Archive for the ‘Queensland 2012’ Category

Back in Melbourne

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

After five weeks in warm and sunny Queensland it feels good to be back in Melbourne! Even if it’s rainy and cold here. 🙂

The flight back from Brisbane went smoothly enough, the only slightly worrisome incident was during the security check when the guards spent quite a while going through my hand luggage. Admittedly, with all the camera gear and other stuff there it must have taken a while to check everything out properly. And the worrisome part was getting “heavy bag” written on my boarding pass by the guard, luckily Jetstar personnel happily ignored it when I was boarding the plane. Maybe next time I put little more stuff in checked luggage, I didn’t get a chance to weight the hand luggage but there was absolutely no way it was within the 10 kg limit!

Apart from that minor scare my stay in Brisbane after getting back from Stradbroke Island was uneventful. All the walking on the island didn’t do my cold any favors so I spent my last full day in Brisbane mainly resting and doing some research for the upcoming New Zealand trip in the library.

Queensland trip summary

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

My Queensland trip was definitely quite an experience! During the five weeks between the 5th of September and the 10th of October I covered a distance of around 4000 km along the east coast of Queensland from Brisbane to Port Douglas and back. I also did 26 great dives and took almost 3000 photos during the trip. Obviously going through all the photos and writing a trip report down took a while. Particularly since I broke my laptop’s screen during the trip and couldn’t get anything done until I was back in Melbourne.

With a trip covering so many different spots I felt it was easiest to write this summary post. This post only contains a brief overview, more detailed write-ups and photos can be found in their individual posts under the Queensland 2012 category.

I started out the trip by flying to Brisbane from Melbourne. After just a few days in the city I met up with Crystal, Nicky and Steffi from the dive club and we spent weekend on a liveaboard exploring the underwater wonders of the Moreton Bay. We had some excellent dives there and saw quite a few large animals, including various sharks, turtles and rays. I also did my 200th dive during the liveaboard, to “celebrate” the occasion I did it without any exposure protection. Little chilly in 20 degree water.

My next stop major stop was Yongala Dive Center in Alva Beach, both to visit my friend Joey who works there now and obviously to dive the wreck SS Yongala too. Luckily there was a group of divers on the Moreton Bay liveaboard who where heading there on a road trip the following day. I ended up joining them and we started the long drive North. Along the way we did a dive in a small place called Finch Hatton. The shallow river there is the only place in the world where you can dive with the platypus. Unfortunately we were unlucky and didn’t see any.

Despite some delays on the road we did get to Alva Beach eventually and did four dives on SS Yongala over two days. The wreck is well worth its reputation as the best wreck dive in Australia. To be fair the wreck isn’t even the main attraction, the variety and size of the marine life there is simply amazing!

After Yongala I took a bus North to Cairns. I spent a few days in this tourism mecca of Northern Queensland and did a few nice walks near the city. After that I went on another liveaboard, this time a three day trip to the Great Barrier Reef with Cairns Pro Dive. The tropical reefs were quite nice and I took some really nice photos during the trip too. After returning to the shore I did a day trip to the village of Kuranda in the middle of the rainforest and then moved on to Port Douglas. It was at this point I managed to break my laptop, I dropped some heavy stuff on the screen while packing my bags in Cairns.

In Port Douglas I had some further bad luck, I found this holiday resort fairly boring and ended up going for a long swim along the beach. This resulted in some really painful and quite serious sunburns, I still managed to do a day trip of diving a few days later but that was quite an agonizing experience.

After Port Douglas it was time to turn back South and start planning the return trip. I caught a bus to Townsville from Cairns and spent a couple of days there, including a trip to the Magnetic Island. There were some nice bushwalks there and the island was well worth the visit. During another quick visit to Alva Beach I managed to catch a ride to Mackay and from there on took a bus all the way back to Brisbane.

In Brisbane I did quite a bit of walking around the city and the surrounds, including the various parks and the Mt Coot-tha. I also did day trips to the nearby inland city of Ipswich and the North Stradbroke Island near the coast of Brisbane. Stradbroke Island in particular was quite interesting, this large sand island had some great scenery. It was also a great way to finish up the trip as at this point it was finally time to catch a flight to Melbourne!

