A Road Trip Outback Down Under (part 2 of 3)

by Lynn and John Salmon

(Back to Part 1) // (Jump to Part 3)

July 24, 1995 (Queensland, Lamington N.P.)

After a leisurely morning in our private rain forest camp ground, we got going around 11am having seen no one except the ranger who stopped by to clean up. We drove north and crossed the border into Queensland (trip mileage stands at ~3500km). Our planned destination is Lamington National Park (in Queensland) which borders Border Ranges (in NSW) but the only direct access between them is by foot. To get there with the car we had to loop up and back down, but it was a very pleasant drive on the Lions Road.

The Lions Road was built by Lions Club volunteers. It's narrow, twisty and very scenic. It's not for large trucks. We pass a sign that says "Max. Gross Wgt. 5 tonnes", and then see a huge truck backing away from what is obviously a 5 tonne bridge. We reckon there's a lot of 'whatddya reckon' going on in the cab of the truck.

We stop at an overlook above the "spiral railway tunnel", where they actually cut a tunnel to let the train climb the hill more slowly. When we hit Qld., the road turns into a roller-coaster, and we shout "wheeeee!" as we hit the crest of each short rise, almost become airborne, and drop back down the 20% grade on the other side.

We carry on to Beaudesert, which treats us to another shock of actual traffic. I have a burger with 'the lot' at a cafe in a mall. It has beet root, two kinds of grated cheese, lettuce, carrots, pate, fried egg, bacon, onion, tomato and mushrooms. Yum. How does McDonald's do business here?

Lamington seems to have two major entry points, Green Mountains and Binna Burra. We went to the Green Mountains point arriving there late in the afternoon (~3pm). The "tree top walk" is the best short walk that we have yet found. It consists of a series of suspension bridges through the forest canopy. The bridges alone would be fun to walk on even without the beautiful scenery. There was also one point where a series of ladders went up a very tall tree for an even better view. The walk ended near a lovely botanical garden that appears to be the work of one person. According to numerous signs it is not part of the park or the expensive guest house nearby.

As sunset neared, we left the park returning on the twisty-turny road to a sleepy little town called Canungra (which John insisted on calling "Cowabunga!"). Canungra seems like a little bit of Mendocino plunked down in the middle of nowhere. We found a great restaurant called the Pickled Owl. It served an exotic variety of dishes from Indian, Italian, Thai, American, and "traditional" cuisines. We had Thai, Indian and Californian, and it was all excellent.

July 25-26, 1995 (Binna Burra)

We drove to Binna Burra and began our adventure there with a walk on the cave circuit, an easy 6 km walk with "Yosemite-like" views and a few caves. We met a couple from Melbourne, Keith and Judy, who are staying at the Binna Burra Lodge and recommended the food to us.

The cave circuit walk ended near the lodge and we decided it would be a nice place to take a rest day. The place has something of the atmosphere of a cruise ship. The charge structure is $119 a day/person which includes all meals, plus there are a variety of "activities" for the guests. We checked in just in time for lunch which was indeed excellent.

We spent a generally leisurely afternoon taking only short walks near the lodge. They had something called the senses trail meant for blind or blind-folded people to experience the rain forest, but it wasn't set up too well. There was a rope which led one along the path, but signs were few and far between and only in braille.

We also found time to do some laundry and get in some reading before dinner. Dinner wasn't as good as lunch, but it had a pretty impressive dessert spread. We saw Keith and Judy again at dinner. They turn out to have the room next door to ours.

[BIG] We went to bed early and arose early the next day for a bird walk led by one of the staff. There were two women also up for it. John made a list of the birds we saw, the most impressive were the tawny frog mouths which look like lumps on logs. Other birds seen included: currawong, honeyeaters (Lewin's, spinebill), thornbill, quail thrush, brush turkey, king parrot, rosella, butcher bird, yellow robin, bower bird, gray shrike thrush, fantail, whipbird.

The bird walk was low key and we got back for breakfast. We then took a 12km walk along the Dave's Creek circuit before departing. It was a fairly nice walk which took us ~5 hours including our lunch stop. We drove to Beenleigh, just outside of Brisbane, and stopped to avoid rush hour in the city.

