Sunday, October 2, 2011

10 Must Stop Photo Spots of North Queensland

Ok, first up, this is not a definitive, researched, ultimate bucket-list thingo.  This is just me thinking out loud and thinking about 10 locations or features one should check out whilst touring around between Cairns and Townsville.  So if your favourite bit is not here, then leave a comment.

But a fcbk friend is heading this way shortly and I thought I'd blog a repsonse.  So here goes, and in more a geographical order here are 10 reasons why you should carry a camera in North Queensland.

1. The Great Barrier Reef and the best place to get out there is from Port Douglas.  One can either jump aboard one of the big Party Ships that heads out and join the 300 other rubber neckers for a day of sunburn, seasickness and stinger suits, or you could get onboard a 60ft sailing Catamaran which has a limited number of people on board and cruises out to the reef at a pleasant 10kts.  Here is a shot of the Synergy which was such a relaxing way to waste the day out on the water!

2. Rainforests.  While there ain't as many trees left in the rainforest as maybe there was some 300 years ago, there are still some great spots in North Queensland to get in and amongst the tropical jungle.  And some are really easy to get into, like Mossman Gorge and the Daintree, whereas others require some more serious bushwalking like the areas around Tully and mountains like Bartle Frere.  However, the most photographed tree in the Rainforest is up at Yungaburra and is the Curtain Fig Tree.  This tree is estimated to be at least 700 years old.

3.  Birdwatching is fun, taking photos of birds can be a challenge, it can also be time consuming.  However, the easy way is to go to one of the wildlife parks and take photos of captive birds in aviaries!  How easy is that!  Now sure, the Cairns Casino is not the first place you would think about wildlife, but up on top the dome is a wildlife park complete with Crocodile and if you don't mind the damp smellyness of the joint, is is a cool place to get up close and personal with some of the more elusive birds of the tropics.  And you don't have to tell your friends the truth... you can say you sat out in a mosquito infested swamp as the sun rose just to get a shot of the rare and endangered!

4. Waterfalls.  North Queensland has got a million of them, and you can spend days driving around the Atherton Tablelands visiting simply waterfalls.  The prettiest and most visited and most photographed would be Millaa Millaa Falls, and getting a moment to get the perfect shot without some tourist swimming and fouling your nature photography is pretty tough.  I guess the option would be to get a waterproof housing for your camera and join in the watery fun!

5.  Recently when Queensland turned 150, a bucket list came out with the 150 things you must-see in the state, and topping that list voted by the good people of Queensland was Paronella Park, and what a very groovy old dilapidated castle it is!  José Paronella is a legend in North Queensland and just outside of Innisfail next to the delightful Mena Creek Hotel is José's dream!  Unfortunately at the moment I hear this year's Dry Season has been very dry for Paronella Park but when it is wet and lush and green, this place is quite enchanting!

6.  Further south from Innisfail surprisingly enough, there are more Waterfalls to encounter, from Murray Falls, to the hard to get to Blencoe Falls and even Jourama Falls, but the cracker is the mighty Wallaman Falls just inland from Ingham.  A cool drive through some cow farms and then up a mountain jungle pass.  Wallaman Falls is Australia's longest single drop waterfall.  During the dry season, it is magnificent, and during the wet, if you can get there, it is truly spectacular!  Added bonus is the opportunity to see Cassowaries.  

7.  Now if you cannot make it to the reef or you do not have an underwater camera, then the world's largest indoor coral reef is for you.  Reef HQ is such a cool place to go when the weather gets toasty and you get to see sharks, turtles, fishies and other wonders of the deep.   It's edumacational too!  And the glass is crystal clear, so that when you show your friends your shots, you can convince them that you dive as well as Jacques Cousteau!  Easily the best time you will ever have underwater without getting wet!  Hey, I should be getting paid to write this shit!

8.  Everyone wants to see a crocodile when they go to the tropics and seeing one in the wild is a mind blowing experience, however, they are pretty elusive and shy, so there are numerous wildlife parks where you can hang out and watch these guys being fed by trained professionals.  The best display of these prehistoric beasts I have seen is in Townsville and is called the Billabong Sanctuary.  And a great place to get some more bird shots, and a place to cuddle a wombat!  What more could you ask for?

