Sailing the Whitsundays

The whole reason for us returning to Queensland after only visiting last year was to join my sister and her husband on their yacht in the Whitsundays. They are returning from an epic adventure sailing from Fremantle to South-East Asia and returning to the the east coast of Australia over five years and this was our chance to experience the life style before the yacht was sold.

We joined them in Airlie Beach and immediately had a wonderful sail across to Cid Harbour. This turned out to be the best sail of our whole trip as the wind direction and strength forced us to motor or motor sail the rest of the time. We watched the sun drop into the ocean and then woke to a beautiful still day. Unfortunately it was too still as we laboured up Whitsunday Peak wishing for a breeze to cool us. It was worth the effort as it gave a magnificent view in both directions.

We had a rough motor to Hamilton Island to collect our daughter and her husband after they had flown up from Hobart, stripping off layers as they headed north. We then headed back to anchor in Nara Inlet, a popular, narrow sheltered inlet. The dinghy delivered us to shore to see the cave art painted by the first inhabitants and learn about it from the well put together display. We also saw the results of Cyclone Debbie, seeing a second boat pushed up on  the rocks.

It was a short trip around the corner the next day to try snorkelling off Langford Island. We were also treated to the power of the recent cyclone here too as much of the hard coral was broken and scattered about. However it did mean that each remaining patch of live coral was host to a great accumulation of fish. We also learned about spring and neap tides. We were here on a spring tide with the greatest height difference and creating murky water which we got for the rest of the trip. We saw a number of large commercial vessels including one with a slide for the entertainment of guests – we made do with simpler pleasures. The night was spent at Stonehaven.

We motored down the outside of the islands the next day to Whitehaven Beach where a seaplane took off right behind our yacht. We joined the daytrippers and yachties on the beach where the highlight was the tame goannas. Four of us stretched our legs on the walk across the headland.

One of the trees blown off the dunes managed to get tied around our anchor chain and had to be sawn off the next morning before we could leave. We motored up to the other end of the white sand beach and joined another group of people all having fun on the beach. We walked up the ridge on Tongue Point to see the reason for going to Whitehaven Beach – the view over the sweeping curve of Hill Inlet with the contrast of aquamarine water and white sand. We popped around the corner to anchor in Tongue Bay where we were thrilled to see dugongs.

We snokelled some more with better coral but still murky water. We returned to Cid Harbour to let Jessica and Nick climb Whitsunday Peak (which they did much more quickly than us) while Ray and I strolled around to Dugong Bay and back in the same time. They paddled around the harbour and then we settled back to enjoy the light show as the sun set.

After we dropped Jessica and Nick at Hamilton Island we enjoyed the comforts of a marina before heading back to Airlie Beach and the end of our sail after a wonderful time. It was back to our trusty camper and heading inland of Mackay to Mt Britten. This is the site of a short lived gold rush – only 10 years – and not much left to show but a wonderful location to camp.

Lake Elphinstoke was the next nearby destination. It is a very popular spot with lots of caravans setting up for an extended stay on the natural lake. There was lots of bird life to keep us entertained but I can see the advantage of having a canoe.

We headed south down the inland road seeing very little traffic. Lunch was shared at Marlborough with the local rainbow lorikeets who arrived at our table after their previous targets had left. We drove out to Byfield State Forest, north of Yeppoon, but on arrival Ray realised the camper did not look right. Looking underneath we discovered the weld joining the drawbar to the chassis had broken and knew that joining up to RACV Total Care had been a great idea. We had the camper trucked to Rockhampton where were put up for three nights while the damage was assessed. It was then decided the camper would be trucked home and we would have to head home a little earlier than we had planned. Four uneventful days later we were home and sure that staying in motels and cabins was not our favoured way to travel. The unexpected highlight of the trip home was finding the Sandstone Cave walk in Pilliga Nature reserve where the powers of wind and water were once again on display though this time over millenia.

For another viewpoint of our trip and to see some of the underwater action head to Jessica’s blog.





The Wet Tropics

From desert like countryside to rain and mist was a bit of a shock. After brilliant sunshine every day we now had constant cloud but it is called the wet tropics for a reason. We started in the Atherton Tablelands and visited lots of waterfalls so we couldn’t complain about the wet. We revisited all out favourites from previous visits. A highlight was being shown a Lumholz tree kangaroo high in a tree at Millaa Millaa caravan park – it was a long way away but it was in the wild!

We next visited Paronella Park after having recommendations from everyone who has been to this part of Queensland. Built by Spanish immigrant Jose Paronella in 1929-35 it was a popular pleasure garden and the site of the first power plant in North Queensland. It thrived until setbacks saw it closed in 1979 until being revived by the present owners in 1993. It is once again a thriving tourist attraction and very well presented with camping available and tours provided with entry.