North Stradbroke Island

Monday, October 8th, 2012

To finish up the Queensland trip I decided to visit the North Stradbroke Island. This world’s second largest sand island is a short ferry trip away from Brisbane and offers some nice scenery and walks.

Despite a minor cold I decided to do a really long walk on the island. This was bit of a necessity anyway, many of the interesting areas and walking tracks are quite far apart and reaching them by foot takes a while. Still, I figured a good 35 km day hike would take me from one end of the island to another, about half of the walk was on roads anyway so that sounded feasible. I actually ended up covering slightly over 40 km during the day, but I still got to Point Lookout and all the interesting stuff there just as sunset was getting close. It would have been even more spectacular during sunrise, but Point Lookout and the Gorge walk was still an awesome way to finish up the walk before catching a bus back to the other side of the island and the ferry terminal.

I visited couple of freshwater lakes along the way, both Brown and Blue Lake are nice swimming spots and I did a short snorkel in Blue Lake. After that things got little tricky, I was following a 4WD track which was pretty much covered in water in many parts. Most of the time I was able to go around them, but a few times I was forced to get my feet wet. Still, it was worth the effort. This road lead to the area called Keyholes, a series of pretty small lakes.

After that I got to the other coast and walked quite a while along the beach towards Point Lookout. Point Lookout is popular whale watching spot. No whales were in sight, but the North Gorge was still an awesome sight with the water rushing in and out. It did remind me of a certain accident earlier this year, however.

Back in Brisbane

Monday, October 1st, 2012

After getting back to Brisbane I spent several days just walking around the city and taking in the sights. I also managed to catch a minor cold so I thought it best to take it easy and avoided anything too strenous.

Apart from all the city life I also did three day trips to surrounding areas. First of all, I visited Mt Coot-tha Botanical Gardens and the Mt Coot-tha itself. The Botanical Gardens were quite nice and frankly pretty large to walk around. After the Gardens I headed into the bush and started hiking towards the lookout on top of Mt Coot-tha. Sadly the more interesting track was closed so the way up was somewhat boring. Still, the view to city from Mt Coot-tha is nice enough and worth the effort.

As a second day trip I visited Ipswich, an inland city near Brisbane. Ipswich is big city with a long history in mining. It’s not really an obvious tourist destination, but it still made a nice day trip. Particularly on a really warm day, temperatures to got around 35 degrees which was highest for the entire trip! I several walks in the parks around the city. Queens Park in particular is very nice, there’s a beautiful Japanese garden and a nice small animal park too.

And finally as my time in Queensland was coming to a close I did one final hiking trip to North Stradbroke Island. That was a great way to finish the trip and deserves its own post.

Townsville and Magnetic Island

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

After Port Douglas I took the free courtesy mini-bus back to Cairns. My back was still pretty painful and I considered just catching a flight back to Melbourne. Unfortunately, a long weekend was coming up in Queensland which meant it was impossible to get any affordable flights on short notice. Besides, sitting a few hours in a cramped airplane would probably have been an agonizing experience. Even the lot comfier bus chairs gave me quite a bit of pain whenever there was even a small bump, so in hindsight it was probably for the best I stayed in Queensland.

I felt I had already covered Cairns pretty thoroughly, so I only spent a few hours there and then caught an evening bus heading back South. My ultimate destination was Brisbane, I felt I hadn’t spent nearly enough time exploring the Queensland’s capital yet and besides it would be easy to get back to Melbourne from there. I also wanted to do few stops along the way, as the trip North had been quite rushed. While there were some interesting spots along the way, this first leg of the trip took me all the way to Townsville.

I got there just as the sun was rising and snapped some nice shots while walking along the coastline. After the bus ride from Cairns I was definitely feeling little sleep-depraved, but decided to some exploring anyway. Townsville itself doesn’t really have that many interesting attractions anyway. I started out walking around the city a bit and then headed up to top of the Castle Hill, a large hill (292 meters high) in the middle of the city with great views of the city itself and the nearby Magnetic Island. It was bit of a hike along the walking tracks, especially since I wasn’t wearing proper walking shoes!

On the way down I visited Queen’s Gardens, a nice botanical garden near Castle Hill. After some dinner and some walking along the Strand on the coast it was finally time to get some sleep. The place I stayed in deserves a special mention too: it was the first hostel I have visited in Australia with free Internet!