July 27, 1995 (Brisbane)

We decided to be clever and avoid city driving by parking at the Beenleigh commuter rail line and taking the train into Brisbane. A day of parking in the city would have cost more than the two round trip train fares. The train was very punctual and seemed to keep its schedule well.

Our first order of business was a stop at immigration to extend our visas. We attempted to do this in Canberra more than a month ago but ran into a catch-22 situation where applying to extend our visas would revoke our current visas so in the off chance that they weren't extended we would have been deported and not gotten to vacation at all. It made little sense at the time, but we decided to wait until a week before expiration to try again. John also got into a shouting match with a bureaucrat while trying to get a clarification of what would constitute proof of medical coverage. The answer given was something like "Proof, you know a letter or some kind of proof." We have been told that this same description could apply at a US Immigration office and is by know means unique to Australia.

The Brisbane Immigration Office has a complicated (and no doubt expensive) "take a number" system, where different classes of request are categorized and given numbers from different pools. At any one time, they may be "Now Serving" A104, B97, C158, etc. What does this accomplish? Well, if you happen to pick the wrong classification when you enter, it gets really confusing. When we are finally called, the lady helping us decides we are at the wrong window. So we wait to go to another window, only to find that we were at the right window to begin with. Our situation is somewhat confusing because we are on a business visa, but wish to extend our stay as tourists. Despite the minor technical gotcha's, the people working are helpful, businesslike and even friendly, in stark contrast to the Immigration office in Canberra.

While waiting we overhear a long exchange at the next counter between two Indians who are bringing their mother over for an extended visit. One of them works for the transit police, and the woman he falsely accused of fare-jumping at the Beenleigh station this morning is, in fact, his immigration officer at this very moment. I think he became quite nervous when he realized this coincidence, but there were no hard feelings, and his mother is on her way. All worked out well for us as well, and we are now legal until Sept 15.

We then walked to the Queen's Street Mall and got lunch at Jimmy's. The food was surprisingly good for a restaurant in a mall.

The rest of the afternoon was shot investigating onward travel arrangements for a visit to the Great Barrier Reef. We wandered into the Queensland Travel Centre and after picking up a number of brochures, talked to one of the agents who gave us heaps of information.

We got the 4:06 train which put us back in Beenleigh at 5pm which should have been plenty of time to get to Loganholme for dinner. We had arranged to visit the Sivyers and have dinner with them and Denis Lane. Rush hour traffic from Beenleigh to Loganholme was a bad as Los Angeles traffic. What should have been ~10min took us nearly an hour. We also get lost, ask directions, pick up some wine (Coonawarra Hermitage Cabernet Sauvignon) at a Drive Thru Liquor Barn, and eventually pull up at the Sivyer's house just after they had left, having assumed we were not coming. But they noticed a car with ACT plates pulling into their neighborhood, so they turned around and pulled up right behind us at their house.

The Sivyers have a beautiful house with swimming pool, tennis court, and a very dumpy old car. (They have their priorities in the right order!). They are pro IRA, anti-British and have entertained Glenda Jackson and Donald Pleasance at their home. Irene does some kind of medical consulting and has worked in Aden, East Africa and New Guinea, as well as Loganholme. Phillip worked in some kind of heavy industry (steel, I think) before retiring. They are against the new road being proposed for the Gold Coast. They correctly realize that the only affect of new roads is to bring more traffic. They never reduce congestion, as we well know in Southern California.

Dinner and the company both turned out to be great. Denis cooked dinner at his place. It was excellent, and we even got the recipe for his Pumpkin Soup to try at home. A couple at dinner were Malcolm and Judy. Malcolm and Denis work together doing something with pharmaceuticals. When we finally arrive at Denis', the wine is an immediate hit. Dennis and Mal had bought a case a few weeks back, and have already finished it off. Mal is a riot, full of jokes, stories, puns. Malcolm is the quickest-witted guy I've met in a while.

Denis has a passion for model trains and is working on an amazingly detailed reconstruction of something which fills his basement. He has some loading stations made up to exact scale replicas - one done from the original engineers plans (c.1890) and the other from a set of antique photos. Is he really going to paint each sleeper separately? He's working on the electronics now for the switching. He also has a collection of "industrial archaeology" finds like fragments of very old train track and some product of the first brick kiln in the Brisbane area. He knew a lot more details, and I didn't take notes, but he's very keen on the details.

