We spent our time between Christmas and New Year's travelling from Townsville to the Gold Coast, with frequent stops on the beaches down the coast. One thing that surprised me, but that I also loved, was that coastal Queensland is a tropical climate!
We spent Christmas Eve on Magnetic Island just off the coast of Townsville. There we saw many wild animals including koalas, rock wallabies, and even an eagle with a snake in its talons!
Though our primary reason for going to Magnetic Island was to see some wild life and beaches, we also ended up seeing a lot of WWII relics along the hikes, as Magnetic Island was a base for guarding the sea during the war. Of course, I didn't realize the hikes had these relics until after we had started. Shortly into our first hike (after spotting 2 koalas!), I realized I had to pee. Just moments later, I came across a sign that said "Women's latrines, 30 meters to the left". Wow! I wasn't expecting to see washrooms on the hike, but I excitedly went 30m to my left to use them. I arrived at the latrines, but all I saw were some leftover bricks that looked like they once formed the base of a building. I walked a bit further, still looking for the washrooms, and when I didn't see them, I finally clued in that the "latrines" were a historical area, not a place for a 21st century woman to do her business! Fortunately, I wasn't in a desperate situation, and so we just continued on with our hike. The remainder of the hike treated us to additional WWII relics such as cannon firing stations that allowed us to look out over the entire bay.
Growing up in Canada, I heard many stories from my grandparents about Canada's involvement in WWII and escaping Eastern Europe. Being in Australia, Chris and I have seen many war memorials related to the Great Wars. It's been quite an educational experience for me to learn about the issues faced in the South Pacific during the same time, and about ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) in WWI.
On Christmas Day, we left Townsville and headed to Alva Beach. Alva Beach is a very small village with a campsite a few hundred meters from the beach. We spent Christmas day eating lots of yummy food at our campsite, and sitting by the beach watching the tide come in.
On Boxing Day, we travelled south to Airlie Beach, known as the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, a popular vacation destination for Australians. I thought it would be fun to stay at a family-friendly camp resort, with parks, waterslides, and inflatable bouncy-pillows. It was a good time, but it was definitely LOUD.
After staying on the mainland of Airlie Beach for two nights, we hopped on a Whitsunday cruise and headed to Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island (the biggest of the 73 islands in the Whitsunday group). Whitehaven Beach is 7km long and made up of very fine, white silica sand. It's considered the best beach in Australia. While there, we played in the warm, 28 degree ocean water, snorkeled, and donned the latest trends in stinger suit attire. I actually liked my stinger suit very much as it not only protected me from jelly fish, but also from the sun – and you can still hang out upside-down in it!
We then spent two days driving from Airlie Beach to the Gold Coast, via Mackay (pronounced Mac-eye), and Miriam Vale. We really only stayed in Mackay long enough to sleep, but our hotel room had a fabulous view of the marina and ocean. The next night, we rented a small motel room in Miriam Vale, and enjoyed dinner at the local pub. The Miriam Vale pub (read: only pub in town), was well priced (dinner, including two drinks cost us $20) and educational on the gambling front. Though we didn't bet actual money, we learned how to watch horse and dog races on TV and figured out what each of the screens and stats were for. Side note: Australia seems to have plenty of opportunity for betting on horse races or playing "pokies". It seems like most small-town pubs and roadhouses are setup for such activities.
We arrived at Surfer's Paradise on the Gold Coast on Dec. 30, where we spent three nights, including New Year's Eve. Let me just say, it was AMAZING!! We had a wonderful hotel overlooking the ocean, and just a short walk from the main area of Surfer's Paradise. We spent our days lazing around on our balcony, walking along the beach, and being part of the crowds on Cavill Avenue. Around lunchtime on New Year's Eve, Chris and I decided we were tired of wearing the same three outfits we brought with us, and did a little shopping for something new to wear that night. Though touristy, Surfer's Paradise offers many discount shops, and we were able to purchase a new shirt for Chris, two dresses for me, and a new pair of shoes for me, for under $50 total.
To celebrate New Year's Eve itself, we took part in the celebrations put on by the city. They had setup huge music speakers and lights on the beach, and had three fireworks shows (8pm, 10pm, and midnight). We hung around the boardwalk, had dinner at a local pub, and people watched for the evening. We headed back to our hotel room for midnight, where we enjoyed the final set of fireworks from our balcony.
My cousin Anne-Marie and her husband Steph saw our New Year's pictures and realized we were only a few minutes from where Steph's parents live. We quickly exchanged contact info, and within hours had arranged to meet Steph's parents for lunch the next day. They introduced us to a great little Australian-food restaurant right on the beach. Afterwards, it was time for us to leave the Gold Coast and continue our drive towards Sydney. I was a bit sad to leave, but I know there is more to see before we leave this country.
The holiday season is quite busy here and many campgrounds and hotels are booked out. We had a bit of difficulty finding accommodation for tonight and somehow ended up with a large 12-bed dorm room all to ourselves in the small area called Dunes on Shelly. I wonder where we will end up tomorrow night...
30 minute treadmill run
Upper body weights
Breakfast: Vegan muesli, melon, nut butter
Lunch: Asian herb salad
Dinner: Sushi from Sushi Train
Hello, and welcome to my continuation of the "Stuff we've seen" series. See Part 1 here if you missed it!