There were couple more things I could have done in the city itself on the next day, but I decided I’d rather do some bushwalking instead. Magnetic Island is a great day trip destination right next to the city and easily reachable by ferry. There are also some interesting snorkeling sites along the bays on the island, so I packed my mask and snorkel as well. I had planned a pretty extensive walking trip covering most of the Eastern side of the island. This obviously meant an early morning, I was already on “Maggie” at 7 am.

While it’s slightly easier to explore the island with the help of a rental vehicle or using the buses connecting the various towns, my walk plan actually worked out really well. I started

I got back to Townsville on the last ferry which also matched the sunset quite nicely. There were some pretty nice photo opportunities on that ferry.

After one more night in Townsville I continued my trip South. I decided to pay Joey another visit in Alva Beach so that was my first stop after Townsville. Unfortunately, Joey was even busier this time around. With the long weekend they were running double shifts which meant pretty much no free time for her. Alva Beach doesn’t really have much to do if you aren’t diving, so after one night there I decided to move on. I caught a ride to Mackay with one of the guys who had just dived the Yongala and then hopped on a bus after a few hours. Mackay on a long weekend must be one of the quietest city anywhere, streets were almost completely empty and everyone seemed to be somewhere else!

Again, there are some fairly interesting places between Mackay and Brisbane (Mackay definitely isn’t one of them though!). However, in the end I decided to just take the bus all the way to Brisbane. It can be fairly tricky travelling on public transport with all my dive gear, particularly since I still couldn’t really carry anything on my back yet! It was a long bus ride, but at least it was a  night bus so we missed all the roadworks and big trucks blocking traffic.

Agincourt Reef on Poseidon

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012
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Despite my badly burned back I didn’t want to skip dives I had booked for Tuesday, particularly since I had already paid for them. Besides, I was feeling fine otherwise in the morning so I figured it would be safe if painful to dive. I didn’t even bother trying a wetsuit on, water was warm enough for just a t-shirt. Besides, putting a wetsuit on with the blisters on my back didn’t really seem like a good idea.

We headed out to the reef on the dive boat Poseidon, a reasonably short ride as Port Douglas is lot closer to Great Barrier Reef than Cairns. It was a fairly big boat and in addition to us divers we had lots of snorkelers aboard. The boat was also lot more crowded than the liveaboards, but to be honest that was only a real problem on the sundeck.

The diving was well-organized if little rushed, we were diving on a strict schedule and following a guide at all times. But I guess that’s pretty normal on day boats catering mainly for tourists. At least the groups were reasonably small and as our boat was the only one in the area things never got too crowded underwater. Still, guided dives are definitely not my favorite kind of diving and they are usually not that great for photography either. There were some great reefs and lots of smaller fish, but unfortunately all the larger marine animals were absent.

I did three dives on the trip, enjoyable enough dives even if not quite as spectacular as the better liveaboard dives or SS Yongala. The back was giving me quite a bit of pain, but it was bearable. On the surface having the gear on was extremely painful, thankfully once I got into water things got lot more pleasant. It was not something I’d do regularly for fun, but at least I was able to enjoy the dives.

The only thing I disliked was all the touching of the marine life by the dive guides. They seemed to stick to critters where it was safe, but it still felt quite annoying when they were playing around with the critters and making some of us divers pose for shots too. And obviously those shots were for sale on the boat after the dive, definitely a practice I found quite questionable.

Port Douglas

Saturday, September 22nd, 2012

After the Kuranda trip I spent one more fairly uneventful day in Cairns and then moved on to Port Douglas on Saturday. Port Douglas is pretty much the furthest North you can easily get along the Queensland coast without relying on private transport or guided tours. The drive up there is pretty interesting too, after exiting the suburbs of Cairns the road follows the coastline quite closely. The views over the tropical coast are quite spectacular, it was just a shame our mini-bus transport didn’t do any stops along the way.

Port Douglas itself is a small town that acts mainly as a holiday resort. Apart from the usual tourist shops and the beautiful Four Mile Beach there’s pretty much nothing to see or do in the town itself and I found myself bored to tears pretty much instantly. However, the town is right next to both the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree rainforest, two world heritage sites. My main purpose was obviously diving, unlike Cairns you can reach pretty decent sites even on day trips. There are few different dive operators in the town, after some research I decided to go out with Poseidon. Unfortunately they were booked for the next few days so I ended up booking my dives for Tuesday.

