Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Australian Adventure: Great Barrier Reef, Lake Tinaroo, Undara, Cania Gorge

Day 10 - Cairns - Green Island - Great Barrier Reef

Today we visited the reef by way of a full day Big Cat to Green Island ($190) with lunch. Traveling with 2 small kids still learning to swim, this tour option gave us a beach based snorkeling opportunity with shops and toilets nearby. Also the weather today was degrading with increased wind and surf due to an impending storm expected for the weekend.

The kids quickly overcame fears of swimming and breathing through a snorkel. The kids with flotation vests tandem swam with Lori and I off the beech a hundred yards to view the close in coral formations.

Beach Club lounge hire (includes kids pail and toys) was $22 for 2 chairs with an umbrella. This seemed a bit steep but gave us some refuge from the sun and sea. When the kids were done swimming, they played with the toys while we took turns venturing into deeper water for somewhat better coral viewing.

Most of the interesting photos are on the underwater camera. We'll have to pick the best and post them later. I'm not an expert of tropical fish species, but I'm guessing that I saw Spotted and Striped Trigger fish, large Parrot fish, Yellow Tang, Butterfly fish, some little electric blue and bright green fellas, , clams, a variety of hard and soft corals, and a zerba stiped fish that came right up to my mask to have a closer look.

The day's finale was the daily boat feeding of some meter long Batfish and Giant Trevally fish.


The reef accessible from the beach is in very poor condition from overuse. There were enough tropical fish and corals to keep the kids entertained, but for the serious snorkel or dive experiences I could not recommend this option. I would probably opt for a smaller boat on an all day outing that visited several spots. We noted that "Calypso" was one such option.

If you do take the Big Cat out, the on board BBQ for $10 pp included was the best value. Island meals may be a bit fancier, but expect twice the cost.

While the Great Barrier Reef is nearest to the mainland near Cairns (about 10 km), the consensus was that the best of the reef is reached out of the Whitsunday Islands about 40 km from shore.

Wear a swim shirt and use sun block lotion. Its hot out there!

Day 11 - Cairns - Lake Tinaroo - Undara

Out of Cairns, we headed westerly over the Gillies Highway to the Atherton Tablelands. This road was built on an Aboriginal walking track and orginally had some 612 bends in 20 km. It has since been straightened to 260 bends. Hold on for the ride.

Off the highway we drove Danbulla Forest Drive around Lake Tinaroo stopping for short walks to Heales Lookout, Cathederal Fig Tree, Mondo Crater Lake, and the Lake Tinaroo spillway.
Giant Termite Mounds 4 to 5 ft tall dotted the landscape. The tall mounds provide a natural sort of air conditioning for the nest, drawing cooler air from underground and venting through the upper sections.

On reaching Undara, we found our booking had been thoroughly confused by Cairns. Ah well - nevermind. We got it all straight and booked in for 1 night in the Wilderness Lodge and 1 night in the family swag (tent). We also booked in 2 adults and 2 kids for the 1/2 day Lava Tube tour ($222) and Sunset Tour ($114).


Seek out a guide book "Atherton Tableland - Over 150 Attractions, Places and Activities" ($6.50). It was an invaluable source of information for this area.

Day 12 - Undara - Lava Tubes

This system of lava tubes are not unique to Undara, but Undara does provide one of the world's best examples of this phenonom and were key to unlocking mysteries of on the moon. The Undara lava tubes extend over 160 km and some 69 sections are still complete. The collapsed roof sections provide shelter from the unrelenting sun and microclimate forest and lush grown spring up within their confines.

Of course getting ready for this kind of adventure requires a hearty bush brekkie. Nic is toasting his bread over the camp fire while the billy boiled on other other fire. You had to mind your plate lest the ever present ravens and kookaburras make off with your meats.

The 1/2 day tour also took to some rock bluff providing an excellent vantage point overlooking the 100 mile swamp.

The swamp looked pretty dry from where we were, but under a crust of only 6 to 8 inches is water or mud.Our top gun tour guide, Steve, was very knowledgable in the history, geology, flora and fauna of the area. He also showed great humor with kids despite Nic pestering him with 10,000 questions. Thanks again Steve.

