10 March 2017 Eastern Australia - Road Trip Part 2
When we returned to Brisbane, we found that we had one unsatisfied requirement in Henry’s month long tour of Australia, that was to dive on the Great Barrier Reef. We hadn’t booked anything yet, and although this was a bit short-sighted, it gave us lots of flexibility. Henry wasn’t feeling well when he first arrived anyways, so if we had made a firm booking, he might not have been able to dive. We didn’t want to go all the way North to Cairns (over 1600km), but did end up going 3/4 of the way (1100km) North to Airlie Beach - well situated with respect to the Great Barrier Reef (2300km in length).
Unfortunately, there just weren’t any live-aboard diving charters operating that were closer to Brisbane. We booked our passage on Anaconda III on a Saturday night, and by Sunday morning 0800 - we started driving North to Airlie Beach. We were stoked to be diving the Whitsunday Islands, of the Great Barrier Reef.
Along the way, we discovered that we were riding on the ISIS highway, and came across quite a few signs for ISIS businesses and even an ISIS “social club”. We found this all a bit ironic, in consideration of the “new” terrorist group also called “ISIS” in the Iraq/Syria area.
Airlie Beach looks very much like a touristy, back-packer town, if you can imagine such a thing. The downtown strip had a very touristy feel to it, lots of flashy signs and back-packer hostels - although the waterfront was very welcoming.
The Anaconda III is a 101-foot (31-metre) mono-hulled steel sailboat, designed and outfitted to be a comfortable live-aboard dive vessel. With 13 cabins, all air-conditioned and with ensuite toilet/showers, the boat can accommodate a maximum of 32 guests. There's ample salon and deck space, and some nice features for divers: an on board air compressor, two tenders, and a rear stairway for easy entries and exits to the tender. The captain did not permit diving from the stern, supposedly for safety reasons. What they didn’t have though was a working water maker. Therefore, showers were limited to 1 minute per day - per person - perhaps (depending on the number of Princess’s aboard). Our dive gear sat in the sun, baking in salt water all day long, because there was no fresh water to rinse suits, masks, fins, regulators or BCs - a less than ideal situation.
However, we put up with the shortfalls and enjoyed what was offered to us. The crew, food and dive sites were all really good. Of the 31 guests (32 max) aboard, there were only 3 card-carrying certified divers - which surprised me. The rest were either snorkelers, or beginner divers with no certification. This was great for Henry, because he isn’t certified and fit in well with the average 24-year old, and made the diving a little more personal for Diane and I (we were in small groups, only the certified divers). Nonetheless, Henry clocked in 4 dives, Diane 4 and I got 5 dives in (including a night dive). With summer conditions, the water was quite warm at 29C/88F, but visibility was often poor at less than 10m, although it was noticeably better on the outer reef. I’ve read that the diving conditions are much better in the winter, and we should experience that in June/July of this year as we sail up the coast to Thursday Island.
Everybody had to wear a stinger suit, which for us, was just a thin lycra suit with no neoprene.
There were lots of jellyfish in the water, and occasionally a deadly one. One night, one of the staff spotted an Irukandji jellyfish just behind the stern.
What the Irukandji lacks in size it makes up for in the power of its venom. Measuring only 5mm (0.2 ins) across and with tentacles less than 1 metre (3 ft) it is one of the smallest members of the box jellyfish family. The venom though is insanely powerful; it is reputedly the most venomous animal toxin on earth, over 100 times more powerful than that of the cobra. In addition to this, the Irukandji Jellyfish is unique in having stingers on its bell as well as tentacles. No wonder the staff were ruthless about getting us to wear stinger suits!
Here are some proud Canadians on the beach.
I saw sea turtles, sharks (black tip and white tip reef sharks), lots of interesting reef fish and a wide variety of coral that I’ve never seen before. What I didn’t see were lion fish, crabs, lobster, crocodiles (thankfully) or any eels. Maybe the water was just too warm?
This is my compiled and edited dive video, posted on YouTube.
Along the road back to Brisbane, we detoured for a few hours, using the “Lonely Planet” Guide to Australia - and stopped at the Capricorn Caves (situated near the Tropic of Capricorn). The Tropic of Capricorn, by the way, is the Southern Hemisphere’s equivalent to the Tropic of Cancer, the line of latitude that runs through the Bahamas, just South of the town of Georgetown in the Exumas. The dry rainforest or semi-evergreen vine thicket at Capricorn Caves has survived and adapted to dry conditions. The rare fern Tectaria devexa, seen in cave entrances, was threatened with extinction in 2006 after decades of drought (this is Australia after all - where the norm is drought, fire and flood). Five bat species roost in Capricorn Caves at different times of the year, but all species favour the caves in warm wet weather. Little bent-wing bats Miniopterus australis visit in their thousands, whereas Australia’s largest carnivorous bat, the vulnerable ghost bat Macroderma gigas, is rarely seen.
We also made a side trip into Bundaberg to take part in the Rum Distillery tour (no photos, cell phones or even battery driven watches are permitted on the tour). This is a very old distillery, founded in 1888 - and crucial to the startup of the sugar cane industry. The sugar cane industry continues to this day and is the basis for a number of products that come out of this area.
We made another side trip to the tourist town of Mooloolaba to have dinner with Kim Toonders - a second cousin of Diane and Henry’s. Henry expressed that if he had to live in Australia, he liked this town the most.
