Our good friend, Grant Peberdy, has just completed the building of his latest motorhome, and it is now for sale. Grant owns RV Renos on the Sunshine Coast. We saw Grant working on his project when we visited in early May. Ian could not resist the opportunity to pay Grant another visit to see the finished product. Grant has done extensive repairs and improvements to our CUB camper trailer after our 2015 tagalong tour to the Kimberleys, so we are well aware of his good work.
The base vehicle is a late 2018 Ford Transit 470E Jumbo Van. It has a Euro 6 certified 2.0 litre EcoBlue engine delivering up to 125 kW of power and 405 Nm of torque. It is rear wheel drive, with dual rear wheels and a 6-speed manual transmission. The fuel tank holds 100 litres, giving it an awesome range.
The van is 6.85 m long including the alloy nudge bar up front, and 2.75 m wide with side mirrors extended. The colour is Frozen White. It accommodates three people in the cabin.
It can tow a massive 3,500 kg.
Ford provides a 5-year unlimited kilometres warranty from April 2019. The vehicle has travelled less than 500 km.
External motorhome features
Grant has done a fantastic fitout on this van, which is now a self-contained motorhome that sleeps two people in comfort. On the roof there are 500 Watts of solar panels, a Dometic reverse cycle airconditioner, an Omniant omni-direction television antenna, and three opening hatches.
The first thing you notice on the left side is the 3.5 m Thule Omnistor awning—it extends 2.5 m. Beneath it is a LED awning light. The whiz-bang sliding door is also on the left side of the vehicle and is hooked up to a very solid electric step that automatically slides out when opening the door, and retracts when shutting the door. There are three opening windows with fly screens on the left hand side, including one on the sliding door. A fresh water filler and a handy water tap are also on that side, and the 4.5 kg gas cylinder is accessed on the left.
On the right side there are two opening windows with fly screens and a fixed window in the bathroom. The 240 volt lead-in plug is on the right, and the toilet cannister is accessed on the right side.
Under the van there is huge 305 litre fresh water tank so you should not have to carry additional water. There is also a 50 litre grey water tank.
Internal motorhome features
The most outstanding internal feature of this motorhome is the high gloss timberwork, for which Grant is well known. The bench tops are solid timber—kwila or merbau—and very hard. Most of the other timberwork is a lightweight 15 mm ply.
With the high gloss timberwork and light grey curtains and furnishings, the overall interior looks light and spacious.
The bathroom has more usable space than you would expect in such a motorhome, mainly due to the flushing toilet being able to be slid out of the way when showering. The bathroom is lined with white Aligloss composite panel.
There are two bench tops. One on the right side includes the sink and lies over the Dometic 135 litre two-way fridge-freezer. The other on the left side includes a two burner gas cooktop and overlies the microwave oven. Overhead cupboards and drawers provide lots of storage in the kitchen area.
There are double power points in useful places, and a 12 volt cigarette lighter-type socket and twin USB charging sockets on the left hand bench.
The rear of the van has two long sofa seats that can form single beds, or can be made into one bed that is almost king size. A timber table can be used for dining, playing cards, or writing while in the rear. A 24 inch wide screen HD LED television by Kogan is set up for viewing from the sofas or in bed. There are overhead and under bed storage cupboards accessible from inside, and two cupboards with sliding floors (or fridge slides?) accessible when the rear doors are open.
Comfort in bed is enhanced with individual reading lights and individual shelves for putting a glass of water, wallets, classes or a book.
A handy table can extend out of the left side when the sliding door is open, avoiding the need to carry a separate table for using outside.
Out of site is a 125 amp hour deep cycle battery which is charged from the solar panels, a 240 volt lead in, or from the alternator when the engine is running. Hot water is supplied from a Camec instant gas hot water system.
Grant has his new Ford Transit motorhome on the market for $115,000. If you think you would like to own this motorhome, or you know someone that might be interested, Grant can be contacted by phone on 0412 795 079. If you have any queries, you can send Grant an email via his RV Renos website.
Ian first heard of Stanthorpe from his friend and ex-work colleague, Nigel, from Brisbane. Ian was introducing Nigel to Hunter Valley wine, and Nigel said that Queensland produces good wine at Stanthorpe, which is also renown for being the coldest place in Queensland. Stanthorpe lies adjacent to the New England Highway just north of the New South Wales-Queensland border. Despite this, and us having driven to the Sunshine Coast via the New England Highway and Toowoomba a few years ago, we have never stopped at Stanthorpe to sample the wines. We were about to rectify that omission.
Stanthorpe’s chilly reputation is due to it lying at about 1000 m above sea level. When we arrived at the Information Centre early on Saturday afternoon, the Big Thermometer adjacent to Quartz Pot Creek showed 14.6 degrees. The people in the Information Centre were some of the most helpful we have encountered—reminds us of Information Centres in Broome and Rockhampton. We came out with lots of information about Stanthorpe and the region known as the Granite Belt, including lists of dog friendly attractions.
We checked into the Top of the Town Tourist Park, selected our flat, powered site with a clean, concrete slab, then had our lunch of pork pies and fruit. For our afternoon activity, we drove to the Granite Belt Brewery, which is also a resort and a restaurant. Well behaved dogs are allowed on the deck behind the restaurant, so that is where we headed. Ian tried a tasting paddle of four beers—the pale ale was OK, the IPA was a bit strange, but the pilsener and Irish red ale were quite good. Ian was keen to try the porter, which is appropriate for such a cool day, and then buy some cans to take away. However, another group of people arrived at the bar a few seconds before him. When it looked like they were going to fully occupy the single bar person’s attention forever, we left empty handed apart from a drink coaster. If we were to come back, it would be interesting to try the restaurant and a few more of the beer offerings.
