Australia, 2005

Photos © R.Leeuw
(Photos can be enlarged by clicking on them)

After our stay in Sydney (and getting over the jetlag) we flew to Cairns; the idea was to drive from Cairns to Melbourne and we had 16 days to do it...
While driving I quickly found I had made the typical first-visit mistake: to underestimate how big this country is!
Well, the race is on...

Virgin Blue We enjoyed the smooth operation of Virgin Blue, that airline is indeed a pleasure to fly.

After we had experienced in recent years the paranoia that has the US and its airline industry firmly in its grasp, we found procedures in Australia strict but courteous; it was a relief to see it can be done this way too.

Tropical Cairns...
The night before we had found temperatures a sweltering 32 Celsius and while we had dinner a huge downpour cooled things a bit; but not for long.
It had not rained for months, so the rain was welcomed by the locals. November will see the start of the occasional rains, the next few months may see the Big Rains...
We took a half-day trip to Green island onboard this speedy catamaran.

Trips like these are firmly on the beaten tourist path, but quite nice all the same. It was the closest we would get to the Great Barrier Reef, time and budget being an issue.

There are a few things to do while on this tiny island.
Swimming and snorkling, if you feel comfortable in an ocean with the possibility of meeting sharks and jellyfish...

Green Island is a tiny Coral Cay lying about 30km from Cairns. The island features rainforest and sandy beaches. It also lies upon 710 hectares of reef, making it an excellent diving spot; we did not go snorkling, and we felt this justified when we saw a shark near the pier...
Green Island was given it's current name by James Cook in 1770, after Mr Charles Green who was an astronomer onboard the Endeavour.

Here are some threats you might want to consider:
  • Blue-ringed octopus. Commonly found in rock pools all over Australian states. Their bite can paralyse in 15 minutes resulting in death. Unless provoked, the distinctive blue rings of this dangerous octopus may not be evident.

  • Box jellyfish (Marine Stingers). They appear during summer (October to May) north of Great Keppel Island and Queensland. A sting from their long tentacles can be lethal (though not always). By the time you see the jellyfish, you're likely to have been stung already. Douse stings with vinegar. Coastal beaches North of Rockhampton are prohibited at this time.

  • Stone Fish. Poisonous stinging fish, found all around the northern coastline, beaches badly affected are normally signposted. Reduce chances of being stung by not turning over coral and rocks and wearing sand shoes.

  • Sharks. Stay out of the water at dusk and dawn, avoid beaches where sharks are known to congregate (most patrolled beaches have shark nets), avoid water that becomes abruptly deeper and avoid areas of low visibility and turbid water.

  • We took a tour on a glass-bottom boat and received full explanation on the Coral Reef. It is of course nice to see it this way but I must admit I like the "Technicolor" Sydney Aquarium better.


    There is also a possibility to visit the Reef by plane, even without an airport here. The floatplane is a vintage DeHavilland DHC-2 Beaver and it is an attractive option for me for a future visit.

    Cairns is city for things to do. The wet thing for us was Green Island, the dry thing was a hike on Mt. Whitfield (no photos, sorry).
    After we had done all we had time for and a quick visit to Target (where we shopped with Christmas music playing through the speakers and outside temperatures 30+ C... really weird), we drove a scenic, mountainous route via Mareeba, through enchanting rainforest.
    We saw Cassuwary and also a snake, crossing the road.
    We backtracked to the Queensland Coast and continued south on the Bruce Highway. Speedlimits allow for 110 km/h and roads are single lane mostly; at first I ignored the speedlimit but found I could not enjoy the country side so we settled on the speed limit (most of the time).
    Motels are not as abundant as in the US or Canada, but most towns offer a place to stay; the photo shows a cabin we rented for 1 night in Bargara (near Bundaberg), right on the ocean front; these cabins are an excellent alternative to motels.

    As one of Australia’s most important export crops, sugar is a vital industry for Queensland. We found some of these factories smack dab in the middle of towns, with the whole area inhaling that sweet smell, filthy...
    The travel guides claimed this area, with the large cane fields, as monotonous; we did not agree at all ! There were people working the fields (on Sunday too) and the small railway system was ever present. I rather travel this area than the gold Coast, now that was boring!

