People call it the Sunshine State because it experiences over 300 days of sunshine each year. Besides the always present sun, Queensland has it all to compete in a ‘best paradise spots in the world’ contest - the stunning and always changing nuances of the golden beaches and the blue Coral Sea are everywhere.
If the weather looks like Western Europe in Melbourne and Southern Europe in Sydney, it is definitely like Southeast Asia in Queensland which means that instead of summer and winter, there is wet or dry tropical climate. Therefore it is hard to visit Australia in one trip as from April to November it will be a little bit cold in Southern Australia (it will be winter!) and from November to April it will be pouring in Northern Australia (it will be the rainy season!).
As each Garden of Eden has its snake, the worst is the appearance in the turquoise waters of the Coral Sea, from November to April, of the most dangerous marine stingers on Earth - the box jellyfish and the irukandi! They are either transparent or too small to be spotted and have potent toxic stings which can cause serious illness and even death. You will immediately see the people wearing full-body lycra suits in the sea and the vinegar disposed along the beaches (even though it seems controversial whether this actually works when applied on the injury…).
It is scary and does not really give you the crazy desire to go for a swim during this period! The signs warning you of currents, sharks and saltwater crocodiles (known informally as salties) at some places definitely remove any desire at all!
We stopped on our way to the south in a paradise-like small town and after we left, we read in the guidebook that not so long ago they had found a saltie in the public swimming pool!!! This sounds like a good scenario for a horror movie to me!
No worries however - there are spots where you can swim with (almost) no danger including the stunning Great Barrier Reef and the beautiful freshwater lakes of Fraser Island!
We started our road trip in Cairns which is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. In order to maintain the suspense, we first went for a visit of one of the oldest primary tropical rainforests in the world - the precious lungs of Planet Earth - not far away from the city, in the village of Kuranda.
The journey started on a small train initially built for the tin mines, the railway rising from sea level to 328 meters through spectacular waterfalls and bridges.
Besides the relaxing boat cruise on the calm waters of the Barron River, home to freshwater crocodiles, turtles, lizards and tropical birds, you can visit the koalas sprawled on their trees.
You will also probably need to defend your backpack and camera against mischievous parrots!
The return trip to Cairns is by a cable-car going down amidst the majestic rainforest with its huge trees in different nuances of deep green.
You can spot the battle for light as some of them have acquired the skills to use other trees’ trunks to go higher, closer to the sun, in order to survive!
Time for the Great Barrier Reef - a myth, the largest structure on Earth made by living organisms which can be spotted from the space and home to hundreds of gorgeous exotic marine creatures, including the worldwide famous orange and white clownfish most commonly known as Nemo because of the cartoon where it featured!
The colour of the water looks extraterrestrial and the world underwater is pure magic.
Whether you decide to dive or to snorkel, you will not know where to turn your eyes to.
However the only way to get an idea of the grandeur of the Reef is from the air.
The heli will make you discover the stunning shades of blue and the variety of breathtaking natural compositions of corals, including one in the perfect shape of a heart in the middle of the sea!
It is stunning, it is unforgettable!
Still, your discovery of the Reef should not stop here. Further south, it is hiding its most precious gem, home to the most beautiful beach in the world - the Whitsunday Islands! Paradise on earth!
However, we had some trouble getting there as we had little time and broke 'number one' rule in Oz - do not, at any cost, drive after sunset!!! The reason for that is that car lights make the kangaroos at the sides of the road panic and they can jump in front of your car. Kangaroos are gentle but big animals and the collision will hurt them and will cause you a serious, sometimes mortal, accident …And it becomes dark early in Australia!
We drove for an hour in the dark. We could spot clearly the kangaroos staying next to the road and were praying for them not to jump in front of our car! It was a nightmare but we managed to reach Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsundays, without an accident (and we are still thankful today for that)! Only to discover that it was impossible to find an open hotel at 8pm...That night we slept in the car and promised ourselves to never ever spend a day in Oz without having booked a hotel at the latest by 3pm...