We drive back around midnight and stayed the night at the Sivyers house back in Loganholme. Their daughter Maureen is a photographer and there is a lot of her work on display around the house. Maureen's children are model-perfect young blonde tots. She has two prize-winning photos that were quite good: Storm over Mutton Bird Island, and Sandfall, which was a pretty neat time-exposure. We chatted a bit more and went to bed. The Sivyers (semi-)work from home, so everyone gets up late. We have some coffee sitting out on the veranda and a bit of breakfast and then say farewell to our wonderful hosts.

July 28-9, 1995 (Brisbane)

We spent a relaxing couple of days in Brisbane, visiting the museums, and got a chance to take in a movie, Don Juan de Marco, "villa, villa...." The Australian audience wasn't amused, but we were.

We enjoyed a long visit at the wonderful Queensland Museum. The museum is very nicely done with a good mix of media. Though they need a little work on the volume controls of some of their audio exhibits. Our favorite part of the museum is the "What do you think it is?" with items like fossils, bones, rocks, etc. that visitors could handle. The items had cards which help you play amateur paleontologist and identify the item your are examining. You actually get to pick the piece up, hold it in your hand and look at it from all sides. It's really thought provoking, and much more interesting than looking in glass cases.

The museum had some big stuff. Whales were prominent with whale music. Usually you hear whale sounds through a 3" TV speaker. Here, they installed a real sound system, and it sounds really cool echoing through the huge concrete chamber at the entrance of the museum. There was also an exhibit on some giant animals from long-ago Australia. Giant wombats, roos and lizards. Plus a skeleton of a Muttaburrasaurus, a dinosaur that lived ~100 million years ago in Queensland.

There were exhibits on women of the outback, sea reptiles, photography, old airplanes and autos, drought and flood on the Darling Downs, Aaldo Somebody, and the aboriginal people of the rain forest. All the exhibits were well-presented, except for the Aaldo exhibit, which made absolutely no sense.

Finally we stopped in at the "discovery center", which has a more "traditional natural history museum" set of displays of birds, reptiles, flowers, insects, rocks, etc. It also had a tree full of nest-builder ants, and most important of all, it had two guys to answer questions. We decide that this is our last-best hope for getting information about Riversleigh, which was just inscribed on the World Heritage List last December. We are considering visiting but have been unable to find much information about it before embarking on our trip.

Steve Wilson at the Brisbane Museum reference desk knew all about Riversleigh (but he gets is slightly confused with Naracoorte) which together are by far the richest fossil sites in Australia. Bat guano preserved a lot of very old mammal fossils and Steve tells us it is a great find. He could also have gotten any of the live insects out of their containers if we had been keen.

It's finally time to leave the museum. We have lunch at the Art Gallery's Cafe. (Lonely Planet recommends the State Library, but it's a dump). The Art Gallery is full of people looking at the 19th century Australian Art. DULL! They have only a few pieces of aboriginal art, but it's all really good. My suspicion is confirmed that the "real" stuff really is good, and the stuff on T-shirts is crap, somehow driven by a "can't you put another 'roo in the picture. The tourists like kangaroos" mentality. The other high point is a large fountain "installation".

Time to drive. After carefully plotting our course, we leave the museum in the wrong direction. We follow the signs to Sunshine Coast, which are plentiful for a while, and then peter out in the middle of downtown. Yikes. Fortunately, Lynn is following closely on the map, and we make it out of town without mishap, except for the guy that shouted "dickhead" at me for doing something. I may have cut him off when merging right (I still don't do that very well).

Drive, Drive, Drive to Hervey Bay. Arrive around dusk, and go searching for the motel. Nobody puts numbers on the houses or businesses here, so we drive up and down the esplanade for a while before we find it. It took us ~5 hours to drive from Brisbane up to Hervey bay, and we went over the 4000 km mark on our trip.

July 30-31, 1995 (Lady Elliot Island)

Lady Elliot Island is a coral-cay located at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. It is a popular destination because snorkelers and scuba divers can dive straight from the beach, and low-tide reef walking offers immediate access to the surrounding reef. The island is quite small (0.42 sq km), and can be circumnavigated in under an hour. It also has an airstrip and can be reached by a 30 minute flight from Hervey Bay.

