Probably the highlight of our Christmas holiday in Tropical North Queensland was the two days we spent exploring the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest. Known as the world’s oldest rainforest, the Daintree is said to be 180 million years old, and is one of the most complex ecosystems on Earth.
The Daintree is also known as the point where rainforest meets reef, with the Daintree Reef located just a short distance from the coastline.
For our 2018 Christmas holiday we decided on a trip to North Queensland, one of the very few popular tourist destinations in Australia that we had yet to visit, and the furthest north we had been since arriving in the country.
We flew out of Sydney a few days before Christmas, and thankfully just minutes before the city was hit by a huge hailstorm, with hail the size of tennis balls causing extensive damage to homes and vehicles (Rachael’s included).
Arriving into Cairns, the hot and humid tropical climate was immediately apparent upon stepping out of the plane. We picked up our rental car, and made the short drive to the AirBnb where we would be staying for our first night.
The following morning we began our road trip, driving south out of Cairns, with our first stop at Babinda Boulders. The popular swimming hole is given its name by the vast boulders that surround the creek. Thankfully, despite it being summer the water was still refreshingly cool and shaded from the sun by the surrounding trees, making it perfect for a relaxing swim. We followed a short walking trail along the river, stopping at several viewpoints to watch the water rushing past over the rocks.
After hearing that the 2018 Commonwealth Games would be hosted in Australia long before we had moved here, we had often talked about trying to buy tickets nearer the time. However, being so busy with our life in Sydney, we managed to completely forget until just a few weeks before the opening ceremony, when the hype around the Games began to build in the Australian media.
Never ones to miss out on such a big event, we decided to book a very last minute trip to the Gold Coast, which had won the privilege of hosting the games. Unfortunately, there was a limited choice of event tickets remaining, however we did manage to purchase some of the few remaining for the Squash Doubles semi-finals. With both of us enjoying the occasional game of squash, we were keen to see the experts in action, and more importantly how you get four people on such a small court!
After finishing work on the Friday night, we went straight to the airport, and took the short 90 minute flight north to the Gold Coast, ready for an early start on the Saturday morning.
The squash courts were actually located a short train journey out of the city at the Village Roadshow film studios, which are one of just three film studios in Australia. The studios are in the suburb of Oxenford, which is also home to several large theme parks.
With the Whitsundays being so close to the Great Barrier Reef, it seemed only right that we visit the worlds largest coral reef system and one of the natural wonders of the world. The Reef is composed of 2,900 individual reefs and stretches for over 2,300km along the North Queensland coast.
After looking into the different tour options we decided on a trip out to Hardy Reef, where we spent half a day on Cruise Whitsunday’s Heart Pontoon, which we had been told provides a unique way to explore the reef. It was an early start, and after a quick breakfast we made the short drive to the Port of Airlie, ready for departure.
The journey out to the reef took just over two hours, and despite the high winds, we decided to brave our chances on the very exposed top deck, taking in some great views of the Whitsundays as we travelled past. Some clearly enjoyed the journey less than others, and we were thankful not to be among the seasick passengers leaning over the back of the boat.
As we arrived at Hardy Reef, we first passed an older Pontoon, now in a state of disrepair having been badly damaged by Tropical Cyclone Debbie in March 2017. The new Pontoon is moored nearby and is located 39 nautical miles off the coast of mainland Australia.
Back in October we went on our first holiday since arriving in Sydney in June, spending five nights in Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands.
With Rachael’s parents, Paul and Lorraine, arriving in Australia to visit us, we decided it would be a great place for them to start their four week tour, before travelling back with us to Sydney.
The Whitsundays are a collection of 74 islands, located just off the coast of North Queensland. The islands are one of Queensland’s most popular tourist destinations, renowned not only for white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters, but also as a great place from which to explore the Great Barrier Reef.
While a number of the islands offer accommodation, most notably Hamilton Island, we decided to stay on the mainland, finding a great Eco Cabin just a short drive from Airlie Beach. Surrounded by thick bushland and lots of friendly native animals, including wild turkeys and wallabies (but thankfully no crocodiles), it was a great introduction to Aussie life.
With the campervan gone, our travelling around Brisbane was a little restricted compared to what we had become accustomed to. We found the public transport to be fairly limited compared to other cities, with the river making it even more difficult to travel around, despite the ferry network. However, we did still manage to make a few journeys out of the more central suburbs during our week in the city.
We decided not to bother with public transport at all for our trip to Teneriffe, a suburb on the east of the city. Instead we again made use of the CityCycle bike hire scheme, cycling all the way along the north bank of the river from the CBD, making use of the great cycleways. However, as you travel further away from the centre, the bike stations become more sporadic, and we very nearly went over the 30 minute limit for each individual journey on several occasions.
The journey itself took us around the area of New Farm, including the large New Farm Park and the nearby Brisbane Powerhouse. The imposing former power station has been converted into a cultural hub, and now hosts a variety of plays, concerts, exhibitions and other events. Continue reading
Having very reluctantly given back the campervan with no issues, we checked into our AirBnb which was in East Brisbane. On arrival, our hosts Mike and Anna gave us a great suburb by suburb guide to the city, and lots of great ideas about where to visit during our stay.
After enjoying sleeping in an actual bed for the first time since Hong Kong, we were feeling refreshed and ready to start exploring the city. Brisbane is dominated by the huge river of the same name, which winds and bends its way through the city. We therefore decided to start with a ride on the free CityHopper ferry service, and were soon in sight of Brisbane’s imposing skyline, as the ferry slowly chugged its way towards the CBD.