    I like car wrecks such as this one...
    I also liked the roadsigns, warning against fatigue: "Rest, or R.I.P". There were many more, with the same wry sense of humor.

    I also like deserted structures such as abandoned gasstations; I cannot explain this fascination!

    We detoured through Bundaberg for the museum of Bert Hinkler, a famous aviator; but we also found the Botanical Gardens here a pleasure to visit.
    The park has been planted with a mixture of exotic and native shrubs and trees as well a variety of rainforest trees and flora. Plants and trees and lagoons attract at least 114 bird species!


    Do you think his comment is anything like: "be careful or you will fall in?"

    There are a lot of beaches along the coast and a big fuss is made of them in the travel guides. As you can see there is plenty of space. Before you think of going for a swim you have to consider the dangers. We don't much care for beaches and ocean swimming, but the beaches provide a nice break from the many miles on the road. Most days we drove 300+ kilometers, some days exceeded 600 kilometers.
    Probably all the motelrooms had cookers and most had a microwave; breakfast was bought in one of the 24hour convenience stores or the Bi-Lo Supermarkets. Lunch was often bought at a gasstation; they have often sell fruits (banana), sandwiches, fruit juices and we got hooked on the Iced-Coffee.
    The only route we did not like was the part on the Gold Coast.


    We did not visit much of Brisbane. We don't all that much care for cities. But we did have our minds set on visiting the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. It is the world's first and largest Koala sanctuary, with over 130 koalas. They also have a large variety of Aussie wildlife, such as Wombats (below)

    A church: abandoned?

    A shed (?) on the beautiful scenic drive to Dorrigo

    South West Rocks was described in laudable terms in th etravel guides and we decided to detaour there for the night. We unfortunately arrived in driving rains, after sunset and found the first motel's reception at a liquor store... The second motel we found, Rockport Motor Inn, offered all the comfort we were looking for and it had a proper restaurant; I don't much care for the Australian habit of having to order your food at one counter, get your drinks on another counter and collect your food when it is ready... I like to be waited on, as simple as that.
    The next day we had a proper look at this small town; this street (and you see the entire length of it) is the main street; that should give you an idea. It is quite nice and relaxed, but a stay of one or two nights should be more than plenty for me.


    South West Rocks sits on a very nice bay. That is probably the attraction: the beaches again.


    Previously I wrote that this country sometimes reminded me of England (roadsigns) or the USA (shopping malls). And these antique mills made me think of the America's Old West again: I could have been driving though Nevada or Utah.

    On this trip we drove over 5.000 kilometers, in 16 days. The conclusion that we sat in the car more than we exercised our legs is obviously correct. But we did make the effort: we enjoyed this Tropical Rainforest Boardwalk in Port Macquarie very much and not just for the exercise.

    Port Macquarie is located approximately mid-way between Sydney and Brisbane. It was first established as a penal settlement in 1821 and is now a popular tourist resort.

    This Water Dragon passed underneath the boardwalk and impressed us by its pre-historic appearance; it made a lot of noise stepping on the dry leaves.
    This is an impressive lizard; it grows up to 20 cm with a strong long tail that grows 2.5 times the body length. The tail is compressed laterally for swimming, a skill it uses to escape threat and/or danger. The nostrils of the water dragon are specially placed on top of its snout as an adaptation to its aquatic habits.
    Sun through high trees A tree strangled Plants high up to catch the sun

    The Blue Mountains is densely populated by oil bearing Eucalyptus trees; the droplets of oil, in combination with dust particles and water vapour, scatter short-wave length rays of light which are predominantly blue in colour... hence the name.
    In 1788 the Blue Mountains were originally named "Carmarthen Hills" and "Landsdowne Hills" by Governor Phillip; but the distinctive blue haze surrounding the area saw soon the name changed to the Blue Mountains.
    We stayed in Katoomba for 1 night and did a small hike; the view over this wilderness is simply breathtaking.

    Three Sisters
    Echopoint in Katoomba is very well known and hard to miss; you may have to share the view with a busload of Japanese, but it definitely is worth to stop and stare.
    Rather him than me!   Stanwell Park

    Stanwell Park is Sydney but only just. It sits south on the coastline and a favorite place for these dare-devils!
    There is also a statue of Lawrence Hargraves here, a famous Australian aviation pioneer.
    Thanks Stephen for pointing this out to us.

