2 January 2002 to April 2002

27 February 2002 to 14 March 2002

Our motorhome has been largely trouble free and besides needing lots of fuel, it goes very well. A few days before reaching Brisbane there was a problem with the motorhome battery that resulted in no lights, water pumps or fridge. One of the benefits of hiring a motorhome versus buying one soon became apparent. We drove to the motorhome depot on the outskirts of Brisbane and they efficiently fixed the problem. When I complained that the air conditioning unit wasn’t cooling, after checking it they changed our ac unit on the spot. Properly outfitted, we could proceed to the hot and humid Far North.
After settling in at our caravan park on the outskirts of Brisbane I went to the laundry to deal with the piles of dirty washing. All parks have a laundry, usually squeezed between the ladies' and men's showers.  While in the laundry I decided to do a Mr. Bean – take off my undies while still wearing shorts. I did manage to do it, but locked my knee in the effort. Even as I hobbled back to the motorhome I couldn’t stop laughing, I was so pleased with myself. Then sitting outside on the lawn I enjoyed a glass of Nightingale Shiraz while I banged my knee back into place

Brisbane is a manageable town and it only took 15 minutes by bus into town. The city extends along both banks of the Brisbane River. Few bridges span the river but many ferries cross the river and go up and downstream, acting as a waterbus. We loved skimming along the river in the highspeed City Cat. The city center is a mixture of colonial buildings interspersed with high-rise buildings. Town was hot but bearable. The main shopping center is built so that the air-conditioning from the shops cools the streets, while the many statues help distract your attention until you reach a shaded walkway. Across the river, the Performing Arts Complex is a huge complex, all water and light and airy architecture and in fact we spent most of our time there.
The Art Gallery had an exhibition "Belle 'Ilie - Monet, Russel and Matisse in Brittany." which I found very interesting. It brought out how Monet influenced the Australian John Russel, who in turn taught Matisse about colour, profoundly changing the way he painted.
That night we returned to the Performing Arts Complex, this time to the Cremone Theatre to see "The Road to Mecca."  By Athol Fugard. It was magnificent. Athol Fugard sweeps you into his world and then buffets you and your emotions about, often leaving you either breathless or in tears. Afterwards the director, the 3 actors, designer and lighting directors sat on the stage and answered the audience’s questions. We gained fascinating insights how stage direction and lighting add to a play. It was apparent that the theatre people felt passionately about Fugard and the universal themes of his play and we realized that the issues raised had touched the hearts of the local audience as well.

We couldn’t leave Brisbane without lunch at the Breakfast Creek Hotel. It may once have been an hotel but today, situated next to the greyhound stadium and horse and cart racing, it contains a liquor store, at least two pubs and three restaurants. The most famous one is the Spanish Gardens. At the counter you choose your steaks then sit at a table and wait for the food. We watched as large groups of people cheerily greeted friends seated around trestle tables, a kind of Friday lunch ritual. The penny-conscious drank beer, great jugs of it. Beer is cheaper than sodawater there and the hotel prides itself on having served beer out of wooden kegs for the last 100 years. The steaks were huge and tasty, served with delicious sauces, great chips and coleslaw. It seems their fame is worldwide and in 1991 Gorbachov lunched there when at a conference in Brisbane.

After leaving Brisbane we made our way inland to the Glass House Mountains, with its unusual skyline. (CLICK HERE to read the Aboriginal legend about the formation of the mountains.).Again the rain and mist didn’t deter us from hiking but prevented any good views.

We drove to Maleeny and stopped when we saw tens of motorbikers parked outside a pub restaurant. We presumed that bikers are like truck drivers and know where the good food is. It was one minute past 2.00pm and the woman at the counter said the kitchen was closed. Fortunately the manager took pity on us when I said we were wet, cold and hungry (which we were) and agreed to serve us. We enjoyed good steaks and sauces while looking at hundreds of rainbow lorikeets making a racket in the trees nearby.

In Yandina we visited the Ginger Museum and factory ( ) where world famous Buderim ginger is processed. I am a ginger fan and Buderim ginger is outstanding; it is soft and without fibres, more the texture of Turkish delight than the usual stringy stuff one buys. We watched a video showing how ginger roots are scanned electronically for fibres. Only the clear ginger is then graded and cut, cooked for 10 minutes and then placed in vats. For the next 12 days the ginger is immersed in increasing concentrations of syrup, gradually turning a deep gold. After a visit to the factory they let you out in the shop, which offers ginger tablets against nausea, ginger jams, sauces, chocolates, tea, in fact everything ginger that you could wish for including a number of ginger flavored ice creams. When the store closed they shooed us out, laden with postcards and bags of goodies.

