After our loop north of Cairns, the plan for week 9 was to head down south away from the crocs and jellyfish as far as a safe swimming beach for everyone to learn how to surf. I managed to persuade everyone to detour via the Atherton Tablelands for a few final walks, before embarking on 3 days of driving 5 hours a day as far as Agnes Water, the most northerly surfing beach in Queensland. On Monday we left Ellis beach and headed to Yungaburra, driving through the Atherton Tablelands- green rolling hills with plentiful farms growing coffee, mango, macademia nut, lychees and bananas. We spent the afternoon at Lake Eacham, a croc-free lake surrounded by rainforest with a 3km walking track around it. We had a lovely walk, again failing to spot any mammals but enjoying seeing the turtles swimming in the water, our first sight of a water dragon, and lots of bird-spotting. I experienced my first leech encounter, finding one on my big toe at the end of the walk that luckily hadn’t attached itself yet, and vowed to wear closed shoes in the future- good preparation for Borneo! It poured with rain when we were about half way round but we hardly felt a drop, sheltered by the trees, and when we emerged at the other end the clouds had passed and everyone went for a refreshing swim. It was a lovely afternoon. We stopped at the platypus viewing platform in Yungaburra on our way back to the campsite, but once again the Australian mammals proved elusive. We haven’t seen so much as a possum yet- not even dead on the road! Yungaburra itself was a lovely small village with lots of old buildings and flowers everywhere- it had a really nice feel. We camped up on the shores of Lake Maraboon where we experienced our first tropical rain storm, stuck in the kitchen area whilst the water pounded down and lightening lit up the sky- we were reminded of barbeques in England! Eventually we had to brave the short run back to Goufi and everyone was soaked through after our 100m dash. Our first taste of monsoon rain!
The next morning we continued exploring the Atherton Tablelands, starting with a visit to the Curtain Fig Tree, an enormous tree at a 45 degree angle with roots hanging down from the main trunk, giving the effect of a curtain. It was certainly impressive, and I felt a great sense of peace in this part of the rainforest, very connected to nature. We carried on to Malanda, where there is a short but wide waterfall with a swimming area underneath it, and another walking track through the rainforest where we first heard a laughing kookaburra, initially sounding very like a monkey in the trees. Of course we couldn’t resist finishing off with a swim in the cooling water, before heading on to Millaa Millaa for lunch and another waterfall. Millaa Millaa waterfall was a good contrast to Malanda, being very high and narrow- an impressive sight. There were crowds of tourists there when we arrived, but they soon departed and we were able to enjoy swimming in the very cold water in peace. We were joined by turtles, a cormorant and a beautiful kingfisher, and we all made it over to the foot of the waterfall where we could fully appreciate its power. There are a further 3 waterfalls within 15 km of here which we didn’t explore, but I thought this was a beautiful part of the country where I could easily have spent many more days. I would love to return to Cairns again in the cooler months and get to know this part of the world better.
In the afternoon we headed back to the coast where we stopped for the night at Mission Beach. There I definitely found paradise. We stayed in a cheap, council-run campsite right on the edge of the quiet, wide, sandy beach. Here we enjoyed our 3rd swim of the day- this time in the sea, taking advantage of the stinger net and the gloriously warm water. As Ben put the kids to bed, I had a fantastic hour enjoying a beer and reading my book on the beach, by myself, while the sun went down- pure bliss.
Mission Beach is the most densely populated area of cassowaries in Australia, so Cara and I got up early on Wednesday morning and headed out for a walk at 6.00, to take advantage of our final chance to see one in the wild. We had a lovely walk together in the cool of the day, but alas we didn’t even manage to find the entrance to the rainforest track (due to it not being where it was marked on my app), let alone a cassowary! We arrived back at the campervan and found the boys had woken up and managed a game of football on the beach, and we finished with a final swim in the completely clear, still, warm sea before we left. Absolutely, without a doubt, the most fabulous water I have ever swum in. Mission Beach, I love you!
From Mission Beach we headed down to Townsville where we spent a couple of hours in the Museum of Tropical Queensland. There was a Horrible Histories exhibition about pirates which kept the kids entertained, and we also managed to learn more about the Great Barrier reef, the rainforest and the wildlife in Queensland (Cara and me), and about the search for the crew of the Bounty which ended in a shipwreck on the Great Barrier reef (the boys). Townsville looked like a great town to hang out with lots to do and another free swimming and play area on the seafront, but we were bound for the Outback, so we headed on to Charters Towers for the evening. Known as “the world” at the time of the Gold Rush this was once an enormous town with fabulous wild west architecture and a large stock exchange and a friendly place to stop for the night.
