Friday, September 30, 2011

On the rocks

Just sitting on the rocks at the end of the beach watching  the sunset. A little while ago someone from the dive shop walked up the beach to warn everyone that a shark had been spotted near shore, so we decided not to go for another swim.
- mark.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

On Fitzroy

Here's a shot of Ciel riding the boat over to Fitzroy Island. We'll be here for three nights, so I expect we'll find the best places to snorkel here. I know, it's a rough life...

- mark

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bramston Beach to Cairns

We got up early to see the sunrise over the Pacific (or the coral sea, as this part of it is known). Then we packed up and headed out early to avoid the heat.

We took a little side trip up to The Boulders, just west of Babinda, to try to see a cassowary (someone told us they'd seen one here). Again, no luck for us. We did see some sugarcane being harvested though.

We swam in the safe pool at The Boulders, just downstream from here is pretty dangerous water, with warning signs all around. The biggest danger for us was the biting flies! They're a bit like a small horsefly - I think they call them march flies.

Back on the road, we stopped at Fishery falls for another ginger beer, then past farms and into the city.

Back to "civilization", where the drivers are considerably less civil...


Henrietta Creek to Bramston Beach

Down the road from Henrietta creek, we came across some roadside fruit stands, where we bought some bananas and papaya. The little "monkey bananas" were the sweetest I've ever had! The papaya was really good too.

Then we got to Innisfail (there's also an Edmonton just south of Cairns too, but we didn't find a Calgary).

After a tour through Flying Fish Point (a place we were told was good to spot a cassowary, but no luck), we got to Bramston Beach.

I was ready for a shower and swim by this time, so I paid for a campsite in the crowded caravan park (Ciel said she still had the energy to ride to the small campsites in the national park just north of here, but I didn't think we'd be in luck finding a vacant spot). The ocean was the warmest water I've been in here, aside from the hot springs!

We had to have ginger beer at the cafe, of course...


Lake Eacham to Henrietta creek

Down the road from Lake Eacham, we came to Millaa Millaa, where they were holding a 100th anniversary celebration in the park in town. We met up with Sonia again, and she introduced us to her brother and sisters.

We got to try "billy and damper", which turns out to be tea brewed in a pot (billy) over a fire, and bread cooked in something like a dutch oven. Very yummy, especially with the cane sugar syrup!

They had some old logs in the park which were carbon dated to 1136 or something (when it started growing, the tree fell just a few years ago). Huge old growth - too bad there's not much of it left. It would be impressive to see a stand of trees this size.

Then we got ourselves out to Millaa Millaa falls, where we had a swim under the falls before the ceremonies began...

The Ma:mu people were having a "welcome to country" event with several bits about "sharing culture". We got to see some aboriginal dancing accompanied by didgeridoo (I had to look up how to spell that, so if it's wrong, don't blame me, blame google). It's really amazing how little animosity there is between the aboriginal peoples and the European settlers, considering some of the history (including settlers shooting "troublesome blacks")!

Then on the rest of the waterfall circuit, we saw Zillie falls...

and Elinjaa falls. Then we had to hustle down the road to get to Henrietta Creek before dark. Several people told us it was all downhill from Millaa Millaa, so we were a bit disheartened to see the sign saying 8% grade for 2.5km - it was up, not down! Luckily, there was about 5km of down after that to get to Henrietta creek.

We got the tent set up just as night fell, and cooked our spaghetti in the dark. Ciel went for a dip at the swimming hole in the creek and came back telling me "it's warm! you have to go in!", but she must have re-calibrated her thermometer, as it was a bit of a shock for me getting in the water!


Tumoulin to Lake Eacham

We got out of the forest without being eaten by carnivorous ants, and headed up the road. there were a few climbs before we got to this unexpected sign: "Highest Declared road in Queensland, Elevation 1143m". Not quite Highwood pass, but we're quite happy with that!

Then we stopped at Mount Hypipamee Crater National Park to have lunch and look at the volcanic blow-hole in the earth. apparently people lose their dogs down the hole rather frequently, and it's impossible to get them out again - it's just 70m of sheer rock all around the water, and the dogs probably drown before anyone can pull them out.

We wanted to see a cassowary here, but no luck - just scrub turkeys (which are all over the place).

Farther up the road, we stopped at Blomfield Swamp, where a lot of Sarus cranes and other birds hang out. We also met the same cycle touring group from Ravenshoe, who had a pit stop there.

After that, we got to Malanda, where we had lunch at the pub in the historic hotel, along with the obligatory Bundaberg ginger beer!

Just up the road from Malanda, we got to Peeramon, where my aunt Gill and uncle Ivor used to live. I didn't know where their place was, but we got a picture of me in front of the hotel...

Finally we got to Lake Eacham, a volcanic crater lake in a national park. We had a bit of a swim in the nice clear water, but Ciel found it a bit cold by this time. She must be used to the Australian heat!

At the caravan park at Lake Eacham, Ciel read up on Australian bushwalking.


Innot hot Spring to Tumoulin

It took us a long time to leave the caravan park at the hot springs, as lots of people came up to talk to us, curious about our bikes and trailers and where we were going.

We made a wrong turn on the way to Millstream falls where we met a guy named Vince who invited us in for coffee and biscuits, after seeing our bikes out on the road. Lots of friendly people in Australia!

We did make it to the falls after that.

A short distance from the falls, we got to Ravenshoe (which locals seem to pronounce raven-show, and not raven-shoe like I would have guessed). We got a few more groceries and headed north out of town.

