Campervanning – Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands

On 2nd March 2017 we moved on from Magnetic Island to Airlie Beach. Our drive takes us to a less humid area and Martha happily escorts us to Flametree Tourist Village which is run by a British couple who had been working hard to improve the camp site. Staying here feels cooler, there is less wildlife around us and this allows for a better few nights of sleep. The only downside is that we are some distance from the nearest shops and our liquor supply had depleted. 

The site help us to plan our next days journey to the Whitsunday Islands. There are so many tours on offer however we choose to do a one day excursion in which we are collected from outside the site at 7am. Thankfully we are the last to get on the coach and the journey to the boat was only about a twenty minute ride. We travelled with Reef Cruises who made sure all the passengers were well fed and watered throughout the day. Our first stop was reached after a 60 minute boat ride. It required us with stinger suits and snorkelling gear in hand to decend onto a small boat that takes us to the a small sandy bay to the south east of Hook Island.

We are given an hour and a half to snorkel. The stinger suits are tight, hot and not particularly nice to manovere into. My fetching look is completed with goggles and a snorkel. I opt to wear a life jacket too. This stops me from the worry of having to ground myself by standing on the reef something I have no desire to do and something which our guides have to remind other over and over again. The reef is lacking colour according to those who have seen it before and through our journey around Australia bleached white pieces of reef have washed ashore. Not being the strongest of swimmers (another reason to wear a life jacket) I swim with caution. Oh and did I mention my other fear, fish. Fish that might nibble my toes. I have no idea where this fear came from except that when I was a child I dug a hole on the beach only to discover a dead fish. Since then fish with faces have not been a favourite thing of mine.

Anyway, I paddle out to the reef. The fish are wonderfully coloured, stripy, spotty, iridescent, large, small, even larger and I appologise to each one I pass. I am invading their territory and after a while of watching some of them dash away from me I realise they are scared of me too. I’m not surprised by this. There are a lot of other snorkellers here with me. I look up to see a woman looking at me and make out the she is saying turtle. I swim (or should I say float) towards her with my head in the water. Beneath me I see the most impressive turtle tucking himself into the reef. He is about arms reach away but I darent touch him after all my fingers are important and who knows what would happen if I patted him. I am previleged to be one of three watching the turtle and after thanking the lady I continue floating along. The reef is mind blowing. It moves in the most incredible way, some opening and closing, showing their internal vivid colours. An hour or so later I leave the water, peel off the wetsuit and dry on the beach in the warmth before rejoining the main boat to be taken to our next stop.

A guide leads us up to the Hill Outlook at the Great Barrier Reef Park. From here there are amazing views over the sparkling white sandy beaches with the bluest of blue waters which vary from an aqua to a deep sumptuous teal blue. Cameras click everywhere trying to capture the moment and obviously I join in too. The colours here are spectacular and after a while of obsorbing our surroundings we walk down to the beach. Exhausted from the paddling earlier I opt to stay on the beach whilst others snorkel once again. From the beach I can see huge Manta Rays swimming, easy to see with their dark scales contrasting against the clear water. Due to timings we are required to walk back across the island to meet up with the boat for the final part of the day.

We are taken to Daydream Island to relax. There are lots of choices of activities including swimming in the pools, having a drink in the pool bar, sitting on the beach, Visiting the three mermaid sculptures and viewing the sea life in the aquarium. We choose the swim in the pool. It is a hot, hot day and I enjoy not having to fear my toes being nibbled. Following this we sit on the beach. The beach is covered in what I think is fossilised coral. I sounds like glass when walked on and the patterns with in are wondrous. After photographing the mermaids we visit the aquarium before making our way back to the boat. On the way we see wallaby or wallaroos, I’m not sure which is which. Once on board the boat we are served Tequilla Sunrise to signal the end of the day and the commence of our journey back to the mainland.

I feel very lucky to have been on this trip. A few weeks after this Cyclone Debbie hit the area. Not only has she destroyed parts of the island which have been closed for the next year but two of the three mermaids were swept away too. In some ways perhaps Cyclone Debbie will have a positive impact on the reef. This has been too commercialised and it may have a chance of recovery from the tourists who accidentally step on it not visiting for a while. Our guides were amazing I have to say, not only did they police the reef area but they provided an alternative to snorkelling by letting customers use a glass bottomed boat instead. When the tours are up and running I would highly recommend joining one and I would suggest a life jacket to stop the temptation of standing up.

Camper-vaning Millaa Millaa Waterfalls and Tablelands, Queensland, Australia

Following the previous days snake excitement we drove from the beach area into the Tablelands. The road towards Millaa Millaa was winding and steep however our reward was to drive up to the most vivid double rainbow I have ever seen. The Tablelands are green and plentiful of trees and cattle, reminding me of Sussex in England. 

Our stay at the site in Millaa Millaa was brief due to us arriving at near darkness and leaving early to tour the three waterfalls near by. Australia being Australia is set up for tourists and the tourist route is a 15km road laid out so that the waterfalls can be visited in a loop and accessed by the free parking (which is everywhere here) available.

