Discovering Australia's hidden gems

Archive for September, 2012

Croc Alert At Pristine Port Douglas Beach

Croc Alert

At Pristine Port Douglas Beach

So there I was, minding my own business …

on one of the most beautiful and famous beaches in Australia – Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas.

When deafening blasts of the beach siren break my seaside serenity, and I turn my head in unison with dozens of others towards the ocean.

“Everybody get out of the water – immediately!”

The urgent amplified announcement echoed down the beach as worried water dwellers hastily made their way back to shore, and curious beach dwellers made their way to the water’s edge to see what all the commotion was about.

The lifeguard raced down and quickly pulled the red and yellow safe swimming flags out of the sand and inserted a bright red danger flag. Crowds of people made their way towards the ocean like a brand new batch of baby turtles instinctively heading towards the sea, mostly to meet their fate as their short-lived lives are extinguished by predators. What lies in this ocean is one of the very few human predators and we all expect a shark sighting, but no, not up here in the tropics, it was the mighty croc!

I gather with the crowd and stand in awe as I see him, less than 10 metres off shore, bobbing up and down on the waves like a long brown log, but this was no ‘logadile’, this was the real deal!

The excitement on the beach was palpable as we followed the croc’s southerly progress en masse, feeling safe on our sandy shores.

Croc sighted in Daintree River

Now you don’t expect to see a crocodile in the middle of the ocean. Creeks, rivers, estuaries and anywhere with a nice muddy feel and a few mangroves is where the croc likes to hang out. But apparently they use the ocean like a highway to travel from river to river, so whilst he probably had a destination in mind rather than lunch, they are opportunistic creatures who wouldn’t say no to a  snack that happened to be swimming right in front of them.

After finally losing sight of the croc we spoke to the lifeguard who spotted him. He told us it was a 3.5 metre salt water crocodile and they only spotted him when he was on the edge of the flagged area. He said it’s unusual to see them this time of year, but in summertime it can be a common thing!

My partner and I had previously had many conversations about safe swimming in Far North Queensland, as you’re generally told that crocs only live in the rivers, but we never felt 100% comfortable in the water. We’d always said that the only beach we felt really comfortable at was Four Mile Beach because it is such a popular and crowded swimming beach. In fact this time last year we were in Port Douglas and swimming in that exact spot. Ignorance was bliss.

Sadly, my blissful ignorance has now been banished and there will be no more peaceful floating in these tropical waters.

But that won’t stop my enjoyment of these wonderful places. The vistas from Far North Queensland’s beaches are nothing less than spectacular. Fringed with swaying coconut palms and often surrounded by mountain ranges, tropical islands, or lush rainforest, it is a magical way to spend a day lazing on the sand with a book, a friend, or your thoughts.

Four Mile Port beach at Port Douglas is perfectly equipped with deluxe deck chairs and umbrellas for hire, so you can comfortably spend the entire day there. During holiday season you can also catch a morning yoga  class on the beach, the ideal way to start your day. This beach is extremely popular but because of its expansive width and length it never feels overcrowded.

Mission Beach

However, if you like your tropical beaches a little more secluded, there are many picture perfect spots to choose from.

So if you’re coming to Far North Queensland, enjoy all that this paradise has to offer but remember, we share this beautiful area with its local wildlife. Be croc aware – ‘cause they’re there!

© Copyright September 2012


Gypsy Gems – My Inspiration!

Gypsy Gems – My Inspiration!

I want this!

The van, the lifestyle, the soundtrack!

The idealism of the hippie movement – oh, where have all the hippies gone?!

We found a couple of them on Magnetic Island, Far North Queensland.

My eyes lit up as we drove into the bush car park and I spotted the magnificent Gypsy Gems – the embodiment of a free and joyful life on the road.

This very cool little van was decorated with colourful seashells that glittered in the sun, and boasted its own solar panels.

It was painted with soulful phrases and beautiful murals depicting nature, peace and joy.

I had to have a photograph of this ‘magic bus’- my inspiration.  As I got closer I could see there was still somebody inside, and I could hear the sublime sounds of Led Zeppelin floating through the open window. This was indeed Heaven on wheels!

I went back to the car to put on my hiking boots and grab the snorkelling gear when the owner of the bus walked by on his way to Florence Bay to rendezvous with his wife for a mid-morning snorkel. We got to chatting and I found that his story was as inspirational as his vehicle.

They are a couple from northern NSW who had long wanted to travel but were tied down by a small property and its encumbrances. They eventually decided to hit the road anyway and camped for about a year, but found it financially unsustainable having to pay for campsites. So they came home, picked up Gypsy Gems for a good price, did her up, and away they went.

Eighteen months later they’re still on the road and loving every minute of it

Gypsy Gems quickly paid for herself and now the key to their extended travel is ‘free camping,’ which is aided by the solar panels on the roof making them more self-sufficient.

At first they were worried about the maintenance required on their property back home, but now they “don’t care if everything falls apart!” The owner was glowing with exuberance as he happily said “we’ve got no kids, no debt, and no money – but we’ve got this!” and he waved his arms around enthusiastically at the beautiful nature surrounding us on this stunning North Queensland tropical island.

Arthur Bay – best snorkeling spot on Magnetic Island

They fell in love with Magnetic Island (as you do) and have stayed for six weeks. This is the beautiful flexibility that comes with having your home on your back.

We asked for his top tips on other  pieces of paradise in Oz (Tasmania seems to rate highly on most people’s lists), and his permission to get ‘snap happy’ with his van.

