We woke up early. To early. The early bird gets the worm, and the early traveler gets the dolphin, so to speak. Yes, we woke up early to get to Tin Can Bay to see and feed the dolphins.
Grey Nomads aside, it was a pleasant journey to Tin Can. Nestled at the point is a cafe and the internationally famous Barnacles Dolphin Center. Nanny-no-fun had arrived their first (by a few years, by the looks of things) and had signposted the entire place with penalties regarding feeding, touching, swimming or sharing moonshine with the dolphins. Fines of thousands of dollars for dolphin related infractions. If the dolphins didn’t want to be touched, why do they flock to humans? I just found it bizarre that there was a host of legislative penalties to protect the dolphins, like they couldn’t choose to swim away from humans like every other fish in the sea.
So we arrived and paid our money, took off our thongs and washed our hands, and stood in line for our turn to be in the water the same time as the dolphins.
For about 10 minutes, we got to stand in calf-deep water about a meter away from about five playful dolphins, constantly being reminded of the penalties involved in swimming, touching, approaching, imitating, or otherwise enjoying the dolphins. Just standing, watching the dolphins, being reminded again and again of the penalties. Thrilling. We then had to proceed off the beach, and wait in line again to feed the dolphins. I’m sure it would have taken longer to get off the beach, if we were behind Grey Nomads. They like to take their time and liberties when it comes to these things.
Well after the thrill of watching the dolphins wore off, we were at the front of the line to feed the dolphins. We got our bucket with one fish, waded down the the water, fed the dolphin, and filed off the beach. With one more reminder of never ever to feed the dolphins and the penalties involved, we were done, and the dolphins had their state-mandated quota of three kilos of fish for the day. I wonder if feeding dolphins would ever be an election issue.
After a pleasant morning of dolphin-penalty education, it was back to Rainbow to prepare for a lovely afternoon of whale watching. We had plenty of time after checking out to pop up to Hervey Bay, via the lovely town of Maryborough for an afternoon in the Bay. We enjoyed lunch at Migaloo’s Cafe near the pier, and I was slightly dissapointed that no whale was on the menu. Still, a nice ham cheese and tomato toastie filled me up ready for the cruise. Naturally, I ‘shared’ the kids beer batter chips. A skip to the marina and we were ready to go!
“Before we hop on, ladies and gentleman, can I just get your attention please” the overly tanned lady corralled the group “The seas are a little rough out there today. We will have a little bit of rock’n’roll, so if anyone has any medical conditions just let me or one of the staff know”. At that point, I should have taken the recommended seasick tablets.
The trip out was fantastic. The boat smashed through the waves, splashing over the hull, engulfing the boat in a roaring white wash. I perched against the side and waxed lyrical in my mind, Old Man and the Sea style. Yes, I was enjoying the high seas, the waves, staring out into the offing and generally loving life. I was unworried by the horizon rocking like a swing in the breeze, oh no! Those suckers around me were looking green, some even taking the vomit bags and quickly filling them. HA! Not me though, I had my sea legs on, feeling the sun and the salt and the spray on my face. How wonderful!
Finally, the overly tanned lady’s voice came through the ship’s PA “Whales, three o’clock”, much to everyone’s excitement. Camera primed, I raced to take some photos of these wonderous creatures.
Snap snap snap. Snap snap snap. The mother and her calf breached, flapped and wallowed just meters away. Snap snap snap!
The gentle rocking of the boat suddenly didn’t feel like a dream, and life didn’t seem so wonderful. A certain grumbly rumbled across my tummy. Nausea rippled through me. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so good.
Fast forward three hours, three full vomit bags and generally wanting to die, I crawled across the gangplank, back onto dry land.
So, whale watching didn’t go as planned. I’ve got a few nice photos, and some very unflattering ones!
It may not have been the best end to the holiday, but in the scheme of things, it was a minor setback to a wonderful, wonderful holiday.
We packed the car for the final time, readying for our final trip – the four-or-so hour trip back to Brisbane. After Gympie, the Bruce opened up to a smooth, multi-lane highway, and we comfortably sat on 110 without the risk of going up the back of any Grey Nomads. There was a comforting familiarity of passing the Sunshine Coast beaches, north Brisbane, over the Gateway and down for our final stretch home. Home. Home, from a wonderful, wonderful holiday.
Thankfully, the sand boarding didn’t kill me, so we decided to spend the morning collecting some of the spectacular coloured sands on Rainbow Beach. We had planned on going whale watching that afternoon, but more about that later.