The waterfalls each different could be heard before your eyes were able to see them. With so many tourists travelling around we made an early start and stopped at Millaa Millaa falls first. 

Zillie Falls

Ellinjaa Falls

After the waterfalls was the long drive back towards the coast and to Townsville. Our destination was to catch the ferry to Magnetic Island. On route we took a detour to a shopping mall. After being inside for about 40 minutes, we walked back towards Martha (camper-van). As I went to get inside I saw a man opposite Martha holding what I thought was a snake bag. We went over to him as he retrieved a carpet python and secured it in the bag. Two snakes in two days! 
Only afterwards did it occur to us that the snake was close to Martha and that our snake had disappeared to the underside of the van. It couldn’t have been, could it?

A snake in the van! Ellis Beach, Queensland, Australia.

A warm evening in the camper-van, parked up where the ocean and beach meet led to choosing to leave the side and rear doors open for the night. No one else has pitched up near by and leaving the doors open cools the van and let’s me fall asleep listening the the waves lapping at the shore. 
I wake up in the night, it’s dark, quiet and I try to ignore that I need to go to visit the toilet. The waves lashing on the shore and are not helping me to relax. The moon lights up my clothes which are next to me and wriggle into them whilst still on the bed. I recall that my headlight is on the kitchen unit near by and that my shoes are tucked just beneath the bed within arms reach.
With my body sitting on the bed, I reach under to pick up my shoes. Something doesn’t feel right and my eyes focus on an object sliding. I jump back and question in my mind what I felt and saw, ‘I think there’s a snake in the van’! Then a few seconds later I reassure us both, ‘It’s only a small one’.
A jumps into action, grabs the light and shines in under the bed. ‘It’s not small’. We whisper to each other and come up with suggestions. Using my shaking hands I decide to Google ‘Snake in a van’. The choices to select on the illuminating screen mainly come from Daily Mail articles and include Man finds snake in (builders) van. All of which are useless and I put my phone down.
Questions and suggestions are batted between us whilst our visitor slithers beneath us.
‘How are we going to get it out?’
‘Could we give it some chicken?’ (I have a vision of a table draped with a cloth and A showing the snake a menu, ‘Grilled or fried?’) (That and we don’t have any chicken in the van!)
‘What did they say the other day?’ (At Hartley’s Crocodile Farm, I really should pay more attention when someone talks!)
‘Where is it now?’
And finally with A’s head still under the bed and me sitting in the centre of the bed, he asks me to look and see where the snake is. Barring in mind it is 4.30am, dark and in my mind a snake may be weaving his head up the back of the van AND who knows it may launch up at my face if it put my head over the headrests at the back. I say, ‘No!’

The reply is that we need to know what’s it’s doing and after about minute or so, I muster up the courage, turn the torch on, on my phone and peer over.
There he is brown, long and sliding, thankfully along the floor in the rear of the van. I see his head, triangular in shape, with dark eyes and a flicking forked tongue. I should point out that neither of us know our snakes. I watch him move with caution, ‘I can see his head and he’s going out the back’. This response is greeted with, ‘Take a photo, no one will believe us otherwise’. At this point I have a vision of Instagraming a live snake encounter, just to prove I’m telling the truth. I decline, for a moment until I see the snakes head disappear along the side of the van and then click. A has left the tail end of the bed and joined me. We watch the snake leave slowly. Both of us shocked, shaking and speaking in whispers, just in case he hears us.

The snake disappears, we don’t see where to due to the darkness outside. We sit quietly for a moment, before giving each other a did that really happen look and laughing at bizarreness of the moment. Laughter which carries on for the next few days in disbelief.
Both shaken we try to find out who our visitor was and laugh again when a snake expert posts:

Now wide awake with no chance of relaxing and going back to sleep, we visit the toilet, make a cup of tea and watch the sunrise on Ellis Beach. We check the ground every so often and place our seats a little way from the camper-van. After all who knows where the snake has gone? He was last seen slithering towards the underside of the van.

To be continued…….

Camper-vaning, Port Douglas, Hartley’s Crocodile Farm and Ellis Beach, Queensland, Australia (3)

We were escorted from the Daintree Rainforest predictably by the heaviest enslaught of rain. This eased in time for a Cassowary to be crossing the road ahead of us. A tall robust colourful bird different but similar to an emu. We stopped and watched it move across the road before hiding in the vegetation and disappearing. A rarity, apparently to see in the wild and a wildlife tick in the box for me.

On both our entrance to the rainforest and departure we crossed the Daintree River by ferry, not a ferry as we would experience  in the U.K but more of a platform on water. A $26 fee for the ten minute journey with signs warning of crocodiles inhabiting the area. 

Todays travels take us from the remote, uninhabited, natural landscape of the rainforest to Port Douglas. A contrast indeed with concrete, materialism and swarms of people. The area is nice with boutiques, bars and a mix of people from different backgrounds but something in me would prefer to return to the rainforest or nature. Any attempts today to visit the beach were thwarted, as soon as my toes touched the sand, there was a deluge of rain being dumped on me, requiring a dash back to Martha and yet more wet clothing needing to be dried out in our small space. 