We flew to Lady Elliot Island accompanied by approximately 10 Taiwan-aida on a day trip speaking in Mandarin. Mandarin is one of the few languages that can work effectively against a backdrop of propeller engine noise. The Taiwanese passengers are all very big on photos and videos. Photo with plane. Photo with copilot. Video of group on plane, etc. One of them points the video camera at John and he says "Ni hao" which takes them by surprise.

Lady Elliot Island can have up to 150 guests at one time and there seem to be about 60 here at present with another 20 or so staff. Half of the guests are a group of students from Duke. Our accommodations are in one of the pleasant, small beach-front cottages with a terrific view. We can watch the tide going out and see the reef from our porch. High tide is at 10:30am and the sea outside our cottage looks like a glassy lake. It changes dramatically by low tide when all the coral is poking out.

John feels ill and sleeps for a while in the room. When he wakes up, we take a walk around the island. First stop: the fish pool, where we see a bunch of mullet!! Alas, we have no mullet media to feed them. As we keep walking, we hear a loud noise. What's that? DUCK! INCOMING! And the 4:40 plane back to Hervey Bay roars over our heads - probably clearing us by 10 meters, but seeming more like 10cm. We stay and watch the sunset and then head back for a dinner barbie.

The next day we take a glass bottom boat out for a look around. A film crew had the boat out shooting some sort of promotion and they were a bit late getting it back for us. The crew set up directly outside our cottage later in the day but we didn't find out what they were advertising.

We saw heaps of fish through the glass bottom boat. There were many parrot fish, blue damsels, wrasses, trigger fish, sergeant majors, a couple of Moorish Idols, anemone fish, and heaps of what the guide referred to as LBF's (little blue fish). We also saw a large school of bat fish. There were some dolphins off in the distance and a sea turtle along side of the boat, but we couldn't get a good look at it. We also saw several rays on the sandy bottom. The predominant coral are "staghorn", "brain" and "table", which are all pretty aptly named. "Fire" coral is pointed out with its bright yellow "Do not touch" markings.

Later in the day we spent time reef walking trying to avoid stepping on the sea cucumbers that litter the bottom. We saw at least 4 types. Short, dark, sausage-shaped ones that often have a lot of sand stuck to them (Bohadschia argus) and black/green stumpy ones that look like they have soft nubs sticking out (Holothuria leucospilota) were most common and these types are both harmless. There are also some very long black ones that are supposed to squirt out an irritating substance if picked up. I also saw a leopard spotted one. It was light brown with white spots. It is also supposed to squirt an irritating substance that can cause blindness if it gets in the eyes.

At low tide we could wade out a significant distance and see numerous other creatures. Two eels were fighting over one living nook until one was driven away. A number of fish were in the deeper pools, many mullet, sergeant majors, and wrasses. We also saw a couple types of urchins. The really long spiny pin cushion type, plus a rounder ball like one with short spines. We also >maybe< saw a crown of thorns. They're still eating the reef, but people don't seem as paniced about it as they once did.

There were large bright blue starfish and some yellow stars. The blue starfish are really stunning. There were also many clams, all different. Clams are also really cool. The live part comes in a rainbow of colors - green, blue, purple, black, red. When a shadow passes over, they pull back in. Some are quite big, and very well embedded in the coral. They live about 20 years. Does the reef really grow that fast, or do they actually dig themselves in? All you really see is the mouth.

August 1-2, 1995 (Lady Elliot Island)

We took a guided walk that described the history of the island. There wasn't much at all here before the resort was established. No trees at all, just some guano mining and feral goats. It looked pretty bleak in photos from as recently as the 1940's. There is a small golf course, but they have lost all of their balls.

John feels better today and got a wet suit, snorkel, mask and fins and went swimming in the lagoon in front of our room. WOW! There's lots of fish that aren't apparent when you're walking above the water. It's amazing. There are fish everywhere as soon as you put the mask on. This is about 5m from shore and in about 1m of water!

At 11:30, it's time for the "guided snorkel". They don't do much "guiding" except to herd us toward some nice "bommies". The swim out in 1m deep water has fewer fish than in the lagoon, but after the sudden drop to 10m water it's AMAZING! Whole schools of big fish (big == bigger than your head). Lots of parrot fish, Moorish Idols, butterfly fish, triggerfish. It's just unbelievable. I really hope I can get Lynn out here. Near the end I saw a turtle, but when I swam down to say hello, he scooted away. There is also a whole lot of digging going on at one spot. It looks like some damsels are making a nest. They're much bigger than the damsels in our fishtank at home!