All the crazy experiences to go there were worth it! The 74 wonder white beach Whitsunday Islands, most of them uninhabited, located in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, were named by Captain James Cook (always the same…) who sailed there in 1770 on the ancient British festival of Whit Sunday (the Seventh Sunday after Easter).
The best way to explore the islands is on a sailing trip with at least two days on board. Our vessel was the black beauty 'Silent Night' and there were only 12 passengers and 2 crew members on board.
It is an amazing experience to sail with the only force of the wind just admiring the beautiful shades of aqua, turquoise, blue, crystal and indigo sea, and even helping the crew with the ropes.
You will quickly get used to hopping from one secluded beach or bay to another.
The spectacular sunsets there, surrounded by the sea, are amongst the most stunning we have ever seen. The colours spread all around you on an endless horizon and you feel like drowning in the beauty and serenity of the silence.
It is the ultimate relaxation, very very close to nirvana!
The most beautiful beach in the world for us is there - the iconic Whitehaven Beach!
The first look from the lookout at this seven-kilometre stretch of white silica sands and crystal clear waters going far away on the horizon makes you agree in a second with the name - it is haven (or heaven!) indeed! It looks like the golden sands and the turquoise waters are dancing in front of your eyes alternating in this subtle masterpiece of the nature!
The second part of the experience is getting down on this heavenly beach and feeling the sand under your bare feet and the fresh water covering your body.
It feels really surreal...
What clearly made the experience unforgettable were the people we travelled with who came from Austria, the US, Ireland, the UK and Australia. In the evenings we were singing and dancing and playing and it was just so much fun! Despite coming from different countries, all the ‘native English speaker’ guys had so much in common from a cultural perspective like same movies, TV shows and songs from their childhood or teen years. And it was great to sing some Bulgarian songs for them, even though the voice was...hmmmm!
It was also fun to see how the Aussie guy was making a gentle fun of the American guy when he was saying, very seriously, that the US was the greatest country in the world! Or the same Aussie guy was trying to convince the Austrian girl that even though she had seen koalas on one of the islands, they were brought there by people as ‘koalas do not swim’ (stated very calmly with a poker face!). This still makes us laugh out aloud as the girl was so convinced and the Aussie so calm while repeating patiently ‘koalas do not swim’ - it was hilarious. There was also the delicious food freshly prepared by the crew on board that made us smile.
However, the cherry on the cake, the sublimum of the sailing trip, was when the captain left us on a sandbank in the middle of nowhere, visible only at high tide, for the sunset watching!
It was only the 12 of us on this impermanent piece of land covered by corals, watching the sky turning red and the seagulls sliding on the horizon...
This was it, it could not become any much more 'wow'!
After the Whitsundays, we continued further south coming across funny road signs, old wind turbines, trucks transporting houses or swimming pools, customised car plates and improvised zebra crossings for giant lizards (yep, lizards have priority in Oz!)!
The houses aside the road are all on stilts for protection against animals and floods and you can spot quite often a microwave used as a mailbox (the house of the owners is probably too far away for them to retrieve their letters on a regular basis and they need a larger box to store them for awhile)!
Our next stop was Rockhampton.
It is known as the beef capital of Australia and we had a traditional minced beef pie for lunch. The cheerful inscription on the coke bottle reminded us that it was summer in Australia and winter somewhere far away in good old Europe.
The city is beautiful with its 19th century preserved buildings and the banks of the Fitzroy River but there is one thing you cannot miss - the Tropic of Capricorn passes right through the city.
Explained in a scientific way the Tropic of Capricorn (its northern equivalent is the Tropic of Cancer) is the southernmost latitude where the sun can be directly overhead. In simple words, it means that at one moment in December you will not be able to see your own shadow! Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn also reminded us of the great Alfred Hitchcock's movie ‘Under Capricorn’ - a masterpiece as all the other movies of this genius of the 7th art!
We made a short stop in the beautiful secluded town of 1770 (yep, this is a name!), named after the year Captain Cook arrived in Australia.
