Coral Reefs and Sandstone Gorges

Captain James Cook was born less than 10kms from where I was born in Middlesbrough. When he was born the town of Middlesbrough did not even exist, it only grew up in the 19th century during the Industrial Revolution. Captain James Cook was born in the suburb of Marton, which would later become part of Middlesbrough, in 1728. Growing up I can remember visiting the spot where the cottage he was born in stood and his museum in Stewart’s Park. In Australia there are many references to Captain Cook which is not surprising since Captain Cook was the first European to visit Eastern Australia and it was his voyage that led to the subsequent colonisation of Australia. Not bad for a lad from Middlesbrough
Well this lad from Middlesbrough has also made his own voyage to Australia, although I suspect we have come by a more circuitous route. Nonetheless we were also making our way up the East Coast of Australia and had now arrived in The Town of 1770. A rather strangely named town but rather apt as it was in 1770 that Cook set anchor here and was supposedly the site of his first landing in Queensland.
Today the small beach town is more famous for been the most southern point for sailings out to the Great Barrier Reef so as soon as we rolled into town we headed to the bookings office to see if we could book a tour. Unfortunately due to the recent aftermath of ex-cyclone Winston the next tour was not leaving for another 3 days so we would have to stay 4 nights if we wanted to go. Not that this was a hardship. We found a lovely place to camp on the beach in the estuary away from the crashing ocean waves. It was an idyllic spot to spend a few days and we lazed around on the beach and chatted with the locals who regularly came here to camp.

   
   
  We did manage one day though to do a bit of exercise around the pretty headland and to visit the memorial to Captain Cook’s visit.

  
Our trip out to the the Great Barrier Reef was on a fast catamaran which would take us out to Lady Musgrove Island. We were warned that the trip out could be a bit rough but it would all calm down once we reached the coral lagoon around which the island was set. Gilly is not a good sailor and really does not like going on boats but when there is something great to see she will put herself through the ordeal to get there. Let’s just say the trip out was definitely an ordeal for her!
Once we arrived though as promised the lagoon was pretty calm. We took a glass bottom boat over to the Island. On the way we could see the amazing different corals. Massive brain corals and branch corals where everywhere in a profusion of different colours. We also had an opportunity to take a walk on the coral island to see the prolific bird life. It really was that deserted desert island experience. 

   
   
After lunch it was time for some snorkelling. We were really impressed with how Alisha and Lucy took to this. We were snorkelling in 5 to 6 metres of water and there was quite a current on the way over to the corals. They happily jumped in and swam out to the corals. Whilst they were wearing their flotation vests it was great to see them snorkel for so long and to fully enjoy the amazing world underneath the water. Unfortunately we do not have underwater photos from our snorkel but underneath the waves the coral was so immense and impressive. In amongst it schools of brightly coloured fish swam and along the edges of the coral larger Parrot fish and Grouper were hanging out.  
Despite the rough crossing the trip had been worthwhile and we are hoping we will have more opportunities to visit the reef as we head North. But before then we were taking a long detour inland to visit Carnarvon Gorge.
Carnarvon Gorge is 200 metres high and over 30kms long formed by the river that twists its way through the gorge to creat a dramatic landscape which comes as a welcome relief after the endless flat landscape on the drive over. We also caught up here with our new friends, Rhys and Jane who we had recently met in Noosa. They had just bought a lovely new off-road trailer and were on a short road trip to test it. They had sent us a note to say they were heading to Carnarvon Gorge and were wondering if we would be there. Amazingly we were arriving on the same day. It was great to spend a couple of evenings over some wine chatting about travelling, types of vehicle to travel in etc.  

  

The following day we took a long walk up the gorge. It can get very hot here but on the day we were walking it was cloudy with the odd spots of drizzle. Ideal for a good walk but not the best weather for beautiful photos.

   
 
The gorge was amazing. Within the gorge walls there were lots of little miniature micro ecosystems. The foliage was lush from the waters of the river and there were giant ferns and other plants everywhere. As we walked back along the gorge there were little side trips to various points of interest. A couple of amazing narrow gorges where you could touch both sides and some amazing moss gardens with the moss dripping in the beautifully clear pools.

   
 
There was also an amazing amphitheatre where a giant hole had been carved in the rock by the water. To enter it you had to squeeze through a narrow canyon and then you emerged in this open area with its own miniature Garden of Eden.

   
 
The gorge has long been inhabited by various aboriginal people and parts of the gorge were of special spiritual significance. In one such part there was a large gallery of aboriginal paintings on the sandstone wall.

  
The camping area was full of wildlife, Whiptail Wallabies and Eastern Grey Kangaroos lounged all over the grass and were really unconcerned by our presence. There was even a pool with platypus in which Gilly was lucky to see as she was the only one who got up early enough to see them one morning.

   
   
Not that the rest of us will have missed out as our next destination was Eungella National Park, which is famous for its Platypus sightings. It was a long two day, featureless drive to get there the highlight of which was crossing the Tropic of Capricorn so now we are back in the tropics. It was rather disappointing though that there was no sign marking the spot and rather surprising since there is a sign for virtually everything in Australia.

  
During the night this “little” spider had made his his home.

On the second day of the drive I think we would have preferred if it had stayed featureless and uneventful. Shortly after we had set off from our camp for the night we were driving along when a car coming in the opposite direction missed the bend and headed off the road at speed into the bush. It stayed upright for several hundreds of metres before hitting a tree and then rolling several times. We braked to a stop, the two of us and the driver in the car behind us rushed to the wreck of a car fearing the worst. Fortunately the driver of the car was in a much better state than his wrecked car and amazingly had only suffered minor scratches. After cleaning up his scratches, we passed the time waiting for the police and ambulance to arrive collecting his belongings that had been thrown clear of the car and chatting with the shaken but lucky driver.
The rest of the drive was through sugar cane country. There had clearly been a lot of rain recently as many of the fields were flooded. As we headed upwards to Eungella National Park, a sub tropical rainforest, the mist started to close in and drizzle started to fall. The campsite was sodden but useable with water dripping from the trees and ferns. The platypus though are unaffected by the rain, so even though it was drizzling we headed out. We immediately spotted one from the bridge and then another slightly further upstream. They were unconcerned by the weather and were busy diving in and out of the river pools in search of food.

  
  
We were up early the next morning to see the platypuses again. One of the things that is surprising is that they are much smaller than you would expect. As the weather still was not great and as we could not do the walk we wanted because it was flooded, we decided to head into Mackay. The truck had an appointment at the garage early the following morning as the new sensor that had been fitted in Brisbane was playing up and we were going to catch up with some friends we had met on our trip to Antarctica.

  

One thought on “Coral Reefs and Sandstone Gorges

  1. Hi;
    good story- and interesting!
    I did not know these Platypuse are quite as common to see and find. I thought they are as rare as hens teeth! But one should never give up learning!
    This will be an animal to find when we get there!
    Thank you.

    Cheers

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