Hello from Bundaberg!
Hi again everyone. My apologies for how long its been since I’ve managed to write anything. Strange – there always seems to be something more interesting to do!
I think I last wrote in Alice Springs, so Ill start there. We left Alice and drove north to Tennant Creek. I’m not sure if I’ve told you anything about the condition of the roads in the centre of Australia. Not great! The main highway is paved (thankfully) but its only JUST wide enough for two trucks to pass each other with roughly four to six inches in between. Often, the edges of the roads have absolutely NO shoulder - to the point where there isn’t even a white line painted down the outside. At one point, the sand had drifted across the road, completely obscuring the outer edges for miles. Stock roams free and there are kangaroos, lizards, wallabies, and camels to consider. The sides of the roads are littered with dead animals being scavenged by MASSIVE birds (4-5 ft wingspan?) that could pretty much take out your windshield if you hit one.
To add to the fun, heavy winds gust along the road and our vehicle was designed to catch every single breath of wind. Passing any slow moving vehicle is next to impossible, and oncoming traffic of any size is nerve-wracking. Both drivers are trying to control vehicles being buffeted by both the natural wind, and the cross-wind created when passing a large vehicle. At one point, I was driving along a section of road with sand piled up along the edges. My top speed was about 90km/h given the amount of wind. Coming towards me was a road-train. For those of you unfamiliar with a road train, it is a semi truck with three or four trailers behind it. The truck must not have been heavily loaded because, due to the wind, the last trailer in line was swinging into my lane at random intervals. Both Grant and I had many tense moments like this driving and each of us have had two wheels in the ditch at least once. NOT a nice feeling with your child sitting next to you and your spouse in the back wondering if you’re drunk up there!
The one thing that did crack me up was constantly crossing bridges names such and such a creek or river and there wouldn’t be a drop of water for miles. It’s hard to believe that those roads often flood completely during any major rainfall. They had floodways marked along the way with markers showing the depth. Presumably every good Outback driver knows precisely how much water his or her particular vehicle can handle!
Halfway to Tennant Creek I realized that Id forgotten my USB memory stick at the last internet café. Great. Now what? I hit the yellow pages and after about ten phone calls to all the wrong places, I managed to find someone in the mall who actually knew the name of the place from the vague description I was able to give. Rang them up and, luckily, the manager had found my device and had it behind the counter. He agreed to forward it to Cairns for me!! Hurrah!!
Onward to Tennant Creek, encountering MORE rain along the way. It’s not advisable to drive at night due to the amount of wildlife on the roads, and we were running late. We decided to push through anyway, as it looked like the rain was stopping. We stopped at Devil’s Marbles along the way which was really cool. Massive boulders spread out over an otherwise flat field. It really looks as though they were dropped from the sky! Luckily, it stopped raining just long enough for us to snap a few quick photos and we were on our way. The rain got worse from there and we had a pretty awful drive into Tennant Creek. It was dusk and rainy and hard to see. By the time we got to town, we were exhausted, and Jess was getting pretty cranky.
Given the long drive the day before, we decided to spend a full day in Tennant Creek before continuing our drive east. Wow. Tennant Creek is BOOOOORING. We did manage to find a good internet café with a TV for Jessica to watch. We killed some time in there, did some grocery shopping, and went to the tourist information centre where the man running the place glared at us in a most unfriendly manner and didn’t say a word the entire time we were in there. Lovely place Tennant Creek - we wont be back!
The next few days after that were a blur. We were sick of the interior and wanted to get to the coast ASAP. Plus, we had to make it to Cairns in time for my dive trip. From Alice Springs to Cairns, we drove about 2500 km in total. Considering our top speed was 100km/h and usually we were doing 80 or 90, it was a LONG few days. The countryside was beautiful and the sunsets were amazing. Jessica was a trooper during the drives with not too much whining involved - but she napped for hours during the day. This meant that she would fall asleep around midnight; LONG day for Mommy and Daddy who were tired from stressful driving.
At one point it looked as though I was driving straight into a bushfire. There was a massive amount of smoke on the horizon and the road kept turning so I wasn’t too sure if we were heading into the fire or not. Vehicles kept coming towards me so I figured it must be OK to drive through, but I was getting pretty worried as we got closer to the smoke. Just then, two massive road trains passed me - both of them carrying explosives. So, I figured hey – if they’re not worried about the fire, guess I’m not. We eventually passed through some areas that the fire had burned, and in a few places small fired continued but nothing that threatened the road.
We finally made it to the coast and spend a day in Townsville before heading up to Cairns. Found a yummy Thai restaurant and had an Asian food fix. We seem to be having horrible luck with food here so a nice lunch was most appreciated! Top that off with some ice-cream from down the block and happy family!
