Archive for September, 2012

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

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.

#225 Maze 2012-09-25

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012
Maze in Port Douglas, Australia
49 minutes, max depth 13.4 m, water 25°C

#224 Triggerfish City 2012-09-25

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012
Triggerfish City in Port Douglas, Australia
44 minutes, max depth 17.4 m, water 25°C

#223 Nobodies 2012-09-25

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012
Nobodies in Port Douglas, Australia
45 minutes, max depth 18.6 m, water 25°C

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!

#222 Tracy’s 2012-09-19

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012
Tracy's in Cairns, Australia
48 minutes, max depth 11.3 m, water 25°C

#221 Tracy’s 2012-09-19

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012
Tracy's in Cairns, Australia
50 minutes, max depth 15.9 m, water 25°C

#220 Little Tracy 2012-09-19

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012
Little Tracy in Cairns, Australia
55 minutes, max depth 20.7 m, water 24°C