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.

https://wordsandwilds.wordpress.com/2017/08/12/100-days-later-the-whitsundays-after-debbie

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

Kakadu

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.

Jatbula Trail

I would highly recommend any bushwalkers persist through the booking woes and walk the Jatbula Trail. Every campsite is paradise. It has been on my wish list for a long time and when we knew we were heading up the centre I tried to book. Only 15 walkers are allowed to depart each day and when I tried in April it was full until September. When I looked at the websites of the guided walks I found they only had one or two people booked when they had up to eight spaces. There seems to be an unfair advantage for the guided companies as against individual walkers, especially ones who don’t jump on when bookings open. However they have devised a fallback system where you put your name on a reserve list and they let you know when there are vacancies. We were pleased to be offered spaces when we had been on the road for a couple of weeks. It meant we had to leave Alice Springs sooner than we would have otherwise but we didn’t want to miss out.

We caught the boat across the Katherine River early on the morning of June 6 and pushed our way through the tall spear grass. When we were unsure of the route we looked for the trusty blue triangles and we needed to search a few times in the trip. The Northern Rockhole was the first attraction but we were advised not to swim as they weren’t 99.5% sure it was free of crocodiles. We then had the biggest climb of the whole trip as we ascended to the escarpment but it was done very gently on a four wheel drive track. Soon we were at camp where we quickly met the other walkers as we set up tents and then made for the water. Pools above and below the Biddlecombe Cascades were suitable and refreshing. Another couple of walkers arrived in camp late having left at 1.00pm and walking in the heat of the day after taking up a vacancy at very short notice. The eating of dinner with a view was popular.

Due to temperatures in the high 20’s to low 30’s we were advised to start early so we were up before the sun and walking by 7 each day which meant we were in camp by lunchtime. The 2nd day meandered amongst the rocks and we spotted some of the rock art. Another pool was admired but we waited to camp for our swim. We had to cross the wide Crystal creek to see the impressive falls and used it as a rehearsal for the next day with packs. Luckily an easier crossing place was found and one of our new friends helped us across. We all bonded over shared stories and experiences.

More easy walking across the plateau dodging termite mounds and following blue triangles. A highlight of the walk is to visit the Amphitheatre, an enclosed gorge with rock paintings. It was made easy with a staircase leading us down. A view across to 17 Mile Ck Falls and we knew that camp was near. We spent the afternoon exploring up and down the creek and invading the Gecko (guided group) camp. We had the best views over the falls and down the valley watching the sun set and the full moon rising.

The next day was the big 17km day and we were all up super early with some of us leaving by torchlight. The problem with that is we found ourselves following the triangles to the helipad. Clouds had come over in the night and provided a glorious sunrise. They also hung around and blocked the sun making for a much cooler day. We enjoyed the walking as we left the plateau and walked through greener countryside as we approached Edith River. We were surprised when we arrived at the crossing at 10.30. Some had an early lunch and we continued on downstream. We finished walking through boggy grass but it was only half way up the boots and never bottomless holes like Tasmania. We had to cross the river above Sandy Pool on a rock bar which quickly became notorious claiming three of the walkers slipping while crossing. A huge pool beckoned for swimming while the rock pools at the crossing were also popular.

Our group that started as five groups of walkers and had become a group of 11 was starting to break up the next day as two had to leave and miss the last camp. More grass, scrub and bogs led us to Sweetwater Pool, another huge pool by rocks. We had to share it with day walkers and people who had walked in to stay the night. We were farewelled with an amazing sunset and then a very easy last day before final goodbyes at Edith Falls.

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.