9.  When in Townsville, before you go see the fish and the lizards, you must get to the top of Castle Hill which is perfect for getting a bird's eye view on town and its surrounds.  Great for a bit of exercise or even drive your car up the 3km road, Castle Hill is a popular spot.  And you can get to see some cool views of Magnetic Island and The Strand and the cemetery!!!

10. And lastly, and most probably the hardest one to get to, as it is well-inland in the Burdekin Dam!  Completed in 1987, this monster wide dam with its 500m spillway is amazing to see dry as well as wet, often the water going over the spillway is 3-4m above the wall height and is a noisy cacophony of roaring water!  Currently at 15cm below the spillway, it means you can drive across the base of the dam and onto the desert beyond!  Why not stop at Ravenswood and look for a ghost?

Not an exhaustive list but just some of my highlights up in this part of the planet.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Donahue and Plenty Highways

Camping out at the Boulia Caravan Park was great fun, all of the fellow travellers camped there were great fun and full of good info about the road ahead.  I was unsure about the Donahue Highway, in fact, I had heard some pretty ordinary stories about it.  I was told that the Plenty Highway was in good nick and in typical Queensland style, the Donahue section was a nightmare.  Deep ruts, and stony ground, I was guaranteed a flat tyre or several.  I had also heard that there was rumours that the Donahue section was graded and to be sealed so that the Road Trains could have a better run at it.

Anyway, I feared the worst.  I went out and purchased brand new boots for my little 4WD and I figured that new shoes should get me across the desert.  Sheesh, if one wheel was doomed then how could 2 spare wheels cover the remaining 3???  So I went with no puncture kit, no air compressor and just the spare.

I decided to interrogate those travellers who had successfully completed the "highway" and they talked of broken leaf-springs in their trailers and punctured tyres.  They told me that the last 200kms from Jervois to Gem Tree was a corrugated nightmare and that was the Plenty Highway!  They said enjoy the first 400kms, pull over, camp, buy expensive fuel and just rest at Jervois, because the next stretch would test me and my little 4WD.

Hey I got a little 4WD, sure its not a Hilux, a Landcruiser, a Patrol or any of those big monsters, but its got a proper low range, its a gutsy diesel and it just bombs along!  What could go wrong?

The big monsters told me that they were letting their tyre pressures down so that they could survive the corrugations!

So I didn't sleep very well.  Boulia has a problem with native Rats and they were climbing all over my tent, in between the fly and the screen.  They were pretty cute really, little black eyes, pointy little nose, soft and brown... but they were active.  I drank some whisky, I got some sleep.

The next morning, I slowly packed up my tent, had some breakfast, procrastinated a little longer and then finally sucked it in and decided to go see what this Hell of the North was like.

I left Boulia at 9:30am expecting an easy 400km run to Jervois and then a well earned rest.  Well, like I said, my little 4WD bombs along and on roads like in the picture, 100kph is money for jam.  Ripping along, I was thinking maybe the big monsters had taken a different road?

I got to the NT border, changed my clock back and thought "you beauty, and extra half hour" and continued.  It was a great road, lovely, some trees every now and then, a few emus and soon, I hit Jervois.  It was 2:00pm.  With the time difference, 4 hours and 30 minutes of motoring for 400kms.  The lady who sold me fuel at $2.15 per litre was well impressed that my little 4WD had covered the ground so quickly.  In fact, she thought it was one of the quickest runs across the highway.

So I figured, how can I rest at only 2:00pm?  So I kept going, hey lets get the horrible corrugated section out of the way.  Why rest and sleep and wait for it tomorrow?  So off I went.  Yeah well, it was corrugated, and there were some wash outs and I passed a few big monsters with punctured tyres but I didn't think it was so bad; just bounced around and got on with it.

2 and a half hours later I pulled into Gem Tree and sadly the dirt finishes there and it becomes a sealed road.  And there are no Gems hanging off the Trees.  There are gems but you got to dig for them and "fossick".  But what a beautiful campground, sleeping with Dingoes.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Winton to Boulia

What to do when in Dinosaur country?  How about go look for signs that perhaps dinosaurs once roamed this part of the planet?  At Lark Quarry around 95million years ago, a bunch of emu and chicken sized dinosaurs where drinking at the edge of what is now referred to as the Great Inland Sea.  Along came a Theropod who at 4tonnes in weight was a bit bigger then the little guys and was looking for a feed.  As he went in for the kill, the little guys all exited stage left and the good news for us, is that the mud they stampeded across has been fossilised and 3,300 dinosaur footprints have been preserved in stone for us to go back in time and check it all out.  