In the afternoon we both went snorkeling. Lynn took the wetsuit and I rented another mask and snorkel from the dive shop. The tide is low and the first 50m are too shallow to swim, but the coral is too sharp to walk on barefoot. We end up walking out in our boat shoes, and then I swim with them on my hands as "flippers". Lynn finds that the wetsuit offers considerable buoyancy, so she can "swim" in about 6 inches of water. Then she "panics" (still in 10 inches of water). Lots of flailing about, but she's above water for the whole time. It seems she saw a fish :-).

It was like entering another world, full of fish! I left my glasses back in the room so I was nearly blind during the walk across the island and while wading out to deeper water. However, I could see underwater through the mask fine. It was like being in an aquarium. Moorish Idols, trigger fish, damsels, wrasses, and huge parrot fish abounded. There was a large school of black fish that seemed nervous, as though a predator might be in the area. I looked around for signs of sharks then realized it must be this large, clumsy black rubber clad thing hovering overhead that was making them nervous.

We enjoy a lot of people-watching on the island:

  • The two guys who look to be about 15 and are here without parents. They are engaged in >intense< conversation the whole time they are on the island.
  • The "only-child" in the fish-pond watching the fish for about 3 hrs. He was actually helpful and knowledgeable when we went out to see what there was to see.
  • The Chinese tourists. Lots of 'em. Always fun to watch, e.g., selecting "reef-walking-shoes".
  • The Dukesters. About 20 of them. They were very well behaved for a college group. They were here for a course of some kind, and NOT for a drunken summer holiday down-under. Thankfully.
  • The German family with the hermaprhodite head-of-household.
  • The English couple who we kept saying hello to. At one point he actually said "Blimey!".
  • The "Pommie" group who got served last at lunch and then spent the next hour dissecting the situation, and never realizing it was because they had been obnoxiously checking on their order a dozen times.
  • The Italians in red speedo, barely visible behind the rolls of fat. We think the guided reef-walk was late because of them.
  • The two kids who 'hit on' all the Asian women. Very hip. Very self-conscious. They turn out to be the children of some island staffers.

John takes one last swim on the last day. We have lunch and inquire about flying out early, since Lynn is now sick and I'm not going to swim again. It's no problem. They even retag our bags and load them on the right plane. We seem to be on a private charter with a Mr. Hillary. Right age, but probably not Sir Edmund.

August 3-5, 1995 (Hervey Bay)

Lynn's turn to be sick and recuperating in Hervey Bay.

August 6, 1995 (Whale watching)

We were picked up promptly at 8:10am by a very talkative bus driver who drove us to the harbor. He used to be a realtor and discussed the housing situation in the area. It sounds a lot like Florida. Housing development scams, properties that flood in the wet season, etc. There are even TV promotions for "Queensland Rooms" for your house.

We boarded Eddy May's M.V. Safari Princess. Eddy was really the captain of the boat. He, his two crew plus us 25 passengers quickly departed for hopeful whale sightings. It wasn't long after we were told that we needed patience and the whales might not show up till later in the day when the first whales were spotted. John was the first one on the boat to spot a whale and there was a tremendous amount of whale activity after that. We may have seen as many as 20 whales and they were very close to the boat. Our first session is with 3 whales. Then other boats come up and we go off to find 5 more. This time there's lots of tail slapping and even a breach just off the stern. It's really an amazing show - 45 tonnes of whale sailing out of the water! The tail slaps almost look like he's got an itch and this is the best way to scratch it.

It was a surprising amount of fun for a "tour", and we were pretty lucky with our viewing. The captain is still into watching the whales after 8 years of running boats. He was the first in Hervey Bay to take tourists out to see the whales. The whale population had dropped to about 200 on the East Coast of Oz in the 60s, when whaling was stopped. Recently, it's been growing at 10-15% per year. So the population is coming back, but there are very few fully mature 30yr+ animals yet. They apparently come to Hervey Bay for rest and relaxation on the way to and from the Coral Sea where they give birth. There aren't any calves yet, though. They'll be here next month. Around October, they'll head back to the antarctic and pass off Gabo Island where Lynn saw them last November.