We took a couple of inland deviations to Tully Gorge and Blencoe Falls. Tully Gorge was up an easy bitumen road to a campsite where we watched the parade of rafters and kayakers who come to this river every day. Blencoe Falls was over the ranges on a rough dirt road to an amazing waterfall and peaceful campsite by the creek.

Jourama Creek was another favourite campsite that had to be revisited and then we found our way to Broadwater camp in Abergowrie forest with only one wrong turn. It has a huge camping area that we had almost to ourselves apart from visits by goannas. A night at Taylor’s Creek amongst all the fishermen camped there long term allowed us to enjoy modern amenities.

Outback Queensland

After missing Lawn Hill on every trip to Queensland because it was too far out of the way, this trip we made sure we got there. First stop in Queensland however was Camooweal where we stayed on the waterhole with all the other caravanners. Everyone had their water view and the bird life was great with resident brolgas. We drove out to the caves in the national park which turned out to be sink holes and the caves could not be accessed. It was still worth a visit with Great Nowranie cave in particular being impressive.

On the way to Lawn Hill (Boodjamulla NP) we passed through Riversleigh, the site of the first fossils found in Queensland. The information centre is in a man made rock and a walk takes you around the site with some rocks with fossils on display.

We couldn’t book into the national park campsite due to school holidays but Adel’s Grove is not far away and has more services. On our first day we hired a canoe and paddled up the middle and upper gorges. It was a great introduction to the gorge. The hardest part was the portaging of Indarri falls as we maneuvered ourselves in and out of the canoe and then hauled it overland. The next day we helped a large man who was having trouble getting back in and kept swamping the canoe.

Walking gives a different perspective as we peered down on the water from above. It made us hotter too so I had a swim at Indarri Falls.

We headed to Karumba, the winter hangout of fishermen, and quickly left again. At Normanton we visited the empty station and then caught up with the Gulflander as we drove along the road to Croydon. Cumberland Chimney was an unexpected highlight. We stopped for one night and stayed two as we enjoyed the birds brought in by the dam, a relic of mining days.

Litchfield to Limmen

We thought while we were so close to Darwin we’d better have a look though we’re not big on cities. We spent a day looking at the museum which had a good display on Cyclone Tracy and the natural history was well done but unfortunately the aboriginal art was closed for renovations. We strolled through the Botanic Gardens and finished at Mindil Beach night market where we bought tea.

We headed down to Berry Springs and had a day at the Territory Wildlife Park which was much more ‘our thing’. We started with the bird display and then made our way around the various habitats with the aquarium, feeding of the whiprays and the bird aviaries being our favourites. Well worth a visit!

It was then into Litchfield National Park, the alternative to Kakadu but I found it quite different. It was more about waterfalls and swimming. Wangi Falls was very impressive and a great campsite as well as good swimming.  Tolmer Falls are very high but hard to capture. The Cascades were fairly ordinary and Florence Falls was smaller though the walk along Shady Creek to the falls was lovely. Buley Rockhole was a series of small falls and little rockholes – we arrived early and enjoyed it’s charm until the swimmers started arriving and filling up the holes. The Lost City can stay lost (fairly ordinary) but the ranger talk at the magnetic termite mounds was very informative.

We passed Robin Falls on the way to Douglas hot springs (not as good as Bitter Springs) and then headed off the tourist track to Limmen NP. The road reflected that being corrugated, full of bull dust holes and with unexpectedly deep creek crossings. The north part of the park was great for fishermen. We stopped off at Butterfly Springs but weren’t tempted to swim. Next stop was the Southern Lost City which was definitely worth a stop with a walk between the formations of towering sandstone spires. We also visited Caranbarini between Borroloola and Cape Crawford where the spires were much fatter and the path wound through narrow alleyways. Our journey through the Northern Territory ended across the Barkly Tablelands with vast areas of grassland.




I’ve heard all the talk about Kakadon’t and Kakadu versus Litchfield but we went anyway to see for ourselves. As long as you have the time to visit all the different highlights we found it was full of variety and amazing places but if you don’t have time to see it properly, by all means go to Litchfield which is beautiful too. Kakadu has more variety with natural scenery and cultural sites as well.

First we stopped off at Umbrawarra Gorge, a pretty little gorge off the beaten track. Then it was in to Kakadu to visit the escarpment at the bottom of the park. This provided the swimming holes and waterfalls lacking in the north. We stayed at Gunlom and were wary of the bottom pool until we saw others swimming there, but the best place to swim was at the top of the falls in the small pools with a sensational view. The host campground manager told us about Motorcar Falls so we ventured there while driving out. The falls were pretty but low in water but the swimming hole was one of the best I have seen. We sat on a big rock at the edge with the waterfall trickling opposite surrounded by this big, green pool.

