Archive for the ‘Added Dec 28’ Category

Fraser Island. Christmas on the beach!

December 28, 2008

Having rented a 4-wheel drive camper and had no real reason to use it, I relished the thought of getting over to Fraser Island! Located north east of Brisbane, Fraser Island is the worlds largest sand island, and holds the worlds only sand rooted rain forest!

The entire island is now a protected national park and heritage area and is only accessible by 4 wheel drive – all the roads are loose sand, wicked fun, and the eastern "70 mile" beach (actually only 53 miles long) acts as the highway to scoot up and down the island. Driving was unbelievable fun – bouncing around the van on squishy tires, off-roading in sand ruts, over roots, up hills, through rivers and booting up the beach at 85kms/h! Sarah had some ‘fun’ learning to drive standard on the left side of the beach, and I got to help a few people get their trucks out of foot deep sand, yahoo!

To top it all off of course, this was Christmas week.  We spent 5 days on the island in total, camping on different spots of the eastern beach each night.  We’d had trouble with the camper van’s fridge (it turns out the second battery had been disconnected from the alternator, meaning it had NEVER worked!  A letter will be written….) so we found a mechanic on the island who jerry rigged a switch to our bumper to allow us to charge the thing up while driving.  This allowed us cold beer (and eggs etc etc) and of course champagne on Christmas morning! As you’ll see from the photos, there was no snow, but plenty to look at.

On our first day, we visited Lake McKenzie – a picturesque fresh water ‘perched’ dune lake, surrounded by pure white sand.  Dune lakes fit under 3 categories – Perched, formed by water trapped in the sand above sea level by a layer of rock; Window, formed by depressions dropping below the water table; and Barrage, lakes formed where a water course has been dammed by sand. Whereas McKenzie is crystal clear water, there are also tea-coloured lakes… much safer for skinny dipping but a bit more frightening as god knows what is lurking beneath you! That night we found a fantastic (and shaded!) spot to camp and returned to this spot the next night for Christmas morning.  You’ll see in the photos the view we woke to on Christmas!

We woke up early Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought us, drank some champagne (it should be noted of course that it is actually ‘sparkling wine’ of which Australia seems to be currently making the best stuff!) and lounged about. We drove up the beach for a swim in Eli Creek where Sarah did another monkey impression – and was a bad influence on some young children who followed suit. Further up the beach is an old wreck of the Maheno, an old trans-Tasman ocean liner that has seen better days, and the Pinnacles – multi-coloured sand formations, supposedly the best in Australia! Further still we came to Tukkee Sandblow – one of many on the island.  This was our chance to run up a sand dune and pretend we were in the middle of the Sahara!

Christmas night we took some sleeping bags down to the beach to look at the stars for a few hours – an unbelievable view from out there! Did we mention there are wild Dingoes on Fraser Island?  Hundreds of them? You aren’t allowed to feed them or interact with them but sometimes you can’t help it – insofar as jumping out of your skin, yelping, and running back to the Campervan as quickly as you can.  Yes, our star gazing ended suddenly as, upon turning towards a noise in the dark, we found packs of wild dogs ready to pounce.  Sarah assures me it was only 2 or 3 of them and they were more scared than we were but I know she’s just saying that to make me feel better.

There are also some photos of the Champagne Rocks – some tidal pools that fill with ocean waves leaving you surrounded by bubbles of air …. like sitting in a glass of salty champagne.  Our first visit was when the tide was out and it was quiet, the next we had a few hours to ourselves until about 9am when a bus load of Irish joined us!

All in all, this was one of our favorite stops so far – thanks to Ed for suggesting we spend time here – it made the 4wd all worth while and hats off to Toyota – that van was almost as capable as Eric-The-Jeep (whom I miss terribly).

We made it off the island in once piece on Dec. 28th, and headed south to Byron Bay for New Years.  The last photo there is me with a statue of Mary Poppins in Maryborough…. we stopped there just for this photo! P L Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins stories (from which Disney made my favourite film) was born here in 1899 and lived in the building next to the statue!  She looked taller on film I thought.