 Our next major stop was at Tin Can Bay. We had gone there to fish and Eitan even managed to catch a fish in the dark. At sundown the trees around us were covered with thousands of rainbow lorikeets, all chattering at the tops of their voices. Occasionally something frightened them and then a cloud of birds would fly off and settle in another tree. We thought birds went to sleep at night but someone forgot to tell these birds. It's funny that I worked on a birdbook for years and learnt nothing and a few weeks here have given me such awareness.
We were delighted to learn that the real attraction of Tin Can Bay is not fishing but two wild dolphins who come to be fed every morning The following morning as we cycled up to the wharf we could already see people standing in the water. Scarry is a 52-year-old humpbacked dolphin that was caught in a long line 50 years ago. A fisherman stitched her slashed neck and nursed her back to health, after which she was released. A few years later she returned and since then has been visiting nearly every morning with her current calf, for the last 10 years Mystique, even though they live in a pod with other dolphins. The two dolphins arrive at about 7.30 to play.
We had to stand knee deep in the water and put out our hands. The dolphins come up to the line of people and decide whom to honour with head rests on a hand, a nudge or best of all, to lay their heads on your thigh.  Mystique was already there when we came and it was magical. Later momma Scarry arrived and you could see that Mystique was jealous. We paid $2.00 and got a tin can containing small fish that we fed to the two dolphins. The fish sold is limited to a total of 6 kilo daily. Dolphins need at least 17 kilos of fish to survive and eat about 25 kilo a day  – so this was really no more than a cuddle and a morning tea for them. No other dolphins are allowed to be fed, only Scarry and her current calf.

Delighted with our dolphin encounter we continued northwards to Hervey Bay and Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world ( click for Fraser Island ). After Fraser Island we spent a wonderful three days on Heron Island. ( Click for Heron Island )

 After Heron Island we drove northwards. The countryside was more undulating than hilly, covered with hours and hours of cane fields. We went inland to Eungella National Park, supposedly our best chance of seeing platypuses (what again!). The road was steep, over 12% gradient, and Eitan was in first gear much of the way. For a change the weather was good and when we reached the caravan park we were treated to a beautiful view of the Pioneer Valley stretching below us in the direction of the sea. Just before dusk we made our way to Broken Hill, where we saw Rufous bettongs (a type of kangaroo) munching on grass – more pictures! – and brush turkeys, but by 5.00pm we were by the river waiting for platypuses. It was very peaceful and pretty. We left an hour later satisfied that we could finally say we’ve seen duck-billed platypuses. Extremely shy, they spend their days in mud burrows and come out before dusk to feed. They fill their mouths with crustaceans and worms but then need to surface to chew and swallow. This is when we saw them. They were much smaller than expected, between 30-50 cm, but we could clearly see their rounded bills and fat tails before they duck dived down again.

The following morning we woke up to see the mists rising up from Pioneer Valley, but although it threatened rain there was no downpour. We drove down the mountain, which was a lot easier than driving up and turned off to Finch Hatton Gorge. By this time it was time to eat. Although we usually eat in the motorhome because it is simpler, this time we took our lunch to the picnic table outside. There was a big (well over a meter in length) black and white goana, a monitor lizard, walking around the picnic table. It walks high on its legs and has a forked tongue that flickers out all the time. Its neck looks like a tortoise’s. I kept a wary eye on it as it walked under my bench, trying to remember that it ate only flies and insects. I was highly amused to see people at the table near us eat their lunch while standing on the bench. It seems they had their own, smaller goana. When they threw food to a kookaburra bird, our goana went over to their table and chased their goana away. Signs everywhere warn people not to feed the animals – not only is it bad for their general health but then they become people dependant and can be most aggressive. Serves them right for feeding the animals.

After lunch we walked to the Wheel of Fire, despite notices saying there were 260 steps at the end to the top (Eitan said there were 280). The boulders in the river were beautiful and the steps weren’t bad at all because we got there much sooner than expected. The pool was magnificent. We both agreed that if it hadn’t been used in a movie it should be. After a while we were quite alone. It was wonderful, but we had to eventually get dressed and walk back.

We then drove to Pinnacle in the Pioneer Valley, home of Wendy’s pies and of course stopped for a snack. Wendy only makes one kind of pie – meat and veggies, so we didn’t have to agonize about choice. The pastry was flaky and filled with nice firm cubes of meat and veggies.

We drove straight on to Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands and made a booking with Ocean Rafting Southern Lights ( for a boat trip to the Whitsundays for the following day. ( Click for Whitsundays ). We then found a caravan park, Airlie Cove, a little way out of town. It was after 7.00pm, and the office was closed. We used the intercom next to the office door and the woman told us to take any site and pay in the morning.

After Airlie Beach we drove northwards stopping at Bowen to buy frozen mangoes. The season is over which was a great disappointment as we drove for hours past mango plantations. Further south I had thought to buy Queensland mangoes but they were so expensive that I thought we’d wait. Late in the day we found a roadside stall that had the last of the season’s fresh mangoes, and they were delicious.

As we drove north we crossed a bridge with a sign that caused shivers: “Beware! Estuarine crocodiles active in this river.” At last we had arrived in the Far North.

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