    We followed the coastline a further bit south and then took the Kings Highway inland, following a beautiful climbing road, through a forest heading for the Capital: Canberra.
    The road levelled of on a plateau and that day we saw a great variety in scenery; the road had very little traffic and we enjoyed every minute of this route.

    View from War Memorial Canberra. I'd heard it wasn't a vibrant town, but I'd heard good things too, so I approached this town with an open mind.
    We came here to visit the War Museum, or the Australian War Memorial as it is officially called. Now that is a one terrific museum! It deals with wars the Australian participated in.
    I had to give up my camera bag (no rucksacks allowed), which I most reluctantly did, but it is definitely worth the visit. It is very visual, it has a zillion displays, complete aircraft and military vehicles, excellent diorama's. Really, really good.
    There may be a few other things to visit in Canberra, but we had no time and had to continue south.
    Without a map you probably cannot find the motels or shopping malls here. The center of town did not even have a gasstation. We had some trouble finding the route out of town.
    Not a town I want to revisit I think (though the countryside around it is exquisite).



    The War Memorial is a good outcry against the insanity of war.

    One of many excellent diorama's: this one shows the tunnels the Vietcong made under their villages.

    For aircraft on display here, see my aviation account

    We drove south to Cooma and headed back up the Snowy Mountains Highway; from the flat scenery (with mountains on the horizon) we entered the mountains and forests again. The road was very lightly travelled. Dark clouds travelled, a wombat crossed the road, we had miles to go: great!
    The Snowy Mountains is of course a place to stay and do hiking or serious sports; not for us, not this time.
    For more than 20,000 years the Snowy Mountains were home to a number of Aboriginal groups with a unique way of life. The high country was first settled in earnest by European stockmen, graziers and landholders in the early 1800s. In the 1860s thousands of people from across Australia, Europe and Asia flocked to the gold rush town of Kiandra.
    This is now grazing and skiing country. The region produces fine wools, lamb and stud cattle and sheep, but its main attraction to the visitor is the high country (containing Mt.Kosciusko, Australia's highest peak), where lies Australia's premier ski fields.
    And since the mid-1900s, the Snowy Mountains attracted surveyors, hydrographers and engineers who sought a way to harness the power of the high country's great rivers. The lakes, dams and hydro power stations created as part of the Snowy River Hydro Electric project developed during the 1950's are Australia's largest engineering works to date.

    Being Dutch and an aviation enthusiast I felt obliged to visit Albury.
    A Melbourne businessman, Sir Macpherson Robertson, sponsored London to Melbourne Air Race in 1934. There was a category for speed and a race by handicap (some planes were custom built for racing, while others had not). The distance was over an 11,300 mile course; 20 entrants took part; 11 finished the course; 3 aircraft crashed; in 1 case killing both crew.
    The Dutch connection here is that a Douglas DC-2 from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines won the handicap race; they finished second in total. It almost ended here for the DC-2, as an emergency landing was made on a racecourse here and had the people from Albury not performed heroically, the plane could have bypassed this town in darkness and crashed in the vicious weather.
    More can be read on and a personal account by a passenger.

    More on this memorial can be read on my aviation account

    If you find your spouse looking like this, it is probably best to cease what you are doing (e.g. visiting another aviation museum) and head out for the shopping mall...
    We did some last souvenir shopping and said our goodbyes to the relatives with whom we had found a warm welcome.
    Virgin Blue flew us from Melbourne to Sydney, where we spent one more night; it was time to go home.

    We had seen and done fantastic things, met some of the best people (the best thing of Australia, we found, was the people's friendliness), experienced the mind-boggling distances and vastness of this huge country. We felt we could drive the same distance in another 3 weeks and see & do completely other things; and four (or five) weeks probably would have been better for the distance we covered.
    The next time we'll do it (a little) different; and there most certainly will be a next time.

    Extenal links:
    Lynn and John Salmon, Melbourne-Cairns 1995; how it can be done, with more time available.

    Back to the start: Sydney, 2005



    Last updated 22.1.2006