The following morning we drove to the lookout at Port Douglas. An incredibly steep climb up for Martha but a wonderful view from Flagstaff Hill looking out to the sea and surrounding area. Thankfully the sun was shinning which always makes sightseeing more pleasant and engaging. From here I could see the beach that I attempted to venture on to the day before and I have my first glance of a swimming net. This is an area patrolled by lifeguards and protects swimmers from stingers (jellyfish), crocodiles and sharks (depending on where you are on the coast, depends on what’s out there). This was the moment when I realised that swimming in the ocean would not be an option for the time being.

Our next over night stay would be at Ellis Beach however a stop at Hartley’s Crocodile Farm was to come first. Hartleys is a great place to visit. On arrival we were greeted by Gonzo a parrot and we were directed to join the tours and talks on offer ( not by Gonzo I may add but by the lady on reception). The trip is well organised with the opportunity to watch crocodile and snake shows, go on a boat ride on the crocodile lake whilst they were fed and to hear their powerful snapping jaws as well as going into the enclosures with Wallabies, Kangaroos and kookaburras. I left Hartley’s feeling that I’d seen and learnt a lot about the wildlife of Australia including what to do when you encounter a crocodile (run in a straight line away from it and every man for himself) and a snake.

From Hartley’s the drive allows so many beautiful places to stop along the coastline. This is made easy with lookouts that you can park up at and admire the awesome views. This helps with the fatigue of being in a van and travelling too. A revival of the mind ready for the next part of the journey. Ours is to Ellis Beach, an isolated area on the main road with only a restaurant that closes early today. We set up on the camping pitch and cook dinner. It’s no longer raining, in fact it is really warm, too warm to close Martha’s doors to sleep. Tonight we are going to learn that this is in fact not a good idea…….

(Martha is the name given to our very old, leaky and cosy camper-van)

Camper-vaning, Cape Tribulation, Daintree National Park, Australia (2)

I awaken to the orchestra of noise on day two of camper-van life. It has rained non stop all night and at the moment the storms seem to have depleted. I recall waking in the night and realising that the rain had uninvitingly entered the Martha. This morning Martha had a damp smell about her and felt too warm to be in. Unfortunately my lack of knowledge of camper-vaning had made me forget to bring my now sodden shoes inside during the night. This added to the collection of soggy clothes being hung to dry in the very confined space including two adults, making it feel very cosy.

In my naivety I had forgotten that the rainforest meant there would be rain and not just a shower but full on constant wetness. It is 30 degrees and I realise that even if it stopped raining I would be wet from the humidity. As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, there are crocs here. Crocs who have the speed and ability to snag themselves a human dinner and despite being reassured by a one armed man that taking a dip in the ocean is safe, I for one am not willing to try.

Myall Beach is where the noise of the rainforest meets the sound of the crashing ocean. A short walk along the beach leads us to the wooden path winds of Dubuji Boardwalk.  Mangrove trees with their roots above the ground supporting the trunk in the bogs containing the vocal frogs, red and black crabs and peppermint stick insects (which fire a peppermint spray towards predators). Here too are jungle fowl roaming freely, spiders building the most delicate but perhaps fearsome webs and mosquitoes hoovering, ready to bite.

Our stay at PK’s has been memorable. The site has a great pool to cool off in and a large bar, eating area to stay dry in. There are a mix of ages of people who stay in camper-vans and lodges. Oh and did I mention the snakes and the Cassowary birds? Thankfully I haven’t encountered either…..yet…..I think?!?!

Camper-van, Daintree National Park, Australia

Our travel plans have led us to deciding to travel down the east coast of Australia. It seems appropriate to do so in the same style as most by camper-van. Having flown from Oahu, Hawaii to Melbourne the next stage of my travels requires a flight to Cairns on the north east side of Australia. It surprised me to learn the flight was three hours long (in Britain distances are much shorter) and included a change in time zone.
On arrival in Cairns we took a taxi to Travellers Autobarn and collected Martha. Martha had obviously seen better days but she was going to be home for the next month. We handed Martha our suitcases and jumped in the cab for our first stage of travels to the Daintree Rainforest. Our journey was slowed by repairing the sidelight which we discovered banging on the side of the van and we were entertained by the rattle of the cups, plates and cutlery in the drawers, however did Martha travel well. 
Our two and a half hour journey via the supermarket to collect supplies took us from the developed suburban town of Cairns to the humid, lush, green, untouched, undeveloped and remote area of Daintree National Park. We drove to PK’s campground in Cape Tribulation, hooked up the van and engaged in the excitement of organising the inside of Martha. With little storage space I placed my clothes in the cupboard under the seat and the food in the tiny kitchen area. Our next challenge was to work out how to set up the beds, using the collection of different shaped cushions we began our game of Tetris. 

Tetris led us to night time, the light had faded and outside the noise was intense. The rainforest by day and night is incredibly loud. The air is filled with the sounds of crickets, birds, bugs and frogs. The noise is both intense and relentless, it never stops and this evening a thunderstorm has joined in with the orchestra of noise. Storms at night scare me but tonight I feel they comfort me and cool me down, and besides my greatest fear at the moment is for the snakes which I know are out there…..somewhere.