Great Barrier Reef to Brisbane

This is the eighth blog post on our round the world trip August – November 2016. It covers the Great Barrier Reef and our road trip from Port Douglas to Brisbane.

Go here for a picture gallery.

Great Barrier Reef

A big day as the Great Barrier Reef was one of our two must-sees in Australia. We turned up in good time to the Quicksilver offices by their quay and were soon on a large catamaran which they call a wavepiercer. There must have been over 200 passengers.

Getting on the Quicksilver catamaran

Getting on the Quicksilver catamaran

The weather was as good as they predicted when we booked. The journey to Agincourt Reef took about 80 minutes and we arrived at 11.20. There was free coffee before we left, some videos and a hard sell for optional extras on the boat. Lifeguards came round and those of a certain age who wanted to snorkel had to give them medical details. Martin decided to give it a try and rented a stinger suit.

Quicksilver have a fixed pontoon at the reef with plenty of seats and tables, and lockers for bathers. It was a bit of a scrum to get off the boat and find a stinger suit for Martin. I declined and took a few photos. The snorkelling area was roped off and the lifeguards were soon after anyone who went outside it. Some people were doing scuba diving.

Getting ready for snorkelling

Getting ready for snorkelling

I went down to the underwater viewing place and saw plenty of brown flat fish and little purple ones with yellow tails, and a lot of snorkellers’ legs. Much of the coral was a pale blush-colour and I could soon see what was meant by it getting bleached through climate change. People who had been there before really noticed the changes.

From the viewing area - Agincourt Reef

From the viewing area – Agincourt Reef

Martin’s snorkelling did not last too long and we joined the queue for lunch which was an excellent buffet of chicken, ham, lots of salads and fruit.

After lunch we did what I thought was the best part of the trip. They have some semi-submersibles which travel round the reef. They look like low ships on top, but you sit below water level, and there’s a commentary on what you can see on each side. We saw a clam about 1 foot across and plenty of fish but no nemo. The coral still looked bleached. It was so good that Martin went round twice.

Inside the submersible at Agincourt Reef

Inside the submersible at Agincourt Reef

We had a pleasant 75 minute journey back talking to a couple who had been on the Cooktown trip.

I was very impressed with Quicksilver. The trip was very well organized. They had plenty of helpful staff and a good selection of options for seeing the reef. You could even take a helicopter trip over it.

Port Douglas to Cardwell (without cassowaries)

Back at Port Douglas we had one of the 46 flavours of ice cream on offer at a place in town then drove back to Cairns where we spent the night at a quirky B&B which had a 6ft model of an elephant in the garden. It was actually a traditional house with big wooden verandas upstairs. A good meal in a pub nearby took a long time to be served, again.

Next day we started on a 1700+km drive to Brisbane. We had allowed plenty of time for this and it was perhaps as well as there is not much dual carriageway on the Bruce Highway (A1) which is the main north-south road in Queensland. Every so often there is an overtaking lane for about 1km. There were also plenty of short stretches of road works with traffic controlled by human beings not lights.

We didn’t go very far south on the first day as we still lived in hope of seeing the cassowary. Etty Beach was a lovely spot but there were enough people around in the middle of the day to put it off.

Etty Beach - no cassowaries

Etty Beach – no cassowaries

At Mission Beach we went to the cassowary conservation centre, an information place where a very helpful American gave us a local map and marked the places which are supposed to have the greatest concentration. We drove round all of them to no avail. At one place there is a trail with displays and models of their footprints and eggs. There were some lovely houses in one area. People must see cassowaries in their gardens.

Eventually we gave up and drove south to Cardwell where we stayed in a very nice motel by the sea. The owners had 7 budgerigars in a cage including two lovely green-coloured ones. In reflection it would have been better to stay the night at Mission Beach but we did not know what the Bruce Highway would be like and had a plane to catch at the end.

Cardwell to Bowen

Driving further south we passed a lot of sugar cane fields. They take the cane to the processing plants on little trains and we saw a lot of narrow gauge railway lines and just the occasional train which I didn’t manage to photograph.

We bought food at Townsville, the only other large place in northern Queensland, and attempted to eat lunch on the Strand, a big open space by the sea there, but it was too windy. Not long before Townsville the scenery changed to eucalyptus scrub, rather like what we had seen in the Kimberley.

We spent that night at a motel at Bowen where the wifi kept sending us to their Facebook page – overmarketing in my view. Mangoes are Bowen’s main claim to fame and there is a huge model of one just outside the town.

Giant mango at Bowen

Giant mango at Bowen

Broken River and the platypus

We had read in the guidebook that Broken River is a good place to see a platypus. After our failure with the cassowary, we decided to try our luck there and so we booked a room at the Broken River Mountain Resort which claims to be the best place in the world to see them.

Broken River is in Eungella National Park west of the town of Marian up Pioneer Valley and some way off the Bruce Highway. We passed more sugar cane then turned off on another short detour to Finch Hatton Gorge. Our Hyundai Accent managed the gravel road and concreted creek crossings. We drove past some cafes and bush camps to the end of the road where we ate our lunch. It was a bit far to walk to the gorge.

