Sunday, May 26, 2013

Four Wheeling on Fraser Island

Erik's parents had about 10 days to spend with us as part of their big holiday (exploring Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji), and we thought it would be fun to take a trip together somewhere during that time. We ended up choosing Fraser Island, home of Great Sandy National Park. I found cheap flights to Sunshine Coast Airport, which is about a 2 hour drive from Rainbow Beach, where we would take a ferry over to Fraser Island. We were lucky to find an awesome car rental company for our 4WD rental (most people do the Fraser Island trip flying into Hervey Bay and renting from there where there are tons of 4WD hire companies), and Richard, the owner, met us at the airport with our vehicle, fully stocked with camping equipment for our 3 night adventure. After a quick stop to stock up on food and drinks for the next few days, we headed north until we reached Inskip Point, where we drove onto the Manta Ray Barge for a quick 10 minute journey over to Fraser Island.
Erik lowering the tire pressure to prep for driving on sand.
Almost there!
Not much traffic on these roads...
...but there are still speed limits, in case you were wondering!
The tricky thing about driving on Fraser Island is that you have to be aware of the tides. You can only drive on the beach within 2 hours of low tide (before or after), or else you may get stuck on the inland roads which are really slow (though quite adventurous because you never know what type of road conditions await you!). When we were there, some of the inland roads were closed due to flooding, so we had to be particularly mindful of the tides.

We camped the first night at Central Station, so we took inland roads to get there. On the way, we stopped by Lake McKenzie, which is known for its resemblance of an ocean beach and not a lake. However, when we arrived, we found it flooded due to recent heavy rains. It was still a beautiful sight, but with the flooding and the sun setting, it did not look that much different than a typical lake, minus the super soft white sandy bottom. Here is one of Erik's pictures of Lake McKenzie from his Fraser Island backpacker trip in 2002, taken with an old school film camera, of course! :)
Lake or ocean? If it weren't for the trees it would be hard to tell!
On the second day, we went to check out the Hammerstone Sandblow and Lake Wabby. Jill ran sprints up the sandblow. Erik, Dan, and I sat in the lake to avoid being eaten by massive horsefly-like creatures, which we soon learned could be captured and fed to fish in the lake!
Hammerstone Sandblow is to the left and Lake Wabby is just behind Erik.
That's a lot of sand. Apparently the sandblow might eventually engulf the lake!
At some point during that day, it started to rain, and it never really stopped until we got off of Fraser Island. We were still able to enjoy ourselves, but camping is always much more fun when it is dry! Due to the rain, we made a stop in one of the "towns" on Fraser, appropriately named Happy Valley. There, we found comfort in a couple of adult beverages (which were surprisingly cheap given the fact that we were isolated on an island and surely the price could have been double what we pay on the mainland), watching the rain as we sat outdoors under a covered deck. Once we thought that the timing of the tides was suitable for beach driving, we kept on exploring.
The dingo. Visitors are encouraged not to feed them so that they learn survival skills, but it's hard not to want to feed them when they are this skinny!
A better way to get to/from Fraser Island?!
Eli Creek, nature's lazy (and cold!) river.
Doing well with the sand driving!
The Maheno Wreck

Our next night was spent camping at Waddy Point, towards the north end of the island, just a couple hundred meters away from the ocean.
There were tons of HUGE frogs at our campsite!
We had hopes of getting a great view of the island from Indian Head in the morning, but it was raining once again. That did not stop most of the group from swimming in the Champagne Pools, where water comes crashing in from the ocean, creating a natural pool. Interestingly, that is the only place for "safe" ocean swimming on Fraser, due to the fact that apparently there are lots of sharks on the east coast of the island and saltwater crocodiles (those are the big kind!) on the west coast.

That day was a big day of driving, as we had to make it all the way back down to the barge landing by 5pm. Due to the timing of the tides, there was no way we could spend our last night on Fraser Island and make our 11am flight safely.

Our only snake sighting of the trip, fortunately!
Toes in the sand at Lake Birrabeen. Rivals the sand at Whitehaven Beach...and this is a lake!
Once back at the south end of the island, we boarded the barge to leave Fraser Island. We spent the night at a campsite just a few minutes from the barge landing, another good waterfront location. In the morning we headed back to the Sunshine Coast, leaving our trusty 4WD behind and heading back to the dry city of Melbourne. Fraser Island is truly a unique experience, and it was awesome to be able to share our adventures there with Jill and Dan!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Girls Weekend in Tropical North Queensland!