He described how he’d met people who have taken 4 years to get from Perth to Brisbane, and others who had taken 4 weeks to travel around Australia. He was definitely an advocate of ‘slow travel’ and I tend to agree.

I love hearing other traveller’s stories and often find them completely inspirational; the prioritising of values, and the lifestyle choices people make.  It’s not the first story I’ve heard about people setting off on a trip which turns into a lifestyle.

The travel bug doth bite!

And I think I’ve been bitten … !

© September 2012

Crikey – It’s a Cassowary on the Beach!

Crikey – It’s a Cassowary on the Beach!

Just when I think my recent wildlife experiences can’t possibly be exceeded, there she is, in all her majestic beauty, the finest specimen of a wild cassowary I have ever seen, (and I’m lucky enough to have spotted a few now). Only this time, she’s strutting along the sandy shores of Etty Bay beach, which in itself is a shining diamond of nature. What a day folks!

It’s hard to describe the awe and appreciation at seeing this prehistoric looking endangered species walking along one of the most picturesque beaches in Queensland, foraging and feeding on roots and berries underneath the rainforest trees bordering the beach.

I followed her along the sand, at a respectful distance, for around 15-20 minutes as she unhurriedly went about her business. At times I bravely approached to within 2 – 3 metres of this imposing piece of creation, until she would look me in the eye with a look that said “that’s close enough, thank you”, at which point I backed away slowly (as all the warning signs tell you to do, right after the part about not approaching a cassowary …), and admired her from a distance.

The lustrous sheen of her thick black feathers and the bright, iridescent blues and reds around her head showed a healthy, well-built bird. The helmet, her crowning glory, was extra-large and in mint condition. A wonderful evolutionary tool to scare potential predators, and curious nature-loving tourists, into respecting this bird’s personal space!

And what a space this bird inhabits!

Etty Bay – promise to keep it a secret if I tell you how perfect it is?

The glimpses of aqua blue waters through the trees alerted us as we descended the mountain, then as we rounded the corner into Etty Bay we knew we had found something special.

Book-ended by dense green forest, the beachfront is interspersed with coconut palms and larger tropical shade trees. The northern end of the beach has wonderful formations of jagged black rocks which form secluded little coves, the perfect sitting spot to escape the fresh south-easterly wind that’s blowing.

And finally people, finally … a body of water that doesn’t turn your blood into red icicles when you submerge yourself in it! Yes, the ocean is warm here. Well, relative to what it’s been like everywhere else on this trip. I’d estimate the water temperature was around 24 degrees, which in my language equates to ‘do-able’!

But of course there’s a catch, in that you might end up being the catch of a passing crocodile. “But wait!” you say. “What a croc! Crocs don’t live in the ocean.” You’re quite right my friend, they don’t, but wait until you ready my post Croc Alert at Port Douglas Beach, coming soon to a computer screen near you … You’ll never feel safe swimming in any FNQ beach again.

But back to the beauty …

The warm waters (for paddling …), soft, tree-lined, picturesque sandy shores, and interesting rock formations rate this beach very highly for me.  And not the least of this can be attributed to the little town of Etty Bay itself. If you can even call it a town, it’s really only a small beachfront van park with attached kiosk and a surf lifesaving club.

Whilst I have visited many stunning beaches in Queensland they are often back-dropped by high-rises or other retail/commercial development. But it’s the undeveloped beauty of Etty Bay which sets it apart from the rest. And the resident cassowaries of course, who are, by the way, not the only magnificent prehistoric looking residents in town.

Check out this guy! Isn’t he beautiful?  The waddling gait of the goanna is a joyful thing to watch. I love these creatures (again, from a respectful distance). We followed this guy for a while trying to snap some decent pictures until he found his way home to a hollow in the beachfront tree trunk, where he scaled the inside. I watched the tip of his tail disappear from sight as he settled in for the evening. Seems we both scored a room with a view tonight. Which brings me to the next part of this story …

View from our balcony

Upon arrival, we immediately realised we’d made a terrible mistake in pre-booking accommodation at the Innisfail Motel for the night, our plans being to continue southbound tomorrow heading for Townsville. But the first thing we saw as we drove in (apart from the spectacular beach view) was the perfect little cabin only metres from the beach, which happened to be available, and, below budget! It seemed too good to be true, and doubly frustrating to be committed elsewhere. But such was the appeal of this beachside wonderland that we sheepishly phoned the motel to plead for a late cancellation, which to their credit, they granted graciously. Yippee!

Feeling secure with our prime piece of real estate, we then set off to fully explore the beach, which is when we encountered the amazing wildlife.

Still on an elevated high from our initial Etty Bay experiences, we felt reluctant to give up our prime piece of real estate and impulsively booked an extra two nights. The manager invited us to have ‘happy hour by the beach’ with everybody tomorrow night; it’s going to be a special occasion happy hour – a Hawaiian themed sausage sizzle! Now how could you turn down an invitation like that?

Mareeba Wetlands

Perhaps we’ll also be dining with a cassowary? And why not, this morning we had breakfast amongst wild emus at Mareeba. Another stately bird with a far less threatening demeanour than ‘Queen Cassowary’. The emus are highly curious creatures and come close to check you out. They have a much friendlier, if not as impressive, face than the cassowary. But Breakfast with Wild Emus is a whole other post yet to be written!

 Sunrise at Etty Bay. Seriously – how can we leave this place?!

But as each new day dawns, who knows what new, awe-inspiring things we’ll discover in this wonderful land of Oz!

Stay tuned to find out …!

© September 2012