Leaving town, we met a group of cyclists on a supported tour. they turned left to Kaban while we went up to the Tumoulin state forest to spend the night. Ciel wanted to camp down by the river, but the tangle of growth down there meant it was much easier to camp higher up in the grass. There were weird ants with red heads, black bodies bent up over their heads, and long spidery legs running all over the place. Being Australia, I assumed these would be some killer poisonous ants, but Ciel was unconcerned. Just before we crawled into bed, a pole on the tent broke and we had to use the pole repair sleeve to keep the thing up.


Irvinebank to Innot Hot Spring

I set the alarm on my watch for 5:20 in order to get up early enough to avoid the heat going over Mt. Misery (we made sure we filled all our water bottles in case it took us longer than planned to get down to the Kennedy highway about 40km south of Irvinebank).

Mount Misery didn't live up to its name for us - we were expecting a brutal climb up rough roads in the scorching heat, but we left so early it was actually foggy in Irvinebank (which is unusual for the dry edge of the outback). The roads were pretty good too, and we soon got to the top. I wasn't convinced we had actually reached the top, thinking there must be more climbing to come, but we started heading down and soon found ourselves at the junction to go to Silver Valley road.

Ciel took pictures at the top just in case it really was the top. We could still see the low-lying fog in the valleys to the north.

Just before we reached Silver Valley road, we saw our first kangaroo - Ciel spotted it first so we both stopped. It just stood there watching us and scratching its side for a while, then it got tired of us and hopped away. We saw several others on the road after that.

After a bit of indecision about which way to go once we got to the highway, we got to the hot springs and decided to stay in the caravan park there. It seemed a bit strange to go into the hot water when it's so hot out, but they had a cool pool as well. First thing in the morning, the hot water sure felt good!

There are natural pools down by the creek, but they were kinda hot. We couldn't get them very cool either, with not much water flowing down the creek.


Atherton to Irvinebank

The climb from Atherton to Herberton was unexpectedly long and steep, but not as bad as the Gilles would have been. Thankfully, there was a lot less traffic too!

Not to be outdone by the chaps from Spinal Tap, whose amps "go to 11", Aussie fire danger ratings go to "catastrophic"! Luckily for us it was only "high" when we were around...

Once in Herberton, we stopped at a park by the Wild River for a short rest. This always gives Ciel an excuse to take lots of pictures (like she really needs an excuse)!

Past Herberton, the road soon turned to gravel, but they were just levelling and watering the surface, so it was almost as good as pavement. There was one nasty climb left for us before Irvinebank, but luckily that one was paved - even in low gear, it was a bit of a grunt!

In Irvinebank, there's a free campground, complete with toilets and showers, right in the middle of town. It was a great place for us to lie around and kill time after getting to Irvinebank early in the day. We sat at a picnic table and ate lunch while a kookaburra watched us. They have the most amazing calls, kind of like a carton monkey going oo-oo-oo-oo-aa-aa-aa-aa! They wouldn't do that while we were watching them, though, so we weren't sure the birds we saw were actually kookaburras until we saw pictures of them in a book.

Later on, we went to the pub across the street for a ginger beer (Ciel would move to Australia just for Bundaberg ginger beer - it's really good). Then dinner and an early night in preparation for an early start in the morning.


Day 3: Mareeba to Atherton

We headed west out of Mareeba to avoid the main road as much as we could, and also to see Granite Gorge about 12km outside Mareeba. It's too bad re didn't know more about the place beforehand, as it would have been a nicer place to spend the night than the caravan park in Mareeba. We didn't want to spend the $15 they were asking just to go in for the day, so we were back on the road after a bite to eat. This is sugar cane-growing country, so there are lots of cute little railways for the cane trains - the rail spacing is only about 60cm or so. If Matthew W. lived here, he'd have cane railways in his back yard!

We started seeing lots of these black, parrot-like birds that we later discovered are palm cockatoos. They would fly away from us, hopping from tree to tree as we rode down the road below them. There were also lots of large crane-like birds out in a field next to the road. Ciel wishes we had a book about the birds of Australia, as we don't know what anything is here! The birds are all different, the trees are all different, and the mammals are definitely all different!

We started going by banana plantations with big plastic bags over all the bunches of bananas, which are to protect the bananas from flying foxes (we found out later, after much speculating). Flying foxes are really big bats compared to what I've seen in Canada. We watched some at night in the caravan park in Mareeba - they were roosting in a big tree (don't ask me what kind) over the camp kitchen building.

Back out to the main road to Atherton was a bit of a slog - a bit uphill and a bit of a headwind combined to make it pretty slow going. After stopping at the information center and then a bike shop in Atherton for information on the road south from Irvinebank, we headed out of town, only to stop at the caravan park just at the edge of town. This is where we saw our first live wallaby (we had already seen plenty of roadkill).

It's always nice to have a dip in the pool after a day on the bike!


Day 2: Lake Tinaroo to Mareeba

From Lake Tinaroo, we headed back up the road to Kauri creek road which goes over the range and down into Mareeba. The first part of the ride was a bit of a test: 500m of elevation gain in 10km. It's a good thing we left early in the morning, it's pretty sweaty riding uphill in the rainforest!

Over the top of the hill, it got a lot drier on the north-facing slope (that's the sunny side down here in upside-down land). We started seeing the iconic termite mounds in the more open, grassy area we were now riding through.

Once we got to Mareeba, it was time for a milkhake and some internet access. We stayed in a caravan park (that's aussie for car campground) in Mareeba, and went swimming at the Brewery swimming hole on the Barron river. I don't know why it's called that, maybe there used to be a brewery there once - there isn't now. There were three guys sitting on the river bank having a drink of wine; one of them was a very friendly aboriginal guy from the Northern Territory. He thought we were nuts to go swimming in the "cold" water. It must have been as warm as Shuswap lake in summer, though!