See the photos


Rum and Turtles

December 21, 2008

After leaving Denise and Pete, and remembering our hangovers with Matt in Townsville, we took a quick detour to Bundaberg and did a tour of the Rum factory… very interesting stuff indeed.  The stuff before the tasting wasn’t bad either.  Imagine a ‘room’ (a massive concrete tank with a roof and walkway really) that holds over 4,000,000 gallons of molasses!?!

The night before however, to Sarah’s delight, we stumbled upon the "Mon Repos" turtle hatchery.  Mon Repos beach on the Bundaberg coast is one of few remaining (and now protected) areas for sea turtle nesting. As many of you know, sea turtles lay their eggs on beaches very close to where they were born many years before – a phenomena that still baffles scientists.  About 50 years ago a scientist was studying sea turtles in the area and along with the EPA and Ministry of Agriculture has established a completely protected stretch of beach to help these endangered creatures survive and hopefully rebuild their populations.

As well as a full lab and research facility (the primary facility for Australia where ALL nationally collected data is stored and processed by volunteers year round) Mon Repos has a large visitor centre to introduce and educate travelers about the plight of sea turtles.  Years ago 1000s of people would flood the beach every night from November to March to watch the turtle building nests which, naturally, was a bit disturbing for the exhausted mothers! The scientists decided to set up a system where up to 300 visitors can book a ‘tour’ in a controlled and structured way so that both the natural process can continue, but also visitors can see first hand the laying of eggs through to the emerging hatchlings.  Because it’s a natural event it’s a toss up what you might see but wow, did we luck out!  After the sun went down, Dave, one of the original scientists gave a great presentation on the life-cycle of the various sea turtles and told us what to expect, when we can take pictures, and why it’s important to stay together.  then the waiting begins…. some groups wait 20 minutes, others 5 hours, until a turtle arrives to deliver.  We waited until about 12 am (watching various turtle documentaries… some great, some not so great) during which we had a few false alarms – a turtle would arrive on the beach, but sensing the wind was up (poor buggers getting sand in their eyes!) would turn around to try again tomorrow.  Finally one mother decided it was time and up she crawled. To my satisfaction a not-so-great documentary about some irritating girl following the life of a turtle she saved was cut short and we were sent off in our group (those that hadn’t given up waiting!) to the beach to watch the events unfold.  Standing there on the windy beach (without lights!) we were given the surprise that HATCHLINGS had appeared!  Turtle eggs take 6-8 weeks to hatch and none were expected for another few weeks but sure enough two babies had emerged, been taken to the lab for measurements and quick physical (only the first few of each season are examined) and were brought over for us to look at! Two baby Flatback turtles… an exceptionally lucky event as Mon Repos is the only spot in Oz where the (endangered) Flatback’s reproduce!! very cute.

We were then taken up the beach to watch a HUGE Loggerhead turtle (a 99.7cm long shell, born in 1988 and named "T41260" – clearly turtles are named by the same dull scientists that name stars!) plopping eggs in to her nest. They lay around 100 eggs per ‘clutch’ and usually build 3-4 nests per nesting season – this was T41260’s 4th clutch this season. After they’re laid, the turtle instinctively covers them in sand and then makes her way back to the ocean.  It’s incredible to see Nature in action like this – we (arrogantly) assume this is all instinct but the turtle can find the beach (using the earth’s magnetic field, imprinted on the turtle when they made their way down the beach the day they were born!), dig a nest (exactly 55 cm deep, in an inverted cone shape), lay their eggs, bury them, disguise the nest, and make it back to the ocean all within a few hours… and only when the conditions suit her taste!  Back in the ocean they can (on will) fertilize another batch of eggs using sperm (from up to 40 males!) stored internally from the mating that took place weeks ago and miles away and come back to build additional nests!  Crazy.