On Thursday we continued our mammoth drive down to Agnes Water with a further 5 hours driving, this time venturing further in to the Outback. The landscape started to look much more dry and barren with thin trees lacking foliage growing on dry red ground, and large swathes of scrubland, perfect for spotting emus. The land felt very unfertile and the cows grazing here had huge areas to roam but were all skin and bones. The wide empty roads stretched completely straight for miles without us seeing any signs of civilisation. We stopped in Clermont for lunch, and were surprised to find such an unexpected gem! In the midst of all this, was a beautifully kept town with a large lake and wildlife area teaming with cockatoos, lorikeets, moorhens, a pelican and lots of turtles, a huge colony of flying foxes in the trees and the nicest playground we have seen in Australia, perfectly clean and undercover so it wasn’t too hot to use the equipment. An added bonus was the use of sprinklers on the surrounding grass which provided a good hour of entertainment and cooled us down brilliantly in the heat of the day as we ran through them- the kids were absolutely soaked by the time we made it back to Goufi. We continued on to Emerald, the start of cattle country, but decided not to stop there after reading some of the campsite reviews including ‘my mate’s fridge was stolen from his ute here’! We drove on the short distance to Lake Maraboon where we found a lovely campsite with resident cockatoos and kookaburras galore, good facilities, and more importantly a bar overlooking the swimming pool which had a small waterslide, keeping both adults and kids happy in the evening sun.
Lake Maraboon was a lovely place to relax and after 2 long days of driving it was very tempting to stay put for a while, but staying focussed on the surfing we agreed to plough on with our final long drive on Friday. Making the most of our time whilst we were still there, the kids spent the morning in the pool again before setting off whilst I went for a walk by the lake. This was much shorter than planned as I started being divebombed by a magpie as I ventured in to the picnic area- it flew so close to my head that I could feel it’s wings brushing past me, but luckily it didn’t actually hurt me. After it had had 3 goes at me, I decided to change my plans and started to loop back to the campsite waving a stick over my head. Once I was out of the area I dropped the stick, only to find it had followed me as it came in for another swoop. Most people will know that I really don’t like being close to birds and find their wings flapping quite frightening, so needless to say I was pretty freaked out by this time and running as fast as I could away from the area. Maybe not the walk I had planned, but I still managed to get some pretty good exercise for the day! After leaving the campsite we headed on to Agnes Water, stopping only briefly for lunch near Rockhampton, the heart of cowboy country, and after 3 long days of travel we finally reached our destination. We were rewarded by our first sighting of wild kangaroos as we neared our campsite, and everyone was thrilled to find 2 kangaroos sitting in our parking spot. We thought it was very clever of the owners to employ kangaroos to show people where to go! We were able to go quite close to them, a mother and her baby, and watch them feeding, walking and jumping. A lovely welcoming committee. We were also treated to a display by the resident frilled lizard which runs about upright on its back legs- absolutely hysterical to watch!
On Saturday morning it was wonderful to wake up in the knowledge that we had made it to safe surfing and swimming territory and didn’t have to do any more long drives for as long as we were happy in Agnes Water. We headed straight to the beach and hired some boards from the most laid-back surfer dude you could imagine, Huggy from Lazy Lizard surf school. The beach was long and wide with 6km of golden sand, a swimming area with lifeguards on duty and a relaxed beach cafe with wifi access- everything we could want. More importantly it had waves that were big enough to play about in and surf on, but not so enormous as to be frightening or dangerous. Ben and the kids had a happy day on the surf boards remembering what they had learned in Currumbin, and I enjoyed playing ‘Duck, swim, bob, jump’ with them in the swimming area. I had a couple of goes on the board but I don’t think surfing is for me- I am clearly not a natural and I don’t really enjoy being dunked under the waves so am not very motivated to keep practising. I did, however enjoy relaxing and reading my book- it felt like we were on holiday at last. After a long day, we headed up the headland to the town of 1770 for dinner at the sunset lookout point, making use of the free electric bbqs that are all over the place. We were rewarded with beautiful colours reflected in the water, as the sun set over the harbour with pelicans coming in to land. Truly lovely.
Agnes Water had everything we wanted- a beautiful but quiet surfing beach, a relaxed, laid-back feel, plenty of wildlife, and the picturesque spot of the town of 1770 with calm waters for swimming just around the corner. On Sunday we relocated to Workman’s Beach, further in to town, where there are spacious unpowered sites on a council run camping ground in the forest overlooking the beach. The rangers were extremely friendly and the price was amazing at just $25 per night. The only glitch was the enormous Huntsman’s spiders resident on the toilet block but luckily they were only visible at night so the kids were blissfully unaware, and I opted to use Goufi’s facilities after dark. Our site was big enough to put up the hammock and the kids’ mosquito net tents, initially just so we could mark our spot as ‘taken’ when we went out for the day, but this was quickly overtaken by the desire to sleep out for the night and before long all 3 tents were up with plans afoot for some proper camping on Sunday night. After a morning of schoolwork, we headed to the beach at lunchtime and had another relaxing afternoon at the seaside, before returning for the great camping adventure. Jago had a little wobble just before bedtime, but managed to overcome his fears and all 3 children quickly fell asleep enclosed in their thin tents with just net walls between them and the elements. Luckily there was no rain that night, and they all managed to sleep through until the early hours with no disturbances from snakes or spiders. Very happy at Agnes Water, we ended the week with plans to stay on here for the foreseeable future , keen to make this our home for the next week or so.