Joe's Travels - Round the World 2003

 Diary - Week 3
Friday 28th February – Day trip from Cairns – Port Douglas, Mossman Gorge & Daintree

 Beach north of Cairns

Rented a car for the next 5 days and headed north up the Captain Cook Highway. After about 25 kms we stopped off at a wonderful beach, with a huge expanse of totally deserted sand, palm trees, a couple of islands on the horizon, and some very colourful bugs and beetles on the trees. There was also a massive spider lurking in the vinegar dispenser – vinegar is available on the beaches here for treating jellyfish stings.

We continued north to Port Douglas – an attractive small town where we had lunch. The mackerel and chips were delicious but it was not the sort of mackerel I’m used to back home, this was a white fleshy flat fish.

From here we went to Mossman Gorge. This is a lovely area of tropical rainforest with a wide river flowing through it – wonderful scenery and with the addition of a heavy shower whilst in the rainforest this was a great experience. The forest literally steams after the rain. There were quite a few people here, due to the easy accessibility by car but it’s a big area and most people flocked to the pool in the river that was nearest to the car park. The temperature throughout the day was around 30-32°C, so it felt extremely humid in the rainforest.

This area is also a massive sugar-cane growing region, and dotted between the cane are many banana plantations. Next we headed further north to Daintree Village – this was the furthest north in Australia that we reached (16°14.979 N, 145°19.110 E). This is a tiny, but very picturesque, village where the general shop is the post office and the pub, and signs warn against swimming in the river due to crocodiles! After sitting out yet another torrential downpour we set off back to Cairns.

Saturday 1st March – Cairns to Townsville


Today we drove south along the Bruce Highway until we reached Mission Beach (a few kms detour off the main highway). We drove through some lovely scenery, with tropically-forested mountains south of Cairns and wide plains of sugar cane in between. We had a good look at some of the bananas growing alongside the highway too. The recent rains mean that everything is stunningly green along this route. After the turn-off to Mission Beach we saw dense rainforest and masses of signs warning of cassowaries (there are only 1,200 of these birds left and they don’t want you to run over any!)

Mission Beach was beautiful, but scorching hot. The temperature was around 35°C and the beach was deserted. In fact the whole town was deserted – we found out that most people go away at this time of year due to the intense heat. Furthermore it’s the worst time for jellyfish (“stinger season”) so nobody swims in the sea unless they have a stinger suit or a deathwish. We collected some pieces of dead coral from the beach, then set off south again.

As we drove we could see a huge dark storm ahead and realised we would be heading into torrential rain. The last few minutes before we hit the storm the light was incredible – bright green fields and black horizon. Driving through the storm was difficult and visibility was only a few metres. Eventually we arrived in Townsville about 1800 and checked into our hostel - the very friendly Globetrotters Backpackers. Whilst in the TV room, one of the loudest thunderstorms I’ve ever experienced came overhead. The lightning and thunder were simultaneous and the rain came down in bucketfuls. Australia is not meant to be like this!

Sunday 2nd March – Day trip to Magnetic Island, then drive to Bowen in the evening

 View from old forts on Magnetic Island

Took the ferry across to Picnic Bay on Magnetic Island – a fast catamaran doing the trip in about 30 minutes from Townsville. On arrival at Picnic Bay a bus was waiting to take people to Maggies Hostel at Horseshoe Bay. Fortunately the eccentric “Captain” Daniel was happy to transport us too in his psychedelic purple bus, for $4 each. We got the benefit of a guided tour of the route to Horseshoe Bay. He also stopped off to show us a Koala fairly high up in a tree that he had seen earlier – first one I’ve seen! On arrival at Maggies we told him we wanted to do the hike up to the old forts, so he drove us up to the start of the path in his truck – he was a real character and very friendly.

The hike up to the forts was extremely hot, but there were beautiful views down onto the beaches and across to other islands. The majority of the trees were eucalyptus - a wonderful smell - with a few tropical plants mixed in. Once up at the fort the views were superb – the mainland and other nearby islands were silhouettes on the horizon. It was a real gem of a place. We noticed an abundance of fungi growing all over the island – seemed quite surprising as the climate is normally so hot and dry, but the recent rains must have helped them grow.

We walked all the way down to the Wildlife Park at Horseshoe Bay (a hell of a walk on such a hot day) - entry fees go towards looking after the orphaned koalas and kangaroos. The woman running the place gave us a wonderful opportunity to stroke the kangaroos and hold the koalas – we were the only people there, so were treated like royalty. They also have a large pig, a wombat, several talking white sulphur crested cockatoos (saying “Hello Darling” mainly!) and a goose that was determined to bite me but never quite managed to.