August 7, 1995 (Fraser Island)

It rained all night and most of the morning. We went to the harbor and booked a passage on the ferry to World Heritage Fraser Island. Fraser Island is the worlds largest sand island and doesn't hesitate to mention that fact over and over again. It does have a lot of sand. Up to 240m above sea level and 600m below with an area of 160,000 ha., that's quite a lot of sand. The island is covered in vegetation, however, and looks much nicer than one would expect hearing about all the sand which is there. It is a popular place for people with 4WD vehicles to go hoon around on the beaches. I'm not quite sure why UNESCO saw fit to include it on the World Heritage List. Must be all the sand, Fraser Island is the world's largest sand island...

The rain stopped by the time we reached Fraser and we had a very nice pasta lunch at the Sand Bar Restaurant of Kingfisher Bay. We both feel under the weather at this point, so we decide our Fraser Island experience is going to be a brief (3.5km) walk up to a lookout and then back along the beach. It's a nice walk with nice views. Lots of mangroves and driftwood along the beach. A sea eagle family having dinner in a tree. Alas, no soldier crabs, which we had seen in the excellent nature video on the boat on the way over. All pictures, no words until the last frame, which simply said "Come to Kingfisher Bay Resort". The soldier crabs looked really neat. They walk forward, not sideways.

August 8, 1995 (Bundaberg)

Back to beautiful weather as we finally escape from Hervey Bay and head north toward Bundaberg. Our trip mileage is now ~4300km.

We reached Bundaberg at noon and took a tour of the Bundaberg Rum Distillery. The tour began with a video of our favorite Australian commercial, "Those bears sure know how to have a good time." This was followed by a video of the making of the commercial and a short video on making rum.

Our tour was led by Shaun who was an enthusiastic guide. Our first stop was in one of the molasses storage tanks. It had large swimming pools full of the stuff, and we had a taste of the thick syrup. We also saw some of the other processing stages, giant distilling columns, and one of the bond storage areas. They keep $40,000,000 of rum stored with a $2 padlock on the door. Bundy ain't cheap, $20 for a 750ml bottle.

The best part was the bottling plant which was operating, and we watched the equipment filling bottles, labeling, etc. After free drinks (hold the rum) and a stop in the gift shop we headed north. We hoped to find some little motel between Gladstone and Rockhampton, but there was nothing and we ended up in Rockhampton just after dark.

August 9-10, 1995 (Rockhampton)

We didn't realize how near the city center we were when we stopped last night (~6 blocks). We drove in to town and looked around for a bookstore in the central mall. There were none. We checked in the phone book and went to a shopping center that was supposed to have a bookstore. The bookstore was out of business and full of boxes.

Our cold/flu passed back to John so we stayed two more nights in Rockhampton. We had a very nice dinner at Pacinos one evening. We also visited the Rockhampton Botanical Garden a couple of times. The Botanical Garden is proud of its mango tree, which is huge. We got chicken for lunch and ate under a big fig tree with an interested peacock staying close. Peacocks do like chook but aren't big enough to intimidate a person eating lunch the way an emu can. We also saw the zoo. The lorrikeets on the fountain sure make a racket. Otherwise, the zoo is pretty sorry. The aviary is the highlight - lots of birds.

August 11, 1995

John's fever broke during the night so we can escape from Rockhampton today.

We left and drove to Biloela, enjoying the Coooooeeeeeee contest heard on the radio. Someone did 43 seconds, world record is allegedly 48 seconds. The trip mileage is now 4771 km.

Biloela has a bakery, grocery and even a book store but not much in the way of restaurants. I go out for takeaway dinner and meet Keith and Judy from Binna Burra. They have just been to Carnarvon for two nights camping and two nights at the Oasis lodge. They say it was really cold camping, but that Carnarvon Gorge is really great. Lots of platypuses, brolgas and bustards. They are heading back south, and I recommend the whale-watching in Hervey Bay.

In a box of plastic bags Lynn found a piece of cardboard with the inscription, "lots of fun animals looking at you." What does this mean? We found no indications on the box.

(Go west to part 3)

Lynn Garry Salmon <>{