21st May to 27th May
Bowen to Cairns
Wow! I can’t believe we’re here; ten weeks into the lap of Australia and we’ve practically made to the end of stage one. The East Coast of Australia has been travelled by so many people but that’s often where it ends. I’m excited to reach tropical North Queensland but also excited to continue this journey west.
However, before we get ahead of ourselves, there’s still a tonne of stuff to see up here. Some of these places need blog posts for themselves which I’ll hopefully get around to.
The first of the two major cities left on the East Coast, I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. Not only because of it’s proximity to Magnetic Island but just for some serious tropical vibes. You know when its described as having hundreds of palm trees lining the esplanade it’s going to look good.
In order to get our bearings, we drove straight up Castle Hill; a huge brown rock towering over the city below. This is basically the equivalent of the Rock of Gibraltar although probably not as big (I’ve never been). From the top you get great 360 degree views over the coast to Magnetic Island and inland towards the mountains.
We then delved into city centre which is, surprisingly, home to some cracking street art on par with Melbourne. We’d spotted a huge lizard on the side of a building but it wasn’t until we picked up a self-guided tour leaflet I realised how many pieces there were. Sticking with the reptile theme, my favourite was a huge one of a crocodile with a turtle on its back!
The CBD is also home to a fantastic brewery in an old Post Office where I just had to try the Townsville Bitter. Strangely, over here Aussies call some lager’s ‘bitter.’ I don’t think I could ever manage a proper English bitter; especially in the heat.
We spent the night before Maggie outside a petrol station with about thirty other vans. We didn’t get the best night sleep so weary eyed we got the twenty minute ferry to this beautiful island. Half-asleep, one of our cards got declined twice and we couldn’t believe why. Turns out we had $60 left on that card. All of our income had gone to the other one. Woops!
Maggie’s situated only 8km offshore directly opposite Townsville with plenty of beaches, a WWII fort and lots of koalas. There’s said to be 800 on the small island and this is as far north as you can spot them.
You might be thinking “surely you’ve seen enough beaches why go to another island” and I might have agreed with you. However, here you can hire a topless car and race around the 12km of road with the wind in your hair. This made the trip so worthwhile as it was so easy to get round the island and was like driving a go-kart.
Aside from the driving, the highlights were Horseshoe Bay and the walk up to the WWII fort. It was a hard walk up the mountain in the heat but we were rewarded with excellent views out to sea. We also spotted two koalas on the way back down; not quite 800 but we’d only seen one before in the wild!
There’s not much to do on the island which makes it great for relaxing. There’s no point going straight back to the mainland given how much you’ve spent on the ferry and car hire. We spent the rest of the day racing around the coast road before watching the sunset as we got the ferry home.
We couldn’t stand another night at the petrol station so we drove half an hour up the highway. Here we had a much quieter and more suitable rest area!
Wallaman Falls/Cardwell Spa Pools
Not far up the road, or so we thought, was Wallaman Falls; Australia’s tallest single drop waterfall.
Whenever you look at a map, you never really expect something to be so far away with nothing in between. To get here, we drove to Ingham on the highway and then set off 50kms west.
It was a bit of an effort to get there with us having to turn around for petrol, cross crocodile rivers and weave around cows and wild pigs. I’m pretty sure we ran over a snake too – there’s no way he could have escaped.
There’s nothing around the waterfall at all but it is still quite popular with tourists. Our first glimpse of the falls was from a lookout perched on the edge of a cliff. I’m starting to get used to heights now.
Whilst the waterfall did look huge, you don’t really get the full effect until you’re stood at the base looking almost 300 metres up. However, for that, you have to descend down into the valley for about an hour. Yep, one whole hour!
The signs warned of how hard the walk was and they weren’t lying; it was very rough and steep. You couldn’t really get into a rhythm.
We got some great photos and had a nice break before climbing for another hour back up to the van. I was absolutely soaked through with sweat by the time we made it back.
The only way to freshen up then was to drive a couple of hours to Cardwell Spa Pools. These too were a slight detour from the highway on dirt roads. We had the place to ourselves and we just relaxed in the little ‘jacuzzi’ as freshwater poured over us. Not being able to shower every single day means that you have to take advantage of these little pools. The deeper section of the pool was a beautiful aqua blue!
This mysterious place had been recommended to us by other travellers as far back as January. We didn’t know much apart from the castle-like structures had been built back in the 1930’s by a Spanish guy for his family.
Once you’re off the highway, the drive to the park is worth a mention. The Cane Cutter Way winds its way through sugar plantations and banana plantations with misty mountains in the background. The road is dedicated to the men who used to work the sugar plantations with nothing more than their hands. The average life expectancy of a cane cutter was in the early 40’s.
Paronella Park is something so out of the ordinary for Australia and the story behind it really deserves a post all to itself. Jose Paronella had a dream to build a castle, like from his home-country of Spain. He chose a beautiful spot, right next to a waterfall, and returned to Spain to marry his first love. Unfortunately for him, he forgot to write to her as promised whilst he was over in Australia and she had already married someone else. He kept things in the family though and married her younger sister.
The family worked on the ‘castle’ for years and the public loved it. We loved exploring the grounds, both during the day and after dark, and we even got camping included in the price of a ticket. There have been so many disasters that have threatened to wipe the entire structures off the face of the earth but, somehow, it still stands.
We made it up to Cairns on the Friday ready for the weekend! We had no idea what we were doing, where we were going to stay and the weather was awful.
As you may know, we like a good housesit so we applied for one which happened to be for next week. It would give us some extra time to chill and refresh before heading west into the outback.
We decided to pay $102 for four nights at a caravan park which turned out to be great as there was a hot, adults-only, jacuzzi! Sometimes there’s only so many free camps you can put up with.
Our first full day in Cairns started early with a trip on the scenic railway up to Kuranda, a small village in a world-heritage rainforest. It was recommended to take the train up into the tablelands and then get the cable car back. However, this would have added an extra $100 so we stuck with the railway.
The railway up to Kuranda is considered one of Australia’s greatest engineering feats. It was constructed between 1882 and 1891 and consists of 2km worth of tunnels and 2km worth of bridges. It passes through deep rainforest, over steep ravines and past waterfalls.
Considering the year that this was built, I find it absolutely crazy. Hundreds of men worked on the railway with their own tools and families by their side yet many of this generation sit here on their phones accomplishing nothing.
There was one brief stop on the way for passengers to admire the views over Barron Falls before we arrived in Kuranda almost two hours later.
As we wandered the streets, the first thing I noticed was the huge increase in aboriginal people. In Cairns, there are many aboriginals on the streets (mostly drinking) but here there were more. Most were playing the didgeridoo with groups of lads behind them shouting for money if you stopped to look.
The shops were all quite touristy but we found a few good photography and aboriginal art shops, rainforest markets and little cafes. We stopped at a little Scottish café purely for the scones which you could smell from the street. Turns out we were served a huge pot of local tea with four scones; cheese, plain, sultana and ginger & macadamia. Lovely.
Our week ended with meeting the couple from the housesit to “discuss the requirements.” The house was in a lovely area but we didn’t know what to expect as the listing didn’t give too much away. We met them in their house and it turned out they were from England only a stone’s throw from where we lived. We hit it off straight away and we ended up drinking beer & wine and eating pizza. Too many drinks later, we stayed over and were treated to bacon and egg sandwiches in the morning. WITH HP SAUCE!!
A slightly hungover Sunday was spent in the hot spa preparing ourselves for our final week on the East Coast.