FYI, turtles can’t reproduce until they’re over 30 years old, and only 1 out of every 1000 make it to this age. Some more interesting tid-bits:

  • The sex of a turtle is determined exclusively by the temperature of the sand. Warmer sand means 100% males in a nest, colder means 100% female.  +/- 5 degrees or so, otherwise the nest doesn’t survive.  Lookout global warming.
  • Sea turtles have 15-20 ‘Lost Years’ after they’re born to when they return to their mating grounds ready to mate… no one knows where they go, why or what brings them back!
  • Once old enough to reproduce, each turtle remains alone and stays close to the same reef for their entire life, except when leaving to the mating grounds or (in the case of pregnant females) to their nesting site
  • Females only reproduce when they are fit enough to manage the journey and months of starvation – usually once every 3-4 years
  • Hatchlings find the ocean by looking for the lowest source of light (usually the horizon) and will follow flashlight beams, head lights, or light from beach town resorts.  Luckily HERE there is none of that! Too bad about all the other beaches!

As with so many sea creatures, they are endangered by over fishing (Asian markets continue to think turtle and sharks are magic elixirs!?), hunting, drag nets and accidental capture, and boat collisions. 

Oh – on this note, EVERYONE should watch the movie "Shark Water"… you’ll be shocked by what continues to go on in our oceans.  Remember, when the oceans die, we die.  Global warming holds NOTHING on the devastation of the oceans.

All that adds up to what we saw being a bit of a miracle – a very worthwhile stopover and an unforgettable experience to witness.  Sorry there aren’t more photos – for the sake of the turtles you are limited on what you can photograph, but there are thousands of photos online if you google Mon Repos!

See some photos

Rocky – with Denise and Pete

December 20, 2008

As you may know, my connection with Australia stems from time my mum lived here back in her 20’s.  To their credit, mum and all the friends she made have stayed in touch and visited us in Britain and Canada throughout the years. Some of them I have met, others I’ve only heard stories (and stories, and stories…) about. One such couple is Denise and Pete Dalton in Rockhampton ("Rocky" to the locals, just south of Townsville) who graciously put us up for a few nights, sight unseen!

As with all Aussies it seems, Denise and Pete are warm, welcoming, laid back and really friggin’ funny.  Denise took us on a whirlwind tour of Rockhampton where we saw (and finally got photos of) more fruit bats, various lookouts and ocean views, a BLACK Cock-er-two, an old non-denominational chapel (as all should be IMHO) built by U.S. soldiers stationed during the war, and the very cool ‘singing ship’ memorial – a tribute to the revered Capt. Cook, this statue actually ‘sings’ and whistles as the wind blows through it, imitating the sound a sailing vessel makes as wind passes through the rigging.  Pretty neat-o. We also stopped for a photo at the Tropic of Capricorn (my birth sign!) after Denise had shown us a photo she took there with mum and dad years ago!

That evening we were back for a swim and BBQ next door – another fine example of an Aussie BBQ… meet, drink, meat, drink, repeat.  Conversation became so lively that a ‘conch’ was passed around to keep the jokes from overlapping! It was also revealed that Denise has in her possession something of priceless value – THE recipe for my gran’s infamous Cornish pasties! and in my mum’s own handwriting!!! You could almost still smell the sherry.  To top off the evening, we had a surprise visit from a small green tree frog, which, like all creatures great and small took an immediate liking to Sarah.

Oh, and in case you haven’t seen enough photos of Sarah and I together, Denise made us take a few…. hundred.

See some pix

Climbing Frames and Water Rings

December 19, 2008

Australia continues to amaze me – I really never expected it to be as tropical and diverse as it is! As well, man, they have the coolest playgrounds for kids!! Townsville so far wins the prize of a) the nicest water front and b) the coolest kids playgrounds – and that’s saying a lot ’cause other towns haven’t been too shabby!