Two days before my dive trip left, we arrived in Cairns. We spent the first day just getting laundry done and shopping, etc. We picked up a package full of goodies from Grandma and Grandpa. Lots of snacks for Jessica, which is good because she’s still on the peanut butter sandwich diet. Anything else we feed her is loudly denounced as: disgusting. Or, better yet: TOT-ally dis-GUS-ting!! There was another package from Uncle Mark with some chewable Dramamine that we haven’t been able to get here - thank you Uncle Mark! The package with my USB device finally arrived almost a week later, but thankfully I now have it back!
The second day we did the tourist thing and headed off to this small town in the rainforest called Kuranda (sp?). They have set it up so that you can take a gondola called the Skyrail up to the village and an old train home. Jessica loved the gondola ride and it stopped off at a few places so we could have a look at a waterfall, do a brief guided tour through the rainforest, and check out the local dam. The town was the usual tourist trap, but it did have a cool market and some nice artwork to browse. Had lunch at an Irish pub in the heat and humidity of the rainforest, which was a unique experience. The train ride home was HOT. The train was not air-conditioned and didn’t actually go fast enough to get any air moving through the windows. To top it off, Jessica was not assigned a seat (she was considered an infant) and fell asleep sprawled hot and sweaty across our laps. We got home all hot and sticky and most thankful that the air-con in our camper was still working!
Hot and sticky pretty much sums up Cairns. The weather was unusually hot for that time of year and the temperature was mid-thirties for the entire time we were there. The humidity made it feel much worse. The caravan park we stayed in was pretty run down with a lot of long-term trailer-trash residents, but the pool was really good. It was saltwater and there were never very many people swimming. A bit of a bummer because we had hoped to find some little friends for Jessica while we were staying in one place for so long. I bought Jessica a little swim suit that has a floatation device into it. It lets her use her arms more effectively than the arm bands she was swimming with and shes learning really fast. Shes even learning to float on her back!
The caravan park was home to thousands of frogs, bats, and cane toads. The bats are the massive fruit-eating kind and they are noisy. The frogs came out at night as well and hid in the leaves that covered most of the pathways. They would jump out right before we stepped on them and scare the heck out of us! Jessica loved the frogs, although we wouldn’t let her pick them up because we dont know the difference between a harmless frog and a baby cane toad. Cane toads, along with everything else in Australia, are poisonous. All the caravan parks we’ve been in have geckos. I love geckos. They hang out by the lights in the bathroom hunting for bugs and chirp at each other. They must have just had babies too, because lately I’ve been seeing these little wee inch-long guys cruising up and down the bathroom walls. SO cute.
While I was off diving Jessica and Grant went to Green Island on a day trip. We wanted to make sure Jessica saw at least part of the Great Barrier Reef, and this day trip offered a 30 minute semi-sub tour that is better than a glass bottom boat for viewing the reef. Of course, Jessica promptly fell asleep in the semi-sub and missed the entire point of the trip. They did have a lovely swim in the resort pool on Green Island, though!
My dive trip was quite an experience. We both dove with Taka Dive and I wasn’t really impressed with the crew. They were all really young and, aside from Chris who was fantastic, nobody seemed to go the extra mile to make sure everyone was comfortable. They were generally nice enough guys, but seemed to be annoyed with novice divers. To be completely fair to the crew, I did overhear a conversation which leads me to believe that these guys are pretty overworked by Taka.
I had questioned Taka extensively before booking because I had never been on a live-aboard and wasn’t sure if I would be experienced enough to handle the diving. I didn’t want to hold anyone back especially since I was traveling without my own dive buddy. The lady repeatedly assured me that I would be able to have a guide on every dive and that they often had very inexperienced divers and it was no problem. Unfortunately this wasn’t entirely true, and for the first day I was pretty out of my element.
The first day I was buddied up with Diana who was also a fairly novice diver. Neither of us was comfortable navigating underwater on our own and both of us had been assured we could have a guide, and we’d had one on the first dive. So, we weren’t entirely paying attention on the second dive brief. Then they sent us into the water with no guide and a: dont worry, its easy - you cant get lost! Au contraire! We had missed the instruction to snorkel out to the Bommie and descended straight away. We got caught in the current and ended up down at 24 meters in the middle of the blue with no idea where we were. We surfaced (slowly) right away, but ended up a fairly decent surface swim from the wrong side of the boat. Oops. Ah well, we felt a bit sheepish and the crew was annoyed with us, but off we went and did the dive properly, with an extra long safety stop for good measure. After that I paid a lot better attention during dive briefings and was able to safely navigate those dives that weren’t guided.