Originally named Black Beach, the new unoriginal name Rainbow Beach was adopted after a local aboriginal dreamtime story involving a snake and spilled blood. Naturally, rainbow coloured sands lends it’s name to Rainbow Beach. Thankfully, we saw neither black nor rainbow coloured snakes during our morning on the beach!
Right along the beach there are seams of colour – whites, yellows, reds, greys, oranges, even purples! Armed with waterbottles, the children meticulously collected coloured sand, layering them in their clear water bottles with stunning effect.
The photos absolutley don’t do the sands justice. Brilliant yellows. Rich reds. Pure whites. Golden oranges. Landslides of colour, invading the beach below. Seams bursting with fine sand. A kalidescope of sand right down the beach. The children went to great lengths to find the most beautiful colours, clambering high sand cliffs for that perfect colour for their bottles, racing down to the water when things got too hot.
The plan was to go whale watching up at Hervey Bay, but ocean swells prohibited safe passage out. We toyed with the idea of sandboarding again, however my poor calf muscles were still in a state of shock. A drive was taken out to Inskip Point, a departure point where 4WDs can get to the beautiful Fraser Island by barge. Inskip Point – what can I say? Camping and Grey Nomads. I’ll leave it there.
Rainbow Beach lies within the Great Sandy National Park, aptly named because it’s sandy, and great, but mostly sandy. Held in this great park was Seary’s Creek. Down an easy boardwalk we found a collection of families splashing about in a delightfully cold, clear freshwater creek. It looked like the place you might hang out as a teenager, without the enjoyment of underage drinking. Kids splashed around in the frigid waters, a welcome relief from the warm coastal sun.
The day ended up being delightful, even the Inskip Point part. We hunkered down for our final day of the holiday. On tomorrows plan – dolphin feeding and hopefully whale watching!
When you wake up on holidays, you never really expect that you’ll be dying on a sand dune. I certainly didn’t, but on our first afternoon at Rainbow Beach, that’s what I found myself doing. So here I was, trying to haul two kids and two sand boards up a piping hot sand cliff, sweat dripping out of every pore, thinking ‘this is it, this is my time’.
The Carlo Sand Blow is natures way of saying ‘something so beautiful can kill you with a smile’. Situated a stones throw from Rainbow, the Carlo Sand Blow is a natural sand amphitheater, the walls of which were steep and sandy and perfect for sandboarding. Now we never had much luck in the sandboarding department, and thankfully I didn’t end up face down in the sand.
Rainbow Beach is aptly named for it’s rainbow coloured sand, more of that in the next blog. It’s windswept, rugged and handsome, just like yours truly ;). Like any little town on the Queensland coast, it’s packed with the usual suspects – tanned and impossibly beautiful backpackers, chubby holidaymakers and carpark-clogging Grey Nomads. The beach doubles as a road, with two way 4WD traffic going from dawn till dusk. It’s a relaxed place. As you’d expect, the food is expensive, the road is rough, the beach is beautiful and the streets wide.
Apart from nearly dying on the dunes, Rainbow Beach turned out to be a wonderful adventure…
Unexpected joys were found in Rockhampton. It was really just meant to be a sleepover stop-off between Mackay and Rainbow Beach – it turned out to be so much more!
We sadly said goodbye to Mackay, and I truly hope we will return again. I hope we return to her crystal blue beaches, her swaying cane farms and handsome mountains. I hope we return to Cape Hillsborough and all the rich natural beauty that fine town has to offer. Goodbye Mackay, you’ve been a fine city, and we’ll miss you.
Approaching from the north, Rockhampton is home to a series of caves. Found by accident by a Norwegian back in the day, these interesting, interesting caves were open for tours. The information center had a fascinating display of early life in this central Queensland city. If you could look beyond the spelling and grammatical errors, it truly was an informative snapshot of the hardships of early life. Picture, 30oC weather, a hot wind, on a horse or buggy across a dirt track, dressed in full suit or dress, visiting this inhospitable place. At least they didn’t have Grey Nomads to contend with. We visited and explored these caves, and wow, what an adventure! Now no longer full of guano (look it up), these caves were truly wonderful to explore.