With some time to burn on Sunday I was hoping to rent a bike and do a bit of exploring of my own, at least Mossmann Gorge is easily reachable on a day trip. Unfortunately the hostel I was staying had all their bikes rented out and on Sunday the few rental shops in town were also closed. So I had to abandon that plan and come up with something different. With little else to do in Port Douglas I decided to go for a long swim along the Four Mile Beach. This proved to be a big mistake!

It was a great day for swimming, weather was sunny and sea was pretty flat too. Unfortunately I got way too ambitious and decided to swim from one end of the beach to the other! The beach is not quite four miles long, but it’s close enough so this was a really long swim. I put a thick layer of sunscreen on and started the swim from the North end of the beach. I haven’t done that many long swims in ocean so I stuck close to the shore. Progress was little slow but steady, I was in no rush anyway. Eventually I started to feel somewhat exhausted as it was a hot day, particularly as I was doing the swim in the middle of the day. I pushed on a little further and got out at the first clear landmark, a bulge on the coastline around three fourths of the way.

In hindsight, three mile swim (which obviously took several hours) in direct tropical sunlight is not the brightest idea, particularly for someone with my complexion. Even with sunscreen on I figured I’d get some sunburns. However, in the evening my back was feeling only slightly burned and I thought I had gotten off easy. Next morning was a different story, unfortunately. I woke up with my back giving me agonizing pain whenever I moved even little bit on the bed. Additionally, whenever I got up I started feeling really nauseous after only a minute or two and had to lay down again on the bed.

I quickly had to abandon the plan of doing the bike trip on that day either, I could barely walk more than a few minutes so riding a bike was totally out of question! I ended up spending the day totally miserable in my bed. To make matters worse I had booked my dives for the next day and I was getting quite worried I wouldn’t be in any shape to go out on a boat by then. Luckily my condition started slowly to improve and by the late afternoon I was already able to walk to the town center to grab some quick dinner. To be fair, I had to lay down for a while in the park to feel well enough for the return walk, but at least things were improving!


Thursday, September 20th, 2012

After returning from the liveaboard I wanted to head a little inland and do some walking in a proper rainforest. Unfortunately most of the best walks in the area really require a car or other private transport. So I had to compromise and ended up visiting Kuranda, a small tourist town in the middle of the rainforest 25 km from Cairns. Kuranda is a pretty big tourist destination with quite a few interesting sights. Even getting there is bit of an experience, the most scenic options are definitely the Skyrail Cableway or the Scenic Railway from Cairns. I opted for the cheaper bus option, but even so the drive up there had some great sights. To make sure I had plenty of time to complete the walk I got up early in the morning and managed to snatch a few sunrise shots in Cairns before catching the first Kuranda bus.

While there are a few shorter walks in Kuranda itself, getting to the longer walks from the town takes a while on foot. I started out on ? track, a nice enough covered track near next to the city. There was a lone wallaby along the way and a nice creek crossing. After that I started making my way towards the Barron Falls, a popular lookout in the area. There were no real walking tracks so I had to walk along the roads, luckily even these are quite interesting as they pass through the rainforest with huge trees and other plants all along the way.

The Barron Falls didn’t disappoint either, the view from the lookout is really spectacular. Water cascades down 265 meters to the bottom of the Barron Gorge and the spot has some great potential for photos. I was there near the end of the dry season so the Falls were not quite at their best either, during the wet season the sight must be magnificent!

Bit further down the road is the Wrights lookout with some nice views down the Barron Gorge. This is also the start of the longer walking tracks, from here on I followed the McDonalds track which is a starting point for many longer walking tracks. The track itself is reasonably easy but it passes through some really hilly terrain, by that point it was getting closer to noon and it was getting quite hot too. The first part of the track is fairly boring but things get more interesting once the track crosses over Surprise Creek. The Creek itself is nice enough and the crossing is a nice little spot. There was one turtle swimming in the water.

After the creek the walk climbs up a bit and finally gets back to the edge of the Barron Gorge. The views from up there are very nice, you can often see all the way to the coast along the Barron Gorge as long as trees are not blocking the way. I continued along the track for a few more kilometers until I reached the first major intersection. A short walk from there along the Douglas track took me to the Glacier Rock, a lookout with a great view of both the coast and the hills themselves.