If the crew wasn’t perfect, the spectacular diving more than made up for it. WOW. Im still novice enough to still be excited about just breathing underwater and here I am diving some of the most wonderful sites in the world. Diana and I parted ways as buddies after the first day because it turns out that I am very much an air pig. Poetic justice that I was the worst one on the boat for air-consumption because I had teased Grant SO much about being an air pig during our advanced course! Although it was frustrating to get a different buddy for each dive, it generally worked in my favor because I’d often end up going down with an instructor who knew where to look for all the cool stuff.
The famous Cod Hole dive was a little bit disappointing because we only got one smaller (smaller meaning almost as big as me) Potato Cod at the feed. Still amazing to see him interact with the people so easily though. The shark feed was really cool. We all sat down on the reef (where the coral was dead) and they sent down a chain threaded though with fish. There were tons of sharks (maybe 50?) and a brave potato cod or two sneaking in there trying to get the fish. The biggest of the sharks were the blue whalers - maybe 6 feet or so in length. I’m hopeless at estimating size underwater. Everything goes into the smaller than me/bigger than me category. These were most definitely BIGGER than me. There were a bunch of different types of reef sharks, which were smaller and really cute.
I was a bit upset by the use of a chain instead of ropes in the shark feed. On our previous shark experience, the Fox team explained that they use ropes and try not to let the sharks slam into the cages because they didn’t want to hurt the animals or have them break any teeth. On Taka, however, the crew explained to me that: sharks are just mindless eating machines and the chain doesn’t hurt them even though they pick up broken shark teeth as souvenirs after every dive. I saw several sharks get entirely wrapped up in the chain and it really bothered me. Maybe I’m just being overly sensitive, but we did see sharks on other dives in the area without the feeding activity. So, while I was glad to get a chance to see the sharks up close, I’m still undecided about the whole shark-feeding phenomenon. I’m not sure if I’ll go on another shark feed again or not. Depends how its done, I guess.
We did two night dives on this trip - my first time. VERY cool! The little flashlight I bought is pretty crappy, so I’m really glad that they provided torches for us. Chris was my guide for both of the night dives as well as a few of the day one - he was awesome! We saw some moray eels and a cuttlefish – all sorts of cool stuff that I would’ve missed had I been bungling around on my own.
Over the course of four days, I logged 13 dives and developed a severe diving addiction. As I said before the diving was spectacular and I saw so much cool stuff I cant begin to remember what it all was. I didn’t get to see a turtle yet, though, and I missed out on the manta rays because I didn’t have enough air to go that deep. Next time. By the end of the trip, I was able to dive for 50 minutes, and I’m feeling pretty confident that I can hold my own on any dive boat. It was also a nice break from being Mommy 24/7 all I had to do was eat, sleep and dive.
Grant had much the same experience with his crew as I did with mine. We’ve both agreed that we need to buy our own computers rather than rely on crew to teach us how to use the rental computers. Nobody on board knew how to use the computers we were diving with properly. It’s well worth the $1000 to make sure we’re diving safely.
Grant is also addicted to diving after his trip. He went on the shorter trip that didn’t include the shark feed, but he saw a couple of big blue whalers on his first dive. He had a much better Cod Hole experience than I did with two larger fish coming in for the feed and he got to pat one. In total, he saw six of the big guys, along with a massive napoleon wrasse. He chased a big trigger fish (half as big as Grant) without realizing how dangerous they are during breeding season – oops! Unfortunately, he ended up with a buddy who used air really fast and his dives were pretty short … and his surface swims back REALLY long!
All told, both of us had a fantastic time diving and we’ve decided to change our live aboard in Thailand and not bring Jessica with us after all. I think she’d have fun on board, but now neither of us wants to miss out on any dives we’ve paid for, and we’ve also enjoyed the little holiday from the family!
Our last day in Cairns was pretty uneventful. We didn’t manage to meet up with our friends Toby and Stephen from the shark tour who were there at the same time. Bummer, they were really fun and Jessica keeps asking to see them. Hopefully well be able to connect with them sometime in the future.
From Cairns, we headed back down the coast to Townsville. We had decided to dive the Yongala wreck, but the weather wasn’t good, and we ended up booking Grant on-board for Wednesday on the trip out of Ayr. The next available booking wasn’t until Saturday and I didn’t feel like the three hour boat ride out of Townsville to get to the wreck so I decided not to book. This gave us a couple of days to kill in Townsville before heading out, so we spent a day at the Billabong Sanctuary.