It seemed like we were in tropical jungle again. We saw 2 kookaburras and got some good photos helped by some young people, one of whom was standing on top of their truck.

Kookaburras at Finch Hatton Gorge

Kookaburras at Finch Hatton Gorge

On the way out of the gorge we stopped for some delicious organic mango ice cream which had lots of fruit in it.

Further up the valley we came to a small place called Netherdale, which is an occasional alternative for Nidderdale where we live. Did the original settlers come from here?

At the end of the valley we were faced with a mountain range covered in trees. It was 4.5km of very twisty road to go up and we were stuck behind a concrete mixer. At the top we suddenly came to the village of Eungella with green lawns and gardens and trees.

Broken River Resort was another 5km down past some farmland. It is nicely laid out with lawns and tropical plants. We were in a wooden motel-like room and there was plenty of information about platypus viewing.

It was a short walk down to the river in the early evening and there it was. Actually there were three of them. We watched them for sometime, just pottering about on the surface and then making bubbles ducking for food.

Platypus at Broken River

Platypus at Broken River

Martin walked bit further there and met another snake. Seventeen of the world’s twenty most venomous snakes are in Queensland. He thought better of trying to identify the one he met.

Dinner was really good at the lodge. We had to order it ahead of time and so there was no long wait. There was a bonus after dinner. The lodge has a feeding station for possums. One came after dark and ate a large meal of fruit just nicely at eye and camera level. I noticed that it ate all the pineapple first and left the watermelon until last.

Possum at Broken River Resort

Possum at Broken River Resort

Broken River to Rockhampton

After driving back to the Bruce Highway, we continued south. The road is mostly inland but we did find one lunch spot by a beach at Clairview. The scenery was fairly undulating and we were back in the eucalyptus scrub. We spent the night at Rockhampton in a pleasant, but almost empty, hotel. Some people were watching Australian rules football on a TV in the restaurant. It seemed even more confusing than American football.

Rockhampton has an excellent botanic garden which houses a free zoo of Australian fauna. Would this be our last chance for the cassowary? We had seen on the Internet that they had a male and a female. We soon found the cassowary enclosure but the walkway above it was closed because the male was sitting on a nest. The enclosure had plenty of dense vegetation and all we could see was just a glimpse of the female’s head when it popped up.

We had some consolation in seeing a wombat lying on its back. It was quite a bit larger than I expected.

Wombat at Rockhampton Zoo

Wombat at Rockhampton Zoo

There was a walk-in aviary, and the usual collection of koalas, crocodiles, kangaroos and an emu. I was much impressed with the gardens and zoo. It was a Sunday and plenty of locals were taking advantage of it.

Agnes Water and 1770

As we were making better progress towards Brisbane we decided to make a detour to Agnes Water and a village called Seventeen Seventy or just 1770 where Captain Cook landed on 24 May 1770. We stayed in a cabin in the forest at Captain Cook Holiday Village just outside 1770 and next morning visited the marker where he landed, and then also a very pleasant lookout area.

Captain Cook's landing place at 1770

Captain Cook’s landing place at 1770

Agnes Water is more of a holiday surfing place and it was quite busy. We walked on the beach a bit but only one small area was safe for bathing. It seems that crocodiles sometimes come that far south.

Hervey Bay

Back on the Bruce Highway we carried on further south to the turnoff to Hervey (pronounced Harvey) Bay which is a much bigger town. It is a major base for whale watching. The visitor centre was very helpful, but we were told that the whales were some way off in Platypus Bay off Fraser Island.

We drove along a very long esplanade which, like other coastal towns in Queensland, was separated from the sea by lawns and trees, presumably because of cyclones. We could just see the sea between the trees from our nice motel room at Tower Court. This was our last night in Australia and so I couldn’t miss having kangaroo again for dinner at the Wild Lotus restaurant. We had to wait a long time for our food again.

Glass House Mountains to Brisbane

We were only about 3.5 hours from Brisbane and so decided to take another short detour to see the Glass House Mountains. Captain Cook named these mountains, which he only saw from the sea, because he thought they looked like glass furnaces in Yorkshire. There is an excellent visitor centre and we had some difficulty extracting ourselves from an enthusiastic volunteer there. I don’t think they have too many visitors from Yorkshire.

The mountains are volcanic. There are eleven of them but Mount Tibberoowuccum and Mount Tibrogargan are the two most photographed. To say that the hiking trail up Mount Tibrogargan is scary would be a vast understatement. We saw some people just above the bottom of it. It was a beautiful sunny day and we had our last picnic in Australia at the viewpoint.

Glass House Mountains

Glass House Mountains

The Australia Zoo founded by Steve Irwin is close to Glass House Mountains but that will have to wait until next time. Nearer to Brisbane the road turned into a dual carriageway and there were more trees.

We found our hotel near Brisbane airport very easily and got ourselves to dinner as soon as the restaurant opened at 6 as we needed to get up at 3.30 for our flight to Auckland and Samoa. It was another very good meal but we waited almost an hour for it to come.

In retrospect I think that driving from Port Douglas to Brisbane was a good thing to do, just once. You really get a sense of the distances but it could have become rather dull if we had not made these detours. We must have done over 2000km.

Picture gallery: Great Barrier Reef to Brisbane

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