We walked back to Horseshoe Bay, seeing a lot of black cockatoos (with beautiful red & yellow tail feathers) in the trees. Along the beach bumped into “Captain” Daniel again, who gave us a free ride in his purple bus back to the ferry which took us back to Townsville. It didn’t rain all day, and the breeze on the island was most welcome as the temperature was in the 30’s in any sheltered spot.

Then drove the 218 kms south along the highway to Bowen – fortunately the weather was good and the road almost deserted. Checked into Barnacles Backpackers – really a workers hostel, but as there’s no-one around at this time of year we had the place to ourselves, apart from one other guy. Cheap but not recommended.

Monday 3rd March – Bowen to Mackay

 Airlie Beach

Drove straight to Airlie Beach, about 85 kms south, arriving before 9 a.m. Unfortunately the weather was still poor, and we discovered many tours to the Whitsunday Islands had been cancelled, so with that in mind we decided not to pursue our intentions of visiting the islands. People told us it had been raining for the last 6 days which is very rare. In the past week they have had the most rain in the last 2 years! Despite the poor weather, it didn’t actually rain too much whilst we were in Airlie Beach, but there were very strong winds. The views of the islands were still beautiful but we will have to visit them another year.

In the afternoon we continued to drive south until we reached Mackay mid-afternoon – a smallish one-horse town (the horse has gone away) but we booked into the McGuire Hotel which is centrally located. It rained more, so we used the afternoon doing such exciting things as having a pint of Guinness in an Irish pub, sampling the aftershaves in the local pharmacy and checking out the Businesses for Sale. You could get a Sugar Cane Farm (with or without cattle) – no price – a skip hire business, or even a concrete lorry ($190,000). Tempting. Everywhere seemed to shut at 5 p.m. Yes we were bored. This is not a place that needs re-visiting!

In the evening went out for a pub meal and a drink at probably the liveliest bar in town – however it was not very lively.

Tuesday 4th March – Mackay to Yeppoon

Set off southwards about 10.00 a.m. Weather was grey but still warm (27°C) and our first stop was Marlborough, a very small town with one shop, one hotel and a museum. Visited the museum which was pretty small then had some food at the convenience store – it was like going back in time 30 years – they sold everything but mostly there were only one or two of each item on the shelves.

 Capricorn Caves

We continued on until we reached the Capricorn caves about 25 kms north of Rockhampton. Went on the one-hour guided tour which was excellent – these are the largest privately-owned caves in Australia and were discovered in 1882. There are many fig tree roots growing down into the caves and many bats – all very small – flying through the caves. The “cathedral” is the largest of the caves and has amazing acoustics. People even come here for marriage ceremonies and they have installed several rows of pews in the cave. Another cave has a natural hole looking straight up, through which the sun shines directly for 30 minutes on 22nd December, as the caves are exactly on the Tropic of Capricorn.

Then drove to Yeppoon where we are staying with some old friends of ManLan's in their lovely house in the hills overlooking the town and the beach.

Wednesday 5th March – Yeppoon


A lovely blue sky day at last, with a nice breeze. Visited Cooberrie wildlife park where we were able to feed kangaroos – masses of them. Some had young in their pouches too. They also had cassowaries, crocodiles, emus, snakes, a variety of ducks, chickens, peacocks, a wombat, cockatoos and more. We were mobbed by the kangaroos who seemed hungry! Again, we were the only people here so we had all the animals to ourselves.

In the afternoon we went to Emu Park, a town along the coast, where we saw (and heard) the singing ship – a structure that hums in the breeze. Next we drove to our friends' orchard – a massive expanse of mango, paw paw, logan and other fruit trees. We picked a lot of fruit and returned to the house.

Spent the latter part of the afternoon swimming in their pool and chilling out. The views from their house are wonderful and it’s such a peaceful spot with only the sounds of birds and insects.

Thursday 6th March – Rockhampton to Sydney

 Sydney by night

Went to Rockhampton in the morning and visited the zoo & botanic gardens. The zoo is free yet has a good variety of interesting animals. The botanic gardens were very pleasant and have some incredibly tall palm trees as well as an unbelievable sausage tree (kigelia pinnata) plus many other beautiful plants.

Went to the airport at 1400 (ManLan is staying with her friends until Monday) and I caught my flight to Sydney on a Qantas Link 717. The views around Rockhampton were unusual due to the recent rains – many flooded fields could be seen below. Had a great view of Sydney – Harbour Bridge & Opera House – as we flew in. Landed at 1715 (1 hour ahead of Queensland time) and caught the train to Milsons Point, where my good old friends from England met me. Had cold beers on their balcony on arrival and enjoyed the fantastic views over the Harbour Bridge and the city.


Back to: Week 2 (Fri 21st - Thu 27th Feb)
Forward to: Week 4 (Fri 7th Mar - Thu 13th Mar)