These dinosaur prints were discovered quite some time ago underneath one of the many Mesas that cover this amazing landscape.  This is gorgeous spinifex country and standing on top of one of the mesas, it feels like you can see forever.  It is a dramatic difference to what many would see as typical Queensland, being the beaches or rainforest, but this is spectacular country and I really enjoyed the journey.

When you do travel to Lark Quarry, allow some time to wander the 3.5km track around the park, you'll see Spinifex Pigeons and Bearded Dragons and you'll see a whole range of different rock of varying colours.  Oh yeah and there's always the Dinosaur prints in the big shed!

Yet another fantastic view in Dinosaur country!

And remember during the wet season (Dec - Mar) many of the roads in this area get flooded and even in July I came across some fairly boggy stretches of road, especially around the great Diamantina River.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Winton, on the edge of the Outback.

Recently I decided to drive around Australia.  I will exclude Tasmania and Western Australia on this journey but I will get to the rest.  There is a great deal of things I have not seen in this massive country so it was time to go and see some of them.  

My car is great, it gets me to where I want to be in comfort, yet it has never left the state.  I have also never driven a car with Qbilly plates on it outside of this, my adopted state so I had some things to do.  And seeing as I know Winton quite well, I decided day one would be to get there.  So I had a comfortable start to my adventure.

Winton is on the edge of the outback, well some say it is the outback but who am I to judge?  Out here the water is pumped up (often under natural pressure) from the great Artesian Basin and is rich in Sulphur, smells like that little creek in Madang where they filmed Robinson Crusoe.  It is tasty water, just a little stinky... give it time to settle.

Along the way, these windmills provide water for communities and livestock. This windmill was photographed at a little town called Prairie about halfway to Winton from the coast.

The land out here is flat, can often be very dry and can also get very wet.  During times of rain, the road is often underwater and can mean small towns like Prairie and Winton can be isolated for days and days, sometimes weeks and months.  But at this time of year, the roads are in fantastic condition.  It was however, impressive to see just how much water was hanging around at this time of year, it was an excellent wet season just gone and the landscape is so much greener for the better.

My journey to Winton was un-eventful, everything went according to plan and the town was abuzz with the Grey Nomads who head this way every July to see blue skies and warm sunshine.  And with the extra water and flowers in the region, there were some pretty birds around the place.  Like I have said in previous blogs, I went to PNG a bushwalker and returned a bird-nerd.

A White Plumed Honeyeater.

A Yellow Throated Miner

And a Black Faced Woodswallow.

It's time.

It's about time I blogged again.  It's about time I dropped the PNG style from my title as I now reside in Australia.  PNG was over 2 years ago, and it's time I moved on.  So from today, you will read about my travels again.  During my time in PNG, I visited all of its Provinces, something I have not yet done in my home country.  Maybe I should.

Cheers and beers,

Thursday, September 9, 2010

For Eunie.

This is my Madang.

I once walked from Mt Wilhelm to Madang; the mountains in this photos are not the ones I clambered down from, but the mountains that rise from any coast in PNG up into its spine are similar.  This shot was taken from Madang looking back towards the Highlands yet to the Sou'west of Madang itself.  A sunrise on yet another beautiful day in paradise.

This is what others know of when you say Madang.

On my last trip to Madang I ventured out to Jais Aben.  I visited the graves at Alexshafen.  I have spent my life dedicated to many of whom I never met and it is only the living that know of the dead.  From my vantage point of Jais Aben, I could see the young children on this tiny island running carefree up and down the sandy beach blissfully unaware.

This is the Madang which provides a source of life.

Despite a morning storm over Krangket Island, these locals find a moment to cease fishing and admire the sunrise.  Human touch in front of the extremes that Mother Nature can dish out can often be the softest.

I offer flowers.  If I were to pick a posie of Madang's finest, then I would select the simple blooms from the following.

This is my Madang.

Early morning, despite the nat-nats, a photographer must capture the first moment, it is the cleanest light, the purest light.

With the warmth of the sun, often comes the storms.

And it was a heavy heart that I left Madang for the very last time.  This was to be my last flight in PNG.

Looking back towards Madang, these photos were taken with my wondering if I would ever return.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

SP Lager; Who serves it?