One of the sea-side attractions is a huge rope climbing frame sitting in the sand for all to play on…. naturally I lost Sarah here for a while, along with all the other kids! (see first photos)

I love hostels for the people you meet – we met a pretty cool guy, Matt, at the hostel in Townsville who graciously put us up in an apartment his dad had rented for them so we stayed in Townsville one extra night.. drinking and playing in the swimming pool – the first COLD water we’d been in for weeks!  I had no idea the ocean could get as warm as it does in North Queensland.  To say it’s like a bath is an understatement – it’s no wonder the coral is having a hard time surviving with temperatures like that.  So finding a cold (and by cold I mean about 82!) pool to relax in.  I almost figured out how to blow ‘water rings’ – like smoke rings but underwater and without a cigarette. Matt also introduced us  to another Australian custom "Bundaberg Rum." It is to Queensland what Guinness is to Dublin… and the morning affect is similar.  Oh, that photo of Sarah underwater – she’s sipping tea, nothing else…. long story!

See some photos

Paronella Park, North Queensand

December 10, 2008

On our drive south towards Townsville we made a quick decision to detour for a night at Paronella Park – and what a detour!

Paronella Park is (for those of you in Toronto) a story that reminded me of Casa Loma.  A rather ambitious Spaniard, Jose Paronella, had been working in the Sugar Cane fields for years as a farm hand in North Queensland.  With the intention of returning to Spain to marry and bring over his arranged wife-to-be, he quietly built himself a large nest egg by buying, fixing up, and selling cane farms all over Queensland.  Upon returning to Spain however, he found that everyone had assumed he was dead after not hearing word from him for a few years – and thus his wife-to-be was now a wife-to-another! Crushed, but determined, he looked to his left, gave a wink and married the sister instead. Bloody Spanish.

Upon returning with his new bride to Queensland, Jose purchased 13 acres of land along Mena Creek (with a rather lovely waterfall!) for ~$300 and started to build the house and gardens of his dreams.  Using hand mixed concrete and rails from old railway track the two of them built a home reminiscent of the Spanish Castles they had grown up with.  To say this guy could build is an understatement – by 1935 (6 years after purchase) they opened Paronella Park to the public – they’d built swimming areas below and behind the falls, a theatre (with movies every Saturday night!) which doubled as a dance hall with a 1270 mirror disco ball, refreshment rooms, Tea Gardens, two tennis courts, children’s playground and planted upwards of 7000 native trees! A tunnel (The Love Tunnel) was excavated, small bridges were put up across  streams, and to top it off, a Hydro Electric generating plant was built!! The first of its kind in North Queensland, feeding power to the entire park from the falls.  Amazing!

Through an unlucky history, this park was devastated, rebuilt, and eventually sold in 1977 after Jose had passed away – two years later a huge fire swept through and the park was closed (the current owners are sure this was an insurance job by the new owner! Exciting!)  A few cyclones then passed through in the 80’s and 90’s and the city was lost to the jungle until it was purchased in 1993 by Mark and Judy Evans. The new owners have now excavated most of the site and restored parts for visitors – gaining a listing in the National Trust in 1997.

We decided to visit the park after I saw a photo that looked like something out of an Indiana Jones movie! That’s about how cool it looks!  We arrived in time for the ‘lighting of the gardens’ – just after dark they flood the place with spooky cool lights, see photos below, and met Mark and Judy who are clearly VERY excited and enthusiastic.  There is now a small caravan park attached to the park so we decided to stay the night so we could spend the next day having a full tour and wandering around.  There’s a lane of amazing Kauri trees at Kauri Avenue, ponds to feed turtles (Sarah’s favourite spot!) the most bamboo I’ve ever seen, and loads more to see, including of course the remains of the buildings and cottage … it was an amazing day, and a very inspirational story of what people can do when they have a dream.  We’d highly recommend a visit here for anyone in the area!

Nice story, but photos are better…. so here they are!