After returning from our awesome New Zealand trip, Jill, Erik's mom, arrived for the start of her Australian adventure. It was at that point, in late January, where all but two members of Erik's immediately family were with us in Melbourne. After a quick Great Ocean Road trip and some exploring around Melbourne, Jill, Carlie, and I hopped back on a plane and flew to Cairns, the city most known for its access to the Great Barrier Reef.

We arrive in Cairns early Thursday morning after a 6am flight from Melbourne. While checking into our hostel, Dreamtime Traveler's Rest, the staff helped us to plan out our days in the area. January is rainy season in Cairns, and the area was recovering from a recent tropical cyclone, so diving boats had not gone out a few days prior to our arrival and there was a good chance it might be a few days before they would go out again. The staff advised us to push diving to the end of our trip to hope for better conditions, so they kindly called our car rental company and switched the days of our car hire to allow us to dive on a different about great customer service! We spent the rest of Thursday checking out our surroundings and walking around Cairns, which has a path that goes right along the waterfront. This is not your typical waterfront though, as there are signs along the path warning walkers about the saltwater crocodiles that inhabit the water!

On Friday morning, we picked up our rental car and headed north towards Cape Tribulation. The scenery on the drive was gorgeous, as everything was incredibly green, especially since we had just left a very dry Melbourne. The beaches around Cape Trib were stunning. Unfortunately, it was stinger season, meaning that we could not get in the water due to box jellyfish in the water. In addition, every beach in the area had the same warning sign above regarding crocs. We did see a few people in the water at various times, but they were just wading in the water to cool off, not actually swimming.
View looking north...
...and facing south.
The water looks so inviting...
until you remember the sign you saw before reaching the beach.
We saw a bit of wildlife during our trip, including a snake that startled the heck out of us, lots of tropical birds, a jellyfish (not the box jellyfish, as we learned they are so small that you cannot see them), and a bunch of cool sand crabs. We had hoped to see a cassowary, and there we road signs everywhere telling us to slow down so we did not hit them, but we never spotted one.

The staff at our hostel advised us to get as far north as we wanted to go early in the day to beat all of the guided tours, then stop at other places on our way back to Cairns. We stopped at a few overlooks that provided sweet coastal views.

Our next stop was at Mossman Gorge, an aboriginal site within the Daintree Rainforest where we did some hiking and then cooled off in the fresh water (no crocs in there, of course!). Following that stop, we headed to Port Douglas to check out "Four Mile Beach". Part of the beach is netted to allow for safe swimming, but it was such a small area that I can imagine it gets super crowded during peak swimming times.

Our last stop of the day was at Palm Cove, a quaint beach town with gorgeous views from the jetty.

On Saturday we took the car out again, this time to head to the Atherton Tablelands to see some waterfalls. The roads around Cairns are full of twists and turns and lots of hills, so it was challenging driving, however, we were often rewarded with beautiful views.

We made a quick stop at Barron Falls, where the water was raging since it had been so rainy in the previous days.

Next up was a visit to Granite Gorge to feed some rock wallabies. This ended up being one of the highlights of our trip and it is one of the coolest things I've experienced since we moved to Australia. I'm even a little hesitant to write about it because I don't want everyone finding out about this gem of a place! We drove down a dirt road to what looked like a remote campsite where we met this lovely older woman who gave us bags of "wallaby food" in exchange for $5. We then freely roamed around the area, just the 3 of us, where we were soon inundated with many rock wallabies wanting snacks!

Baby on board!
This one was holding Carlie's hand while feeding. Do you see the newborn baby? No fur yet! Once we figured out who the moms were, we tried to feed them the most! :)

"I'll take that, thanks!"
We spent over an hour with the fun marsupials before heading onto our next stop. Along the way, Jill wanted to get her picture taken next to the giant termite mounds!