We learned how to locate water in the dry outback by choosing which kind of tree to dig near. We learned the difference between the male and female wallaroo by examining only the skull

Day 13 - Undara - Charters Towers - Belyando Crossing

We got a photo of the family swag before we left. The tent is off the ground and includes electric lighting, a sink (cold water only) and fridge. This one had a bunk bed, a single, and a double bed and a kitchen table and 4 chairs.

The amenities block was just 50 meters away. Last night was much more conformable than the first night in the 'Wilderness Lodge' for the same price. Of course you may opt for the first class accommodation in the old rail carriages.

Today was a driving day and we covered a lot of km through the back country on mostly a 1 line national highway. We passed many road trains, some 3 and 4 trailers long.

A late lunch was found at Charters Towers. We learned that this was Queensland's second city and was the only non-capital city to host a stock exchange. The town at the center of numerous mining operations was home to the countries top mining school. Today Charters Towers has numerous boarding schools for young Australians of the surrounding stations and farms.

As dusk enveloped us and the early evening became the dark of night, we sighted numerous kangaroos, cattle, a possum, a rabbit, several wallabies, and a feral bush pig all on or near the road. Driving after dark is NOT RECOMMENDED.


Having stayed in both the Wilderness Lodge and the Swag Tent Village, we strongly recommend the Swag Tent Village as your preferred option.

Day 14 - Belyando Crossing - Sapphire - Cania Gorge

Following a great breakfast at Belyando Crossing, it was not too far to the towns of Rubyvale, Sapphire and Emerald.

We stopped at Pat's Gems and did some real fossicking with the kids out back. Lori, being the mark of efficiency, did her fossicking in the shop.

Pat's was recommended to us as you can sift through first cut diggings to find your prize - no 'seeded' gravel or trailings here. The cost is $6 for 1 bucket or about $25 for 6 buckets of dirt. The kids actually found some very small blue, yellow and green sapphire fragments.

It takes a fairly large rough stone for gem quality as about 2/3 of it is cleaved to to produce the final product. Anything less than about 5 mm is too small to produce a useful gem.

The rest of the day was driving, arriving at Cania Gorge about 8 pm. As dusk grew into dark our road speed reduced from 100 kph to about 50 kph. Again, driving the back roads at night is NOT RECOMMENDED

Day 15 - Cania Gorge

Cania Gorge was a beautiful place to stay. The national park is just adjacent to the caravan park, there is a lake for fishing (canoe and dinghy rental from the caravan park).

The park offers numerous bush walks on marked trails ranging from 1.2 km to about 6 km return. We explored Two Story Cave, Bloodwood Cave, and Dragon Cave.

The highlight of the afternoon was the daily bird feeding. The lorikeets started gathering up to 2 hours before the appointed time, joined by kookaburras, king parrots, spinifex pidgeons, and apostle birds.

The lorikeets (over 200 of them) were offered a sweet mash of honey and something (bread or oatmeal). The ensuing roar of squawking would wake the dead. Next on offer were some meats for the kookaburras who patiently lined on up the pole. Finally split corn, sunflower seeds and other seeds were on offer for the stunning but gentle green and orange king parrots.

Day 16 - Cania Gorge - Forest Glen

Lori got up and out early today, hot coffee in hand and down to the pool in the river where the platypus are known to live. Sadly, no luck in spotting these shy critters today so here's the camp social wallaby instead.

We say good-bye to this beautiful national park today. We could have easily stayed another night or two. If you missed the link to the Cania Gorge National Park info sheet - here it is again.

Today's Internet stop was in Monto at the town IT Center next to the police station - best public Internet facilities we've seen. Breakfast was at the "Lounge Lizard Cafe", next to "The Best Little Hairhouse in Monto".

We decided to close our holiday with another scrumptious dinner at Verandahs at the Forest Glen Caravan Park. This was by far the finest restaurant of any of the parks we stayed.

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