We spent most of a day at the Australian Zoo, about 100km North of Brisbane, the zoo founded by Steve Irwin’s family. Established in 1970, this small two acre wildlife park was home to native wildlife such as lace monitors, tiger snakes, freshwater crocodiles, magpie geese and kangaroos. By the 1980s, the wildlife park had expanded to four acres, had two full-time staff and was called the 'Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park'. Steve Irwin (the former “Crocodile Hunter” of TV acclaim) was enlisted by the Queensland Government to help with crocodile research and captured well over 100 crocodiles, which were relocated or housed at the family's newly established Crocodile Environmental Park. In 1991, Steve took over the management of the small wildlife park and sadly died in a snorkelling accident on the Great Barrier Reef in September 2006. He died from a stingray's barb to his chest.
I wonder what these dingoes are looking at?
The Zoo lives on, managed by Steve Irwin’s American-born wife, two children and a large number of staff. In comparison to the Taronga Zoo that we visited a few weeks earlier, we found this Zoo to be more commercial, more glitzy, more Disneyland-like (lots of fake rocks) - and a bit more confining for the animals. We were told though that many of the animals on display were rotated with “back-benchers” who were wandering around in larger areas in the back areas of the zoo. This zoo had the best assortment of reptiles I’ve ever seen, and the noon “live” show featuring one of the hungry crocodiles is not to be missed.
Last on the list of sites we visited on this road trip was the Glass House Mountains - a group of eleven hills that rise abruptly from the coastal plain in Queensland's Sunshine Coast hinterland. The mountains were named by Captain James Cook in 1770 as the peaks reminded him of the glass furnaces in his home county of Yorkshire. The range was originally formed as molten lava cooled in the cores of volcanoes around 26 million years ago. Open eucalypt woodland and heath vegetation, which once covered the coastal plains, provides a home for a variety of native animals and plants.
The day before Henry’s departure, we went out for one last tourist destination, the Tamborine Mountain Skywalk, about an hour South of Brisbane. This relatively new Eco-Adventure offers a unique way to explore the beautiful rainforest canopies. It is set in 30 acres of privately owned rainforest beside the rock-pools of Cedar Creek on Mt Tamborine. The entire walk totals 1.5 kms (taking about 45 minutes) and is a combination of forest floor trails, 300 metres of high-tech steel bridges through the highest points of the upper canopy, and a 40 metre cantilever bridge that soars 30 metres above the creek and rainforest below.
When it rains in these mountains, this will be flooding with water.
This is a short summary of just some of the Australian terminology that we learned in our travels over the past month - in no particular order:
ambo - ambulance
sunnies - sunglasses
flip flops - thongs
firey - fireman
coppers - police officers
chippy - carpenter
sparky - car electrician (they also work on air conditioning)
bottle store - where you can buy alcohol, beer and wine
crook - sick
poky’s - slot machines in a bar
crikey - Steve Irwin’s word for holy shit
rego - your car registration papers
Subey - a Subaru car
brolley - an umbrella
lollies - a generic word for candy
capsicons - peppers (green, yellow, red)
rock melon - cantaloupe
nappies - diapers
Macca’s - MacDonalds as advertised on radio and TV
Hungry Jacks - this is Burger King in Australia (same buildings, sign and menu)
Cuppa - coffee
UTE - utility vehicle (small truck, like an old El Camino - formerly made by GM)
Sadly, Henry’s month long vacation has come to a close and he left for Canada on 9 March. We really enjoyed his visit, and look forward to the next one, scheduled for January/February 2018 when we are expecting to be in Malaysia, sailing to Thailand.
Three hours after Henry left, I repaired our Maytag washing machine, that had been sounding like it was dying for the past 5 months. Henry had brought two parts with him from Canada, on speculation that the fault was either with the control board or the discharge pump. After removing the cabinetry and then pulling out the washer for better access, I removed the discharge pump and found that it had a US 25 cent coin in it, causing it to clatter and make noise whenever the pump was running. Now our washing machine is working like new again and “the Captain” is happy again.
To see previous log entries, just use the tabs at the top of this page.
Countries Visited So Far with our boat, and detailed on these pages:
(Departed Canada: May 2009) (31 countries by boat so far)
Antigua: May 2011
Australia: just arrived, 27 November 2016
Bermuda: June - August 2009
Bonaire: February - April 2014
Bahamas: December 2009 - March 2010, December 2010 - February 2011
Barbados: March 2012
British Virgin Islands: May 2011
Colombia: October 2014 - December 2014
Cuba: March - May 2010
Curaçao: May 2014 - September 2014
Dominica: May 2011, April 2013
Dominican Republic: March - April 2011
Fiji: September/October 2015
French Polynesia (Marquesas, Tuamotos, Tahiti and the Society Islands): April-July 2015
Galapagos: March 2015
Grenada: June-November 2011
Guadeloupe: March 2013
Martinique: March 2012, March 2013
New Zealand: November 2015 - November 2016
Niue: July/August 2015
Panama: December 2014 (San Blas Islands), (Portobello and Canal) January/February 2015
Puerto Rico: April 2011
St Lucia: May-June 2011, December 2011 - February 2012, December 2012 - February 2013
St Martin /Netherlands Antilles: May 2011
St Vincent and the Grenadines: June 2011, February 2012, December 2012, April-May 2013
Tobago: March-May 2012
Tonga: August 2015
Trinidad: May - December 2012, June - November 2013
USA: August - November 2009, June - November 2010
US Virgin Islands: May 2011
Venezuela: November 2013 - February 2014
Before we went cruising, we also "had a life" and did our fair share of visiting (or living in) other countries.
We've also been to a few other countries, but just not with our boat. (36 countries so far)
Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Bosnia Herzogevinia, Bulgaria, Canary Islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Gibraltar,
Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway,
Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Syria, Switzerland, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland), Vatican City.