Driving south, we made a few stops along the way, one at Lake Eacham, a volcanic crater lake where TONS of people were swimming. It was Australia Day weekend (like the 4th of July in the States), so people were out in full force. Jill went for a swim while Carlie and I did some people watching. Our last major destination for the day was Millaa Millaa Falls, where we enjoyed the view of the falls and then went for a quick swim!

Sunday was the most anticipated day, our dive day! Jill headed out with a different company for diving since she was not certified (though she has since received her certification while in Fiji!), and Carlie and I went with Tusa Dive. We planned to dive 3 times during the course of the day and we were put in a group of 6 total divers with one guide, Larissa. The ride out to the reef was rough. Carlie and I both took motion sickness tablets but both ended up getting sick on the boat. There were lots of people getting sick and we were told that it happens all of the time, but it was still a bit humiliating! Once we got in the water though, we were fine. Unfortunately, due to the rough conditions, the visibility was not awesome. We did get to see some amazing colored sea slugs, a variety of cool fish, and some awesomely structured coral. We also saw a sea turtle on the surface, and almost ran into a squid while we were surfacing on one dive. I have GoPro video from each dive, but they didn't turn out very well, likely due to the lighting conditions.

We had a good experience diving the Great Barrier Reef, but like many people had mentioned to me before our trip, it may be a bit overrated. Granted, we did not have great conditions, so I would definitely like to give it another go, perhaps at a different location. I asked Larissa her favorite place to dive in Australia and she said that the wreck in Townsville (a few hours south of Queensland) is amazing, so perhaps that might be my next dive adventure, since Erik and I have a friend that lives near Townsville.
The Great Barrier Reef from above!
On Monday morning we headed to the airport separately, asI was heading back to Melbourne to start my new job, and Carlie and Jill were headed to Sydney for a few days. The Hanson ladies had an awesome long weekend exploring Cairns and the surrounding area. Not sure when and where our next girls weekend will be, but I am already looking forward to it! :)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Arthur's Pass & Farewell, New Zealand!

On our last night in New Zealand, we had intended to camp somewhere in the Arthur's Pass area. However, it was extremely cold once we got into the mountains, as there had been snow down to 1400 meters overnight (Arthur's Pass is a small town at about 800 meters elevation), so we ended up getting a dorm room at Mountain House YHA. In the morning, we tackled two hikes, one longer steep climb to Temple Basin and another shorter trek to the Devil's Punchbowl waterfall. It was a gorgeous day to be outdoors and we soaked up as much sun and fresh air as we could before getting in the car to head to Christchurch.

Temple Basin

Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall
The road through the middle of the South Island from Greymouth to Christchurch provided us with amazing scenery. Along the way we stopped for lunch at a stunning location just a few minutes off of the main road. The views made me sad that we had to leave such a beautiful place!


Our rental car treated us to this lovely lunchtime view!
Goodbye, Southern Alps!
Within a few hours we were back in Christchurch, ready to hop on our plane for the short flight back to Melbourne. I put together a map of how we traveled around each island, trying to put circles at most of the places where we stayed overnight.

New Zealand is a country that caters well to travelers, with "iSITES", or visitor information centers, found in even the smallest of towns. I also loved that each and every town we drove through had relatively clean public toilets, usually right on or just off of the main road. Erik and I thought that New Zealand seemed a bit more "Americanized" when compared with Australia in terms of food, as we were able to find streaky bacon (the closest thing we have found to American bacon here!) in nearly every grocery store and we even encountered canned black beans, which we have NEVER seen in Oz! Interestingly, the Kiwis and Aussies even have different words for certain objects. For example, flip flops in Australia are referred to as thongs, but in NZ they are called jandals. We ended up buying a "chilly bin" to keep our food cold while on the road, not an "esky", as they are commonly called in Australia, also known as a cooler to us American folk.

At first I was disappointed that it was taking me so long to write up these posts about our travels in NZ, since that is essentially all I have been writing about since we returned in late January. However, each time I sat down to write a post, I got to re-live our experiences, reading the notes I had jotted down along the way and looking at the pictures, which instantly brought back wonderful memories of our trip. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the chance to spend several weeks in such a beautiful country and I hope you have enjoyed reading about our travels. So though I am sad to see the posts about New Zealand coming to an end, I am excited to share some of our more recent Aussie adventures with you too!