A visit into Maguk gave us another waterfall and huge pool. We also found the track to the top of the falls where the stream makes its way through a narrow gorge. I wasn’t brave enough to swim through as others had but admired it from the rocks. I was a little nervous at our campsite as there were fires in every direction but this is standard for the dry season in the Northern Territory and they don’t pose a threat, just give glowing red sunsets.

Next stop was Nourlangie Rock with its galleries of rock art. It is certainly more extensive and vibrant than anything we see in southern Australia. More  crocodile warnings meant we couldn’t complete the circuit around the lagoon.

We elected to take the sunrise cruise at Yellowwater for the bird life but we got our share of crocodiles as well with one swimming by and later as they sunned themselves on a bank. One freshwater crocodile gave us a chance to compare their relative sizes. The jacanas were fascinating with their oversize feet allowing them to stride around on the lily pads and dad hid the chicks under his feathers when we got too close creating a comical bird with many legs.

At Ubirr Rock there was another impressive display of rock art and we sat on the rock with everyone else for the sunset. We then returned to our camp and cooked in the dusk swarmed by mosquitoes before retreating to the tent to eat.

From Alice to Katharine

We headed on north up the Stuart Highway aiming for the Devil’s Marbles which neither of us had seen before – only photos to whet our appetite. Every 2nd caravan on the highway mast have had the same idea as at 3.00pm we found we had to squeeze into a space between two others and late comers ended up at the day area. It was worth it all as we strolled among the vast array of boulders as the sun caused them to glow. Sunset wasn’t enough as I headed out again for starlight and sunrise.

We stopped at Daly Waters which is a classic outback pub but a crowded dusty caravan park and I wouldn’t bother again. On the advice of the lady at Standley Chasm we headed for Bitter Springs instead of Mataranka and she was right. We walked from the park to the springs where we could float down through the clear water with our mask and snorkel studying the underwater world and spotting fish and turtles. We had a look at Mataranka but the concreted pool wasn’t as nice and was much more crowded. Morning was even nicer without the crowds as mist rose from the water.

We stayed at the gorge at Nitmiluk (Katharine Gorge) and after walking to the lookout in the evening, we were up early for the sunrise cruise the next day. The flying foxes were returning from their nightly forage and made sure we didn’t sleep in. The sun gradually lit up the cliffs as we headed up the first gorge. We had to get off the boat and walk to the second gorge to continue our trip. We then returned back to the beginning.

The Red Centre

We headed back to Uluru after having been there only two years previously because we’d seen and heard good reports of the Field of Light. It certainly draws in the crowds with Canapes or dinner on the dunes and busloads of viewings each night. I went for the canapes so I could be there at sunset and up on the dune with a view of the rock behind. The food was good with bubbly to drink and the light show was spectacular. We watched Uluru change colour and then the lights slowly start to glow.

I went to Uluru for sunrise but they have put the viewing area so hardly any of the rock receives sun and I had to drive around to better viewpoints. We then headed for Kata Tjuta which we find much more interesting. We repeated our favourite part of the Valley of the Winds walk.

Rainbow Valley was another place that deserved a second visit though we didn’t get our burst of sunlight at sunset this time, only an hour before which was nearly as good.

We had broken our back window on the Oodnadatta Track so had to visit Alice Springs to get a new one inserted. Unfortunately our arrival coincided with the weekend but it was no hardship to go out to Trephina Gorge and redo our favourite walks again. Chain of Ponds was still a highlight and there was a little water in Trephina Gorge this time for reflections.

Back in Alice we got our window fixed and stocked up to do section three of the Larapinta Trail, another interesting section after completing the best bits – four and five – two years ago. We left our car at Standley Chasm and climbed up with packs this time to enjoy the views that so impressed us and had drawn us back. The ups and downs are beautifully stepped in this section, harder to walk but less chance of slipping on loose rocks. Leaving the chasm area we climbed to a saddle to give us a view of the terrain ahead. The trail led us quickly to a creek bed where we had to negotiate a ten metre waterfall. Luckily it wasn’t as hard as it looked. On down the creek bed we continued, a  feature of this section of the walk. We stopped for lunch and decided to bypass the harder alternative route along a ridge as we were already weary. A kilometre of walking down a bouldered creek bed didn’t help but the track did improve after that. We wearily reached Fish Hole, a lovely waterhole, and then plodded up the sandy creek bed to the welcome sight of camp, a luxurious shelter complete with table, sleeping platform and frisky mice that emerged after dark to try and get our food.

The next day we returned along the same route and it didn’t seem as bad, I think because we knew what to expect.