The drive to Rockhampton was surprisingly bearable, despite multiple roadworks and herds of Grey Nomads. Rockhampton lies on the Tropic of Capricorn, so the local tourist board erected a pole on the southside of town commemorating it. Think of the equator mark in Uganda, sans political unrest, desert and local militia. Our airbnb host, an amiable lady of a certain age enlightened us to the Rockhampton Zoo. Before you ask, yes, there is a zoo in Rockhampton, and yes, it’s free! We spent a wonderful few hours strolling around the simple but satisfying zoo. The usual things were there – kangaroo, emu, koalas and token crocodile. Rockhampton Zoo also had some more exotic animals, the names of which elude me.
Being the beef capital of Australia, we naturally had to have steak for dinner – yum!
Our airbnb was a cute miners cottage, brought in from Mt Morgan. It was nearly 90 years old, quaint, cozy and I’m sure full of memories. Rockhampton itself is a fascinating town. Full of old buildings, with a train line running through it, it truly was an interesting place.
Refreshed from our stopover and lovely sleep, it was time to hit the road once again for our last location – Rainbow Beach!
Wonder. Amazement. Gratitude. Beauty. How can you sum up the Great Barrier Reef? Simply, you can’t.
We woke early to drive from Mackay to Airlie Beach, only to find the Bruce shrouded in a thick morning mist. Imagine – the temp is mid-to-high twenties, the road ghostly empty (yes, it’s too early for Grey Nomads). The sugarcane remains still in the soft morning air, craggy green mountains phase in and out of sight as the morning mist slowly beats across this northern land. Sugarcane train tracks lattice across the plains, like silver ribbon wrapped around a present of yellowgreen.
Eight months ago, Cyclone Debbie ravaged this part of the coast. The cyclone has very much passed, Debbie’s destruction remains. Temporary fences surround properties from Proserpine, Cannonvale and Airlie Beach. Men in hi-vis workwear mule around the Port of Airlie awaiting their transport to various Whitsunday Islands, part of the reconstruction efforts. Despite the angry weather, the Whitsundays remain stoic, and forge ahead.
It takes three hours to get to Hart Reef, stopping at Hamilton Island. Sharing our horseshoe seat is a family from Shanghai and a mother and daughter from Melbourne. Both groups are spending the day at Hamilton, and we exchange stories from our respective homelands. My newfound friend from Shanghai goes by the name of Dennis, his wife and 3 year old daughter remain nameless but happy to smile during conversation. We talk about the beauty of north Queensland, and Dennis explains the official government policy of China was not to install heating in homes below a certain parallel. I ponder my privilege, wondering what it would be like living under communist rule, having a choice of how I heat my home dictated by government policy. The three year old wriggles like a fish and spills all our coffee, smiles abound when we share a wipe to clean it out. Our Melbourne friends wax lyrical about how wonderful Melbourne is, trying to make ‘4 seasons in one day’ sound like a good thing. I politely tell them that Brisbane is full and horrible, and never visit. Ever.
Our Chinese and Melbourne friends alight at Hamilton Island, and we are joined by a big family group who invite the kids to play Uno with them.
After a very quick three hours, we make it. We’ve arrived at the reef.
Blues and rich turquoise surrounds us. The sea is gentle, warm and inviting. We are encouraged to wear stinger suits. To the uninitiated, stinger suits primarily prevent being stung by one of the many nasties here on the reef. In all reality, they only look really good one one type of person, and sadly, I’m not one of them.
We suit up and Zoe is off! She is immediately immersed into a new world, loving every second of it. Eli takes considerable encouragement, but eventually he enjoys some time in the water. The fish – amazing. Hundreds, of all colours and shapes. Darting, floating, in schools and solo. The groper lazes around the edge of the reef, unperturbed by panicking scuba divers or underwater photographers. We spend hours in the water, marveling at the beauty under the surface.
The trip back to Airlie is just as relaxing. I perch on the upper deck, surrounded by sunshine and the gorgeous Whitsunday Islands. Yachts sway lazily, tourists rest back, basking in the glorious afternoon sun. The stoic islands stand beautifully in the bay of blue. I relish with the wind on my face and sun on my skin.
It’s almost impossible to describe the reef. The shades of blue. The schools of fish. The beauty. The solitude. We had a perfect day out on the reef, and the contrast with the recovering Airlie Beach couldn’t have been more stark. This beautiful tourist town, it’s main street a patchwork of open and boarded up shops. Bars slowly filling with an early evening crowd, boutiques, cafes and trees filled with fairy lights dot the strip.
