km away. We decided it wasn’t very likely we’d do it in one day, but we’d see how far we got before we got sick of driving – Australia is so big, and there are such huge distances between the places we want to go, that we probably are going to have a few days in between each major place that mostly consist of driving, so this was our first test of it! We stopped at the supermarket first to stock up on groceries, cash and fuel, and were tempted by some delicious-looking watermelon – we didn’t have room in the fridge for it, so we had to cut up and eat the whole thing in the supermarket car park! We actually had a lovely day, driving – we stopped when we felt like it, for coffee or icecreams or just to stretch our legs – there are lots of truck-stops along the main road, most of which offer free coffee served by volunteers for the road safety campaign (‘Driver Revivers’!), and all of which have loos and picnic tables. We’re working through our music collection, which is loaded on our iPhones – we play it on shuffle, and rate each song as it comes up, so hopefully by the end of the trip we’ll have sorted out our whole collection! And I’ve been reading to Chris during the boring bits when there’s no exciting scenery to look at – so we’re pretty happy driving, all in all!

Eating watermelon in the supermarket car park

We decided to break our journey by heading off the main road at Ingham, and going up to Wallaman Falls, which is the tallest falls in Australia at 268m. It was a very cool, winding, mountain road to get there (past a helpful sign that pointed out that it was NOT Route 1, the main road!), and when we arrived at the lookout for the falls, we agreed it was worth the detour – really impressive. There’s a National Parks campsite just next to the falls, so we had booked in there for the night – we went in and found a site, had a minor incident with a cane toad in the loos (it jumped off the ceiling as we came in, and we both nearly jumped out of our skins!) and then put on our walking boots and grabbed our torches, and went for a walk down the creek to look for platypuses! They’re supposed to come out at dawn and dusk, and the sign said you should just sit quietly on the bank of the creek and watch out for them – there were already five or six people down there, doing just that, so we picked a spot and settled in. Unfortunately, we can’t really say we saw a platypus – we saw a few scrabblings in the rock and splashes in the creek that made everyone sit up and pay attention, and Chris and I stayed longer than anyone else, until it was almost too dark to see – but no definite platypuses! We did amuse ourselves while we were waiting by thinking of all the words we knew that rhyme with ‘platypus’, and making up a little song to sing to them if they appeared, so it wasn’t a wasted hour. And, we saw a kangaroo bouncing through the scrub as we walked down there, so that was also very exciting!

Wallaman Falls

Looking out over the gorge at Wallaman Falls

Road signs for dummies

Waiting patiently for platypuses

We had the best of intentions to get up at 6 and go platypus-spotting again in the dawn, but when the alarm went off, we both agreed it was a silly idea and went back to sleep for another couple of hours! When we eventually got going, we had a lovely drive back to the main road – we saw a kangaroo bouncing across the road right in front of us, and then alongside the road when we slowed down to see it! Again, no decent photos – I blame my overexcitement, this time I forgot to even get the camera out, I was so happy to see the kangaroo!

We drove for most of the day again, and arrived in Airlie Beach at about 5pm. We’d phoned ahead to the van park we liked the look of from our booklet of Queensland parks – it’s called Flametree Village, and the chap had been really helpful on the phone when I called to book a site, I told him we’d be looking for a Whitsundays trip and he said he’d get some options together for us. When we got here, we sat in the office with him and chatted about various trips for a while – the Whitsundays are a group of islands with resorts on a few of them, but mostly uninhabited, and the best way to see them is by boat. You can either do day trips, or overnight trips, or the really extravagant 2-night, 3-day trips – there are lots of different boats, some offer diving, some offer snorkelling, some have private cabins, some only have shared cabins, they all take different numbers of people – the choice is huge! We really liked the idea of doing a few days’ trip, and we wanted to dive, so that narrowed it down – and then he found us a boat called Kiana that’s been in the docks being reconditioned for the last 2 weeks, so the next trip isn’t full (as people tend to book ahead, and Kiana hasn’t been available to book) and they’re offering last-minute discount rates to try to fill this trip – so although it would normally be one of the more expensive ones, the discount puts it back into mid-range. It’s not the cheapest option – but it looks amazing, and it only takes 14 people, whereas the cheaper ones take up to 50. So we decided, for the value for money, it was worth splashing out a bit – and hey, we’re on honeymoon! So thank you all again, this is another one that we’re doing because of your wedding gifts!

Today we went into Airlie Beach and went to the booking office for Kiana, to check in – we were given a bag each (not a holdall, really more of a shopping bag size!) which is all you’re allowed to take on board, so we’ve spent some time this evening squeezing in the essentials – we’re going to be spending three days swimming, diving, snorkelling and sunbathing, so we don’t need much stuff with us, really! Once we were sorted with the booking office, we wandered around town, Chris bought a hat (he was jealous of my lovely new one!) and we had an amazing ice cream from a place called the Cold Rock – it’s a chain, so if you’re in Australia, look out for one! You choose your flavours, and then choose things to mix in – chocolates, gummy bears, marshmallows, fruit – and they mix them on a cold stone with a mortar and pestle and put them in a cone for you, absolutely amazing! We wandered down to the beach and sat in the shade of some palm trees to finish eating them, and then went back to the van and headed off for a day exploring. We went to Cedar Creek Falls, which has a swimming hole under the falls – I jumped in for a swim, but it was freezing, so Chris declined and decided to take photos instead! As we were leaving, a crowd of young Aussies arrived and were talking about jumping off the falls, so we stayed a few minutes to watch them – nuts (particularly given the signs in the car park to say that people kill themselves every year jumping off the falls, so please don’t!) but fun to watch! Then we drove down to Conway Beach and parked up and had lunch, then drove to Proserpine to the lake and the dam, and enjoyed the scenery there – we ended up driving to Shutehaven, and Lion’s Lookout, where we could look over the Whitsundays and see where we’re headed tomorrow!

Now we’re packed, and we’ve had supper, and Chris has done the washing up while I wrote this (and come back to get the camera, as there were some possums wandering around at the camp kitchen!) so we’ll just get it uploaded and then get an early night – up early tomorrow, we’ve got to be at the marina for 8 a.m. We’re so excited about this trip – we’ll tell you all about it in a few days’ time!

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