Okay, final SP post, and I still have not had anybody from the brewery contact me to say that the pallet of SP lager is on its way.  I'm still waiting...

Back to why I came here... who serves SP Lager?  Good question, we know who drinks it and we know how to buy it and we also know that it is available in Australia.  Now say this like you have a plum in your mouth; "it is an imported lager and carries the price tag not dissimilar to other fine lagers from around the globe".  I reckon' it even tastes worthy of competing with other fine lagers from around the globe.  Hey I like it but we all knew that!

My experience tells me that serving SP lager is almost as much fun as drinking SP lager, but serving and drinking SP would be some kind of retail nirvana, and I have experienced that as well.  And it was an historic moment in time, my wantoks still talk about that afternoon when I was in charge of the esky, and we had fun handing out the SP and we had fun drinking the SP.  Good times... good times.

Here's Albert, he's working hard at the Rapopo Plantation Resort over on East New Britain, it is interesting to note that there ain't a huge supply of SP behind Albert in the SP fridge.  That's because Albert and the team at Rapopo place all the day's supply of SP into a big esky on ice, because SP is best served cold, and ice is the best way to get beer to perfection.  Albert, we salute you.

Even birds at the Windjammer Hotel, Wewak, East Sepik enjoy SP and here we see a Cockatoo standing at the end of this iconic bar found in this iconic establishment.  The Windjammer is a must visit location to any trip to Wewak, and it has this bleedin' great big timber bar carved into a crocodile, known amongst locals as the puk-puk bar.  The cockatoos here would have you believe that the local name is a misnomer and that it should be called the pek-pek bar.  And drinker beware, do not get your fingers to close to their beaks!

Here is another large beak attached to another Cockatoo.

On a serious note, thanks to global warming, bars like the puk-puk bar in Wewak and many others like it in tropical locations around the Pacific are under threat by rising sea levels.  If you and your friends still want to experience places like the Windjammer, not just now, but into the future, your kids future, then write to your local Member of Parliament and let them know of the plight of these drinking holes, that these places of refuge, where one can slake one's thirst are in danger of sliding back into the ocean, back into the primordial swamp from whence they came.

I digress, here are two kekeni animase serving patrons at the delightful Japanese restaurant called Daikoku in Port Moresby.

and just take a look at what it says on the serving tray... "good times, great mates... our beer".  Just about sums it up.  Now Daikoku is a fantastic venue for drinking and of course, serving SP.  Great food, great service despite some of the kekeni animase being a little on the quiet side (speak up ladies, we don't bite) and great atmoshpere (I wonder if they still play that soaring soundtrack that reminded me of Gary Moore and did I really type atmoshpere????).  Daikoku was great for business important type lunches and dinners but also for party time with "great mates".  And the Cheesy Lobster?  Exquisite!

Now, if you don't believe me that serving SP can be almost as much fun as drinking SP, then check out these two ladies over in Morobe Province serving SP from the tap at the Sportsman's Bar at the Lae International Hotel.  Called the "Lae Inter" by all and sundry, the Inter can claim it's international status because it has five clocks hanging on the wall behind reception, all showing different time zones and not always working.  But there was nothing "international" about their beers, it was SP, SP, SP or even more SP.  Like the Rapopo Plantation, the Lae Inter also had a stash of stubbies in an esky full of ice.  Refreshing?  Hell yeah, and with great smiles and great service, why wouldn't you want to drink until closing?  Glug glug glug.

And finally, I leave you with the most Australian looking pub interior you will see north of Saibai Island, the Bluff Inn, found at 17-mile, in the Central Province on the road to Sogeri.  Found at the base of the mighty snake road, the Bluff Inn found ex-pats and Nationals drinking side by side, in a very very very dark interior with walls lined with beer coasters from around the globe and outside, the biggest beer garden ever!  What a great venue, for drivers to pull over after the arduous task of getting down the hill and to stop and wet their whistle.  For some time, it was also a good spot for raskols to stop ex-pats and have a chat about finances.  But not in the years I lived in Moresby.  The Bluff Inn, along the banks of the Laloki River, home of some tasty burgers and home to some fine cold beer (Author's note, in 2006, the Bluff Inn didn't realise that ex-pats weren't coming because the beer was warm.  When they started to keep the fridges on, the dollars started to roll their way).