On the drive home I listen to Paul Simon’s Graceland, and ponder on how blessed I am. How blessed I am to live in this beautiful country, in this amazing state. How I’m just over a days drive away from this natural wonder, this awe-inspiring coastline filled with the beauty of the Lord’s creation. How blessed I am to live in a mostly free country, how I didn’t have to travel half way across the world to visit this stunning place.
We pass Proserpine, the stunning lights of the sugar refinery a sweet reminder of this beautiful place on our way back to Mackay.
Today has been beautiful, and the highlight of the holiday so far.
You’d never know it at first, but Mackay is a hub for excitement. We rolled into town as Elton John was doing his ‘Last Man Standing’ tour, so half the town was excited and the other confused. Shops were playing the Piano Man’s tunes, but no-one seemed to be humming along. Mackay isn’t the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of pop culture, but Elton thought Mackay would a good place to stop off. I’m just glad he flew in, I suspect he’d fit in with the Grey Nomad crew quite well. You know, of a certain age, self-entitled, white and chubby.
Another exciting thing is happening to North Queensland at the moment – their footy team has once again reached the grand final. Quite an effort really. Unlike Sydney teams, they have to travel every fortnight to a game, their team stacks the ranks of representative teams and their marque player was on the bench for the later half of the season. The colours of the Cowboys certainly held sway over this northern city.
Mackay city, believe it or not, has a remarkable collection of art deco buildings. From pubs to more pubs, garages, shops, pubs and the occaisional pub, Mackay is littered with art deco. I thought I got some photos of Mackay city, but I didn’t.
Mackay is filled with beauty, from stunning lookouts, crystal blue waters, amazing beaches and miles of lazy sugarcane. We spent two wonderful days, exploring, enjoying the water.
Cape Hillsborough is maybe 40 minutes north (double that if you’re stuck behind a Grey Nomad). I’ve often said that northern New South Wales is God’s country, however if he ever went on holiday, it would be here. Hillsborough – wow! Where the forest meets the sea. The word on the street is that kangaroos and wallabies come onto the beach at dawn and dusk. We saw some in the scrub, but sadly none on the beach. Imagine green bush, sweeping beaches, craggy cliffs and stubborn islands, and you have Hillsborough. A true hidden gem.
We spent two amazing days in Mackay, on our push north to Airlie Beach for our trip out to Hardy Reef…
My greatest and best advice to anyone considering driving to Mackay simply is don’t. Where possible, avoid the stretch from Rockhampton to Mackay for the simple reason it sucks.
To be honest, up until Rocky things aren’t bad. The whole east coast is suffering from very dry conditions at the moment, and I’m sure in wetter times this country is more picturesque. For us, however, pretty scenery was not on the menu. No, from Rocky to Mackay, we encountered 300klm of dried yellow earth, dotted with bony cows, rust-coloured roofs, billboards promoting real-estate agents and the dreaded Grey Nomads.
For the uninitiated, the Grey Nomad is something to be feared. Armed with a superannuation payout, a 4WD and a caravan costing the same as a home, they migrate north like the humpback whales in search of warmer winter climates. They amble along the stretch of road usually at least 20klm under the limit, their swirving caravan disallowing any overtaking, often travelling in packs, signalling through an ancient form of communication called ‘2-way’. We were lucky for the most part – we were journeying north, just as the southward migration back to Sydney and Melbourne for the summer was commencing. Still, rouge Grey Nomads roamed the northbound lane of the mighty Bruce Highway.
Just when you are about to give up any hope of reaching Mackay, you come across Clareview. Wedged between the Bruce and the Pacific, this strip of a town peers over the most welcome sight – crystal blue water! Unlike the Grey Nomads in front of us, we were holding off for a pee stop so didn’t pull into this oasis, but after 200klm of dust, it brought welcome relief to the eyes.
North of Clareview you’ll hit Sarina and the sugar country of the north. From here, the landscape changes from barren beef to lazy swaying sugar cane, surrounded by comforting mountains on the west and the crystal blue on the east. Everything seems to get slower, and hotter. Humidity seems to do that to a place- make it slower, and hotter. Sarina with it’s big cane toad tempts us to stop. As with most ‘big’ things around Australia, they disappoint, and the big cane toad didn’t disappoint in disappointing me. Wedged between the two lanes, across the road from Sarina State School sat this human-sized creature. We took a photo, got back on the Bruce and promptly got stuck behind a Grey Nomad.
Next stop, Mackay.