Fraser Island - Cairns (24/03/2015 - 27/04/2015)

Fraser - Carnarvon Gorge

We regrouped, restocked, washed and cleaned en route to our next destination Carnarvon National Park, approaching with much enthusiasm as being inland, elevated and covered in forest it promised to be cooler. Sadly on arrival it was around 38 degrees and it didn't alter much except during a thunderstorm, also the campground was in a sheltered gully with minimal air movement – so although the temp didn't live up to expectation, the scenery exceeded it!

On the way in we passed an impressive monument (worthy of a few pics) of a US aeroplane full of Aus soldiers which went down during WWII in an electrical storm while flying from Darwin to Brisbane, the wreckage had eventually been found and parts were incorporated into the monument.

Takarakka the resort where we camped was novel with semi-tame kangaroos hopping about and someone had started a trend of decorating the trees by knitting sleeves and scarves etc for them – the cafe provided a basket with wool and needles incase you got the urge to contribute!!

The gorge itself was rather like the Grand Canyon in green and in small scale, it had one main canyon with lots of smaller ones branching off to the sides. We managed to cover most of its many walks but it was a bit nerve-wracking! Australians would laugh but us Kiwi's aren't used to having potentially deadly creatures lurking in the bush …. hence I was on high alert for snakes and spent the first walk imagining how we would manage if one or both of us got bitten …. being out of contact and a couple of hours from help! Sure enough coming back we spotted two brown snakes on our path, having survived to tell the tale we relaxed a bit but it did reinforce that it pays to be alert! Some of the highlights were the caves with Aboriginal artwork; the ampitheatre – carved out by nature and only accessible via a series of metal stairs up through a narrow crack in the rock; returning from a walk stinking hot and sweaty and being washed and cooled by a huge thunderstorm; and on the last day a climb up the side of the canyon to a bluff with a stunning view over the whole canyon.

Carnarvon – Townsville

 Emerald in central QLD was our next stop and where unfortunately Martin made the mistake of checking under Priscilla and noting a diesel leak!!! The leak resulted in an unplanned week stuck in a rural mining town unable to drive and with crazy high temps while we waited for a part to be delivered and fitted!

On the positive side this town boasted “The largest painting in the world on an easel”, an incredibly huge Van Gogh Sunflower painting smack in the middle of town; a lovely old historic railway station; and surprisingly nice Botanic gardens.

We finally escaped on Good Friday and headed for the famous Gem Fields, sadly to find them depressingly disappointing so continued north crossing the tropic of Capricorn and eventually arriving in Charters Towers. We settled in for Easter weekend and explored the history and highlights of this previous bustling gold-mining town which in its day was knicknamed “The World” and even boasted a stock exchange.

We then got to know Townsville rather better than we had hoped ….. Priscilla's front seats were diabolically uncomfortable and lacking any decent back support as well as being vinyl which make them incredibly hot and sweaty so we decided to replace them. Nothing second hand was available so new ones had to be ordered and took two weeks to arrive and be fitted. Seeing we were stuck there we also utilised the time to have the springs (front & rear) replaced. Townsville wasn't unpleasant but its highlights could have been seen in 2-3 days – we did all the walks and botanic gardens we could find as well as the Strand several times and Castle hill etc then hid out in one of the many huge air-conditioned malls when the heat got the better of us.

 Townsville – Ingham

For time out we headed north to Paluma national park and were treated to cool mountain air, clear river pools for swimming, incredible scenery and forest walks. The road up to Paluma, elevation of about 1,000m, had been built by hand during the depression as a way to provide work, then after the war Paluma was utilised as a rehab centre for soldiers.

A positive to coming and going up the coast several times was that we had to pass “Frosty Mango” four times and it is impossible to go past without indulging in one of its famous icecreams!

Next was Ingham, the town which apparently has the largest Italian population in Aus and of course is also famous for its annual Italian festival which wasn't on during our visit but we did get to see the incredible cemetry where it seemed that each family tried to out-do the last with the biggest fanciest mausoleum for their loved ones. The town also boasted Tyto wetlands which is famous among bird-watchers but wasn't currently very wet due to a recent unseasonal lack of rain so also lacked its usual wildlife! The area grows mainly sugar cane so has some interesting machinery and history.

Ingham – Paronella

We had read much about Paronella Park which was awarded best tourist attraction in QLD for a couple of years so had high expectations and certainly weren't disappointed! This incredible park full of castles, tropical gardens, walks lined with concrete planters, picnic areas, tennis courts, two cafes, a ballroom/theatre and much more was the dream of spaniard Jose Paronella. He had come out to Australia to make his fortune and with his wife bought the land adjacent to Mena waterfalls and began work on building his dream. The park opened to the public in 1933 and was a popular refreshment stop as the road used to be the main route north. At that time there were also boats available for rowing on the pool under the waterfall, BBQ, swimming and diving areas. Jose also planted an avenue of Kauri which as it grew framed the falls, built a tunnel which was to be an aquarium and created a smaller waterfall in the image of Mena falls for his daughter.

The park suffered over the years from several floods and was eventually sold by Jose's family in the 1970's, then a fire gutted the main cafe/ballroom building and the property was abandoned. It was bought by its current owners in the 1990's who have reopened it as a tourist attraction with the aim of restoring it to its former beauty. 

Paronella – Cairns

Only 20 minutes from Paronella is “The Skywalk”, built by the current owner of Paronella park, it is a walk set in rainforest which meanders through the forest initially at ground level then onto raised walkways through the tops of the forest finishing with a climb up a tower to about 25m above the walking platform with amazing views over the forest and mountains.

The road then climbed up to the Atherton tablelands which reminded us of NZ, lush green farmland and cool clear air! We stayed a couple of nights in the area camping near a crater lake, walking around the lakes and visiting Yungaburra a lovely little town which by chance has a weekly market on Saturdays (the day we arrived) so stocked up on lots of local produce.