What a fantastic place! Jessica had an absolute blast. I got to hold a little koala – soooooo cute! We got a family photo with me holding the koala. We also got to hold a little three year old crocodile, some snakes, and a young kookaburra. Jessica loves snakes. At one point she had a huge python wrapped around her and she just spent the whole time baby-talking to it. Thats my girl! We got to pat a wombat and spent some time petting the other koalas and feeding some kangaroos. Once again, we were beset by evil geese who raided peoples handbags and strollers for the paper bags of food. The ducks were really sweet, though, and everywhere we went there was a full contingent of ducks waddling after us.
The highlight of the day was the croc feeding. The had a few massive male saltwater crocs about 5 meters long and a guy would stand right beside the water with meat on a stick. The croc would get up to 2/3 of its body out of the water going for the meat. Amazing! Jessica has been explaining how to get a crocodile to jump for the past few days. She is now an expert, apparently.
Unfortunately, the cold that had been threatening Grant was now on in full force, and I wasn’t feeling so hot either. So, we had to cancel our Yongala dive, and forfeit the entire $200 fee. Its frustrating, but better than damaging ourselves trying to dive with a cold. The entire family is sick now, and it seems to be hanging in. I had hoped to dive in Bundaberg, but it looks as though that’s not going to happen either!
Instead of diving in Ayr, we spent two days at a lovely little caravan park feeling somewhat sorry for ourselves and swimming in the nice new swimming pool there. From there, we headed down the coast to Airlie beach.
We stayed at the Big 4 caravan park a short distance from Airlie beach and it was amazing. For $30 a night we had a massive pool with two waterslides, a mini-golf, huge playground for the kids, outdoor movies, and a jumping pillow. Jumping pillows are cool. For those of you who have no idea what Im talking about, its sort of a combination bouncy-castle and trampoline. Very fun! Fantastic caravan park and we stayed there for three nights.
During our stay at Airlie Beach, we took a day trip around the Whitsunday islands. The boat was really fast, and there were lots of kids on board, so Jessica didn’t get too bored. We snorkeled on a lovely reef just off one of the islands - amazing what you can see just while snorkeling! I had hoped Jessica would try the snorkeling or at least come swim out there with us, but she was fast asleep … again! We had a terrible lunch, and then hiked to a lookout where we could overlook Whitehaven beach. Beautiful!
We spent an hour or so on Whitehaven beach which is definitely the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen. The water was a perfect turquoise and the sand was a pure white silica and silky smooth beyond compare. The only bad thing was the stinger suits we had to wear into the water because it’s jellyfish season here. Jessica had a blast on the beach building sandcastles with all the kids. We brought a ton of sand toys and the kids all shared nicely. When we got back on the boat, Jessica announced to the crew: That was TOTALLY AWESOME!!
The funniest part of the trip was Jessica’s complete insistence that the Swedish child she was playing with - Hugo – was a girl. He had hair down to about his chin, and Jess decided that made him a girl. No matter how many times we corrected her, she would not believe us. She even gave Hugo a hug and said: You are a girl, you know, very seriously. The crowning moment came when Hugo was changing out of his wet clothes after the swimming. Jessica looks at him, then looks at me and says: LOOK Mommy SHE has a penis! Both moms laughed themselves silly and then gave up trying to convince Jessica that Hugo was a boy.
All of us were still sick and not feeling much like doing anything, so the following day we spent hanging out at the caravan park. I spent most of the day trying to fix my computer and convince my firewall that the internet isn’t entirely dangerous and wouldn’t it please please pretty please let me log on? In the evening, we watched Brother Bear Two outside and it was nice to be able to watch a movie outside the campervan! Not to mention a new movie!
The next day, we drove south to Rockhampton. Along the way, I bought Jessica her first MP3 player. McDonalds here is giving out little plastic ones that only play one annoying song and don’t have headphones. I broke the first one she got (accidentally, of course) and when she got another one, I bought her a real one in self defense. Its really cute to watch her bopping along to her favorite songs with too-big headphones on. AND Mommy doesn’t have to listen to the same 10 songs over and over whilst driving!
When we got to Rockhampton, we stayed at another Big 4. This wasn’t quite as nice as the other one, but we saw two new movies, and the wireless was really cheap. I bought 24 hours of access and didn’t come out of the camper for an entire day! I had been counting on having lots of wireless access to book hotels and talk to friends, etc. But my computer has been acting up and wireless is expensive and not easy to come by. So, I made the most of it. Jessica got to talk to Grandma and Grandpa online in a video conversation which made everyone’s day.
At the moment, were in Bundaberg. As I mentioned, I had hoped to dive here, but were all still sick. So, today well visit the rum distillery and then see the turtles come ashore to lay eggs this evening. Tomorrow, well head to the Australian Zoo and then onwards to Brisbane.