Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Whales and Dingoes

I was keen to see if the hype about observing a humpback whale close up was worth it. Well it was! Seeing these magnificent creatures in the wild and being almost close enough to touch them is, infinitely better than seeing them on television. The first thing that strikes you is their size. They are huge, yet they have a serene majesty that makes them a true wonder of the animal kingdom. They pop their heads out of the water and simply observe you in the same way us curious humans observe them.
At no time are they frightening, or in any way threatening. The whales in Hervey bay are on holiday pausing before their long swim back to the Antarctic. I watched as a young calf breached the surface as it swum beside it mother. The mother feeds its calf by expressing milk straight into the water and its calf strains out the milk the same way as the older whales feed on the plankton and krill. Seems wasteful but a calf can put on over 80 kilos a day!
Whale watching is a relatively new phenomenon but I can understand why it has become so popular. These are not trained animals, or circus acts this is just how they are. The boat captain cuts the motors and you slip quietly beside them. The whales will either totally ignore you or they will decide to interact with you. Either way seems fine somehow.
New Zealand and Australia banned whaling in the early sixties. What took them so long! But that being said the whales in our waters are making a comeback. Numbers have gone from the hundreds to the thousands and long may their revival continue. So if you think whale watching might be an experience worth having, go for it!  In my humble opinion you will not be disappointed.

The next day it was time for some off-roading aussie style. Fraser Island is the world’s biggest sand dune island, 123 kilometers long and over 22 kilometers wide at its widest point. Covered in bush and tropical rain forest it was once a major logging site. Now it is a world heritage park and the bush has reverted back to its original state.
This trip is a true off road adventure. Nothing but a four wheel drive will cope with the rugged terrain and the deep rutted sandy tracks. You have seat belts in the bus and you need them on. Many times the driver shifted into the low box and with the engine screaming we crawled our way upward, branches and ferns scrapping the windows on both sides.
I swam in Lake McKenzie high in the sand dunes that is feed purely by rainwater. The water is crystal clear and covers about 130 hectares. It is surrounded by fine white silica sand. It was a highlight of the trip and if you go there take a swim; the water will get your heart pumping!
Back in the 4x4 bus and we ground our way back down the lower slopes to the rain forest.  What is truly remarkable is that the trees and the vegetation look so healthy and yet the whole island consists of just white sand.
After a bush walk we were herded back into the bus and we headed for lunch at a local resort. A quick lunch and we were off again down the beach. A wild dingo was digging up the remains of a fisherman’s catch and took no notice of the bus. Then it was off down the beach at what seemed to be about a 100 km an hour to an old shipwreck that washed ashore in 1937. You can’t swim at the beach because of the tiger sharks which patrol just out from the surf line. It seems a shame as the shoreline is nothing but miles of white sand and the water is crystal clear.
Six of us volunteered to go for a quick flight over the island on a 7 seat single engine aircraft that operated off the beach. We were told it was a 15 minute scenic flight over the coast to observe the whales and then a flight over the island.
The seven seat  was more of a five seat with two extra seats thrown in where the passengers legs should have been. I couldn't get the seat belt on and had to swap seats which involved some laughter due to the lack of room to maneuver. After breaking my sunglasses I managed to get the seat belt on but my legs needed to be in the isle for this to happen.
After the pilot was convinced none of the 4x4’s on the beach were headed our way, he gunned the engine and we were airborne in seconds and banking towards the ocean.
“Look two whales!” His voice crackled over the intercom and he did a hard left turn so we could all get a view of a mother and calf and our recently consumed lunch which was trying to come up from our stomachs.
“Look dolphin’s, a whole pod!”
Another quick bank and a shallow dive and we had two seconds to take pictures.
“Now for the island tour!” and we banked steeply then climbed through some turbulence for another turning and diving tour of the lakes, sand dunes and forest. Another quick turn and we dived down landing on the beach a few seconds later.
That was quickest 15 minutes of my life!
Later that afternoon we slogged back through the sand tracks to the ferry. If you have a bad back I suggest you miss this tour but if you like some adventure in your day then the tour will reinvigorate your adrenaline glands.

Well that’s all for now, next stop Airlie beach and the Whitsunday Islands.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Cairns or bust.

Every journey needs planning and our holiday is no exception. when it comes to logistics I am afraid I am rather hopeless. I have a weakness in my left leg because of an old motor accident and I decided to buy one of those walking sticks that mountaineers use. They aren't cheap but as we planned to do lots of walking, it would come in very handy. It turns out, the walking stick wasn't that essential because I forgot to pack it and we flew out without it. Thank goodness my wife did most of the packing as the only thing I had to pack, I forgot. Apart from me dropping my mobile phone and having it splatter on the tiles at the airport restaurant and temporarily misplace my wallet at customs, the flight went smoothly. Seeing the sun come up at 36,000 feet was a glorious sight. The breakfast on the flight was very tasty but designed to appease the belly of a very small marsupial. Is it is me or are aircraft seats shrinking? I am 6ft 2in and 110 kg so my backside felt like it was sliding into a pair of shoes one size to small and the leg room wasn't all that flash either. Size and height discrimination by the airlines maybe?

After four days on the Gold Coast where we enjoyed some family time and a fun visit to Sea World, we left on our road trip to Cairns - a sign just out of Brisbane said "Cairns 1685 km" which looked pretty daunting. Our first leg was to  Australia Zoo, the journey was uneventful apart from the ever changing speed limits. How would you like to go from 60 km to 70 to 80 to 90 to 100 and then to 110 km and not necessarily in that order and all within a few miles. I was wearing my finger out on the cruise control! I passed the most unusual load I have ever seen - a full sized diesel train engine on a huge truck and trailer unit and I had to go over 110 km to pass it. It took us about an hour to get to Australia Zoo.

Our first stop was to meet a  Burmese python. In case you didn't know snakes are warm and smooth to the touch. This one kept moving its head around until it was comfortable then lay perfectly still. This one weighed seventeen kilos and was nearly nine feet long, so Jackie had the heavy part around her shoulders and I managed its head.

If you are ever planning to visit this zoo be prepared for lots of walking. It covers 100 acres and you can see animals from Australia, Asia and Africa. Definitely the most well kept zoo we have seen with lots of animals to see.  The Africa part was amazing.

We arrived in Maroochydore (Are there some crazy names in this country or what?) very late and the only accommodation we could find resembles a large concrete prison cell but we are too tired to care. Tomorrow we head for Hervey Bay and some whale watching. Watch this space for more updates.