After a short break I decided to turn back and started heading back towards Kuranda. The walk back was nice enough despite the fact that I was following the exact same route. In the town itself I took one final detour and followed the walking track along the river. Originally I had planned to do some more exploring in Kuranda itself too, there’s a really nice bird aviary and butterfly sanctuary there along with few other attractions. Unfortunately I was feeling quite exhausted after spending the whole day hiking up and down the hills in the heat. Besides, the next bus for Cairns was just about to depart so I hopped on and decided to call it a day. Total walking distance was around 25 km, plenty enough for a day trip considering the heat and the terrain!

Pro Dive Cairns Liveaboard – Flynn and Milln Reefs

Monday, September 17th, 2012
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After few days in Cairns I felt it was time for some more diving. There are lots of dive operators in the city, from day trips to full week liveaboards. Great Barrier Reef consists of numerous smaller reefs, typically the sites closer to Cairns have suffered quite a bit from all the tourist activity and are not very interesting as result. The best dive sites are actually in the Coral Sea outside the Great Barrier Reef itself but to reach these sites you have to go on one of the longer and expensive liveaboards. As a compromise I decided to go on one of the shorter three day liveaboards heading to the outer reef. I ended up going out with Pro Dive, they came highly recommended and as a bonus they were running a $100 discount that week too.

I was quite  happy with my choice, the purpose-built Scubapro vessels are really nice and definitely a step up from the Big Cat Reality I was on for the Moreton Bay trip. There were only two persons per cabin and the rest of the facilities were good too. Plus food was excellent, too.

Quite a few people on the boat were doing various courses, but there were still several of us divers just there for fun. Luckily I ended up with a good buddy, an older guy with decent amount of diving experience. Not the greatest navigator, but apart from that we had no issues.

Diving itself was great too, the sites we visited were on the Flynn and Milln reefs on the outer Great Barrier Reef. These reefs are typically visited only be liveaboards and still in pretty good shape. Not quite as spectacular as the best sites I have visited in Red Sea, but there were still lots of great photo opportunities. In addition to the reefs themselves and the usual small tropical fish, there were quite a few reef sharks and several turtles around too. Like most of the diving around Great Barrier Reef the sites were pretty shallow, we ventured beyond 20 meters only a couple of times.

Almost all the dives were done unguided, which I found a big positive. We had excellent dive briefings before each dive with compass bearings and everything. My buddy and I did get lost quite badly at once while supposedly following the reef back to our starting point. Apparently we had done a big navigation error at some point and ended up quite far from the boat. While the situation was not really dangerous with no currents and calm sea the rescue boat still picked us up afterwards to save us the long surface swim. Everyone had a good laugh afterwards about that incident!

With perfect weather weather and great dives this was another superb liveaboard!


Friday, September 14th, 2012

Cairns is a regional city in Northern Queensland and the center of tourism in the area. It’s one of the most popular holiday destinations for overseas visitors to Australia and it’s great base for visiting the Great Barrier Reef, the nearby rainforests and the Atherton Tablelands further inland. As a result the city is full of tourist shops and various tour operators. I still found it a fairly pleasant city, obviously way too touristy but apart from that nice enough.

Cairns is on the coast but there’s no actual beach in the city itself. At least there is a pretty nice swimming lagoon for cooling off during the hot days. It’s no substitute for a real beach of course, and pretty crowded during the day. The walk along the coast on the promenade is nice (if at times crowded) and a popular exercise spot too. I did little bit of running there too, but strictly outside the daylight hours. With 30 degree day temperatures anything too physical was off the books for me.

I still did a fair a bit of walking in the area, mainly in the Botanic Gardens and its surronds. The Botanic Gardens in Cairns are very nice and obviously the focus is on the tropical species. Near the Gardens there are two popular walking tracks, Blue and Red Arrow. The combined track makes for a nice walk through some wilderness near the city with some excellent views to the Cairns airport. The early part of the track is known as the Red Arrow, a fairly easy (if somewhat steep) walk up the hill in the rainforest. The second part known as Blue Arrow is a proper bushwalk and slightly more demanding. Apart from the nice views and the rainforest itself there were also quite a few lizards and birds along the tracks.