We also stopped at Mon Repos Beach to see the sea turtles coming ashore in the darkness of the night to lay their eggs and bury them in the sand. We thought we saw tears in the turtle’s eyes…It was an amazing experience. We learned so much about the nesting (every turtle returns to the beach where she was born to nest and this sometimes after many years and many kilometers, and even after having crossed twice the Pacific Ocean reaching as far away as South America…) and the dangers faced by the young turtles who were going to emerge from the eggs eight weeks later. They are so tiny that they can easily become the prey of crabs and seagulls even before reaching the sea and by fish and other predators afterwards. The guys at Mon Repos Beach are doing a great job trying to ensure that the highest number of turtles emerge from the eggs (by covering them with sand when necessary) and reach the sea after being born!
After this miracle of nature called giving birth, we continued further south to the largest sand island in the world (1,840 km2!) - Fraser Island, named after the shipwreck survivor Eliza Fraser.
The island is a pristine beauty (its Aboriginal name K’Gari means paradise) but once you have seen the signs warning you of the presence of wild dingos, sharks, salties and currents and watched the movie about the dangers of driving on the sand at the rental company office, it is probably time to have a second thought!
Comfortably seated in your 4WD and ready to drive on the sand, looking around at the beautiful forest around, you do not suspect the nightmare that will follow in just a minute! The island is only sand, everywhere! The inland roads are all-sand and the beach is actually a road with its own road signs!
And if you do not know your car (which is the case with a rental) or it is your first time driving on the sand, well... you simply get stuck. And getting a huge 4WD out of the sand is hell! The more you dig, the more your car sinks into the sand…And most of the time no other cars are around and you just keep digging...because the perspective of spending the night in the car with wild dingos around is horrifying!!!
Luckily after what seems like hours of digging (probably 1 hour in reality), we got help from some great Aussie guys from Brisbane and managed, completely covered by sand everywhere, to reach the stunning Lake McKenzie, one of over 100 freshwater lakes on the island. The water is transparent and so cool and the sand around is so white (nearly pure silica!) that you can stay there forever!
After having reached our hotel for the night without any more trouble but still shaken, we realised that it was completely ring-fenced. When we decided to go to the beach, outside the fence, to watch the sunset, we figured out why…There was a dog watching us a little bit like a predator is watching a prey...We felt something was not right and slowly walked back behind the fence. Later in the hotel we saw horrible pictures of dingos who had attacked people and knew we had probably escaped that.
Dingos are wild dogs vulnerable to extinction and those on Fraser Island are reputedly some of the last remaining pure dingoes in Eastern Australia. In order to prevent cross-breeding, dogs are not allowed on the island. As dingos are wild animals, they are normally scared of people. However few of them on the island had recently changed behaviour due to people feeding them or recklessly leaving food and rubbish out (easy food!) which attracted them and made them fearless. We read that some people were even trying to provoke reactions from dingoes while taking photographs. The dingo we bumped into was one of these people’s ‘victims’! Fraser Island is the dingos’ home and the people are the intruders. So it is our responsibility to ensure they remain wild animals!
In the morning we had a very tight slot, at low tide, to drive miles and miles along the beach (which is also used as a runway for planes!).
You can spot the gorgeous coloured sand Pinnacles rocks, the rusted Maheno wreck and the Eli Creek flowing into the sea.
We almost experienced the other danger of driving on the sand - sometimes the puddles on the beach could be treacherous, appear shallower than they actually are and make your 4WD sink...
Luckily we skipped this trouble with success and just enjoyed the beauty around!
The colours of the sea, the sky and the beach were spectacular and there were hundreds of birds taking a rest on their long journey, close to the waves!
Our road trip through the Sunshine State ended in Brisbane and we got on the plane with a pinch of our hearts! We experienced some crazy nightmare troubles but this is what travelling is all about - nothing happens according to a plan! However the beauty we saw and felt outrunned by far the troubles, which actually created great memories and stories to tell you today!
See you soon at our next stop in The Place to Be - the state of Victoria in Southern Australia and another Aussie icon - the Great Ocean Road!
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