As I've mentioned previously, we've seen a lot of Cockatoos on our journey, and the pink Galahs have really stood out. You can see a pic of the first ones we saw in our post about Melbourne and Phillip Island. At the Ayer's Rock Campground (Uluru) there were flocks of Galahs, including this guy who made me think these birds were the inspiration for the game, Angry Birds. When we get home and I am able to edit and upload video, you will get to see what I mean. (Of course, it isn't exactly anger he's expressing, more a form of frustration.)
The Crested Pigeon - or as I like to call it, the Punk Pigeon - is another common sight, especially through the Red Centre. According to the ads I've heard on the radio, these are actually considered to be pests, and some helpful companies can eradicate your infestation.
When we were at Uluru waiting for the sunset, we were lucky to see the rare, wild Tornado Hunter. These are easily identifiable by the tufts of plumage puffing out from under their backwards facing crown, as well as the magestic "hunter stance" as they seek out advantageous weather patterns.
We've been seeing birds of prey constantly during our drives, and based on asking locals I thought we were seeing a lot of falcons and the occasional wedge-tailed eagle. Then I thought that the falcons might be kites but it turns out they were the closely related, Black-breasted Buzzards. I feel like we've seen them everywhere, and there were places where we could see 15 or 20 at a time!
The Wedge-tailed Eagles are huge! Through the Red Centre we saw a few feasting on carrion, and didn't get any photos. However, I remember driving towards one that was feasting in the middle of our lane on the Barkly Highway. It finally took off as we neared to within 100 metres, and when it stretched out its wings, I would have sworn they covered the lane, tip-to-tip. This must have been an illusion, but it was impressive nonetheless. I finally got my chance to photograph one when we did a hike to an old WWII site on Magnetic Island by Townsville. When we were near the old gun placements at the top of the hill, we saw one take off by the island's shore, about a kilometre away. It circled and rode the winds toward us, quickly covering the distance. It was really hard to track while zoomed in, but I got lucky with a couple of shots as he zipped by above us. Here's my favourite, uncropped.
When we went for our ATV ride in Alice Springs, our driver would occasionally skid to a stop from bouncing over rocks at 110km/h to point out something he spotted. The first one was this Central Netted Dragon (I think), perched up high here, a nice bright yellow, trying to attract a mate. Another was a large Bearded Dragon which was apparently bright orange when we went by but had darkened up to hide from us as we backed up to get a closer look.
Here's another photo of the kangaroo that bounded across our path in Alice Springs, just after we spotted him. He heard us and was trying to figure out what we were.
Finally, when we were doing our day-time hike to the Telegraph Station in Alice to pass the time (where we spotted the 'roo above) we saw this interesting fruit by the side of the track. It's called a Colocynth but has many other names like bitter apple or desert gourd. This one looks ripe!
Part 3 to follow soon!
Driving trivia (brain exercise!)
Breakfast: Pork and apple pie
Lunch: Hawaiian pizza bun
Dinner: This space intentionally blank
Over the course of our trip we've seen a number of plants, animals, and other things we've never seen before. Many have made it into the blog before, but I want to do a revisit to capture some we haven't mentioned and add a couple of pictures of some we did. This will be split across several posts, as it's taking a long time to organize.
Early in our trip when we were camping Mystery Bay, I awoke at 5:30am to the strangest sound: monkeys! In 'Straya! I couldn't believe it. "Ooh ooh ooh! Aaaah! Aaaah!" It had to be monkeys! Well it wasn't, of course, it was these little guys, Laughing kookaburras:
At Mystery Bay, Karen and I also saw a number of magpies (which we would go on to see everywhere), had cicadas fall/land on us, and saw a ton of blue-bottle jellyfish, a.k.a. Portuguese Man o'War washed up on the beach.
I also found a couple of interesting beetles on the beach, both of which I've seen a couple more times on our journey.
On our way to Melbourne we saw these large pelicans and black swans. Watching the pelicans float over head and then swing around to line up for their landing up close on the "runway" was a real treat!
We've seen these bright blue-headed Fairy-wrens a couple of times, including this guy at the conservation park on Phillip Island. Their heads almost seem to glow in the shadows.
These red-headed wonders were walking and swimming around our tent on Waiheke Island in New Zealand, and we saw them again at the botanical gardens in Melbourne.
We've seen white Cockatoos pretty much everywhere, and like they're rose-breasted cousins - the Galahs - they're quite noisy! These two are from Coober Pedy.
Some opal I noodled in Coober Pedy. (Yes, that sentence makes sense.)
Here's another pic of the Perentie we saw at Kata Tjuta. He's over 1.2 metres long! This is the largest breed of goannas in Australia and they're really fast, but this guy never ran, he just tried to pretend like he wasn't there.
We were surprised to see African Violets in the wild near Uluru. It turns out it's Desert Tomato and we saw a lot of it in Alice Springs, including some early stages of fruit, but we were on an ATV so I didn't get a picture.
Parakeelya, a.k.a. Nyurngi, shows up in the Outback desert after rainfall and can be a guage for how much it has been raining. We saw quite a bit of it, as it has been a bit of a wet year. This looks a little sparse from up close, but from far away, against the browns, reds and grey-greens of the desert, you get a nice swaths of purple.
I'll try to post Part 2 soon!
Breakfast: Cheese and tomato toastie
Lunch: BBQ on Whitehaven Beach
Dinner: Dahl with fresh veggies