It was too late by this stage to do any wine tasting, so we headed back to our caravan park. We booked a table at the Aussie Beef Steakhouse, which was walking distance across the road from our caravan park. As usual, we gave Dexter his dinner and settled him on the bed in Matilda, then walked over for dinner.
Our young waiter at the restaurant had no idea. We asked if the fish of the day was local, or at least coming from Queensland or northern NSW water. She had to ask someone in the kitchen, and came back saying that the fish of the day was Orange Roughy, which is the most unsustainable fish you can eat. We passed on the fish, but she said that the oysters were definitely local because they came from Tenterfield, which is on the New England Highway just over the border in NSW. Ian tactfully explained that was unlikely, as Tenterfield is about 200 km inland. Ian had a “pale ale” from another local brewery called Brass Monkey, but it was rubbish as it had no hops. However, the Heritage Estate Rabbit Fence Red wine was quite interesting, and not bad at all. Ian ended up with a medium rare steak, as it was supposed to be a steak restaurant, and he is pleased to report that it was very good—juicy, tender and tasty. All up, a mixed night, and a bit more expensive than we would expect from a restaurant that clearly skimps on training its staff or buying local seafood.
We woke to a crisp, clear Sunday morning. We had a simple breakfast of toast, then drove to the Stanthorpe Dairy for some serious cheese tasting. They are well set up for cheese tasting, and get very busy. The cheese is made on the premises from local milk. We were allowed to take Dexter onto the verandah where we had morning tea. Ian had a lovely milkshake, while Katie enjoyed a coffee. We bought up big with a variety of cheese.
Our next stop was Heritage Estate Wines, from where our red came from the previous evening. There are two cellar doors, but we stopped at the first one we came to, across the road from Vincenzo’s and the Big Apple. Ian did a full tasting, and found that all the wines were good. The Granite Belt wineries appear to promote a wide range of wines that are not generally grown in the more familiar wine regions. They call these Strange Birds. To be called a Strange Bird, a wine variety must represent no more than 1% of the total bearing vines in Australia. They did not have any of the Rabbit Fence Red available for sale, but Ian bought a mixed half dozen bottles, including a nice tawny port and a 2018 Wild Ferment Marsanne (one of the Strange Birds) that is expected to age beautifully over the next 5 years.
As it was coming up to lunch time, we parked at the Suttons Juice Factory in the hope of getting some food, trying some apple cider, and enjoying some apple pie for which this place is renown. Unfortunately, the place was packed with people with similar plans, and there were very few wait staff. After using the facilities, Ian worked out that it would be dinner time before we were able to get any attention, so for the second time in two days we left an establishment empty handed due to its inability to cope with customers.
We drove south, past the centre of Stanthorpe, and came across the Jam Works. This has a fenced verandah where you can sit with a dog. We had a haloumi burger (Ian) and a beef burger (Katie) with chips for what had become a somewhat late lunch, and we felt quite satisfied. Surprised at the lack of local brews, Ian tried an Old Man Pale Ale from Victoria, which wasn’t bad (at least you could taste hops). This place had a well organised system to cope with a huge influx of tourists wanting lunch—service was fast, and the people were helpful. Ian wonders why some places struggle to service their customers? He is also perplexed why tourist oriented places like this do not co-operate with other local businesses and sell some local drinks rather than going to all the hassle of importing from interstate?
Back at the Top of the Town, all three of us had an afternoon snooze on the bed. We were still full after our substantial lunch, so we knocked off some cheese and biscuit leftovers in lieu of dinner. We watched TV, and for the first time on the trip had some of the hot drinking chocolate that we had taken away.
The temperature dropped to 10 degrees on early Monday morning, so the heater went on again. We had cereal for breakfast, and then left the caravan park a little after 9:00 am. We filled up with fuel, and then bought some lunch material from Stanthorpe’s Aldi supermarket.
We headed south down the New England Highway towards home, but we decided to have one last night away—in Tamworth, NSW.
We had two objectives for spending some time in Toowoomba. Firstly, Ian wanted to check out Winjana RV, a small company that makes relatively small fifth wheelers. As we own a D-Max ute, it would be possible to remove the canopy, install a mount in the tub, and tow a fifth wheeler. Fifth wheelers are rare in Australia, but we believe they are very popular in North America. Most fifth wheelers you see are large, and some huge with triple axles and towed by trucks. Many horse trailers are fifth wheelers. They are supposed to be easier to tow than a caravan, and the attachment over the rear axle of the tow vehicle (rather than via a towbar behind the tow vehicle) means that any tow vehicle can legally tow a heavier fifth wheeler than a caravan.
We have found that Matilda the motorhome has been a fairly comfortable mobile home while we have been travelling on sealed roads between home and Cooktown. We are mindful that long lengths of unsealed roads would stress the vehicle significantly, and we have found that loose surfaces combined with uphills are challenging, if not dangerous. A fifth wheeler made for Australian rough roads, and our D-Max would not have these issues, and we would have the added advantage of being able to uncouple the fifth wheeler while we explore an area in the ute.
The second objective was to catch up with a colleague that we both knew from the Geological Survey of NSW in the 1980s. Rob Barnes retired shortly before Ian returned to the Geological Survey in 2011. Rob and his wife lived only a few kilometres away from us near Maitland in the Lower Hunter Valley. However, shortly after we bought our house, Rob moved away to Toowoomba to be closer to family.
We aimed to camp for two nights in the Toowoomba Showground. However, we also scheduled to drop into Winjana RV in North Toowoomba early on Thursday afternoon to have a look at their smallest model—the Strzelecki 550. There are four main models ranging from 5.95 m long to 8 m long. The Strzelecki 550 is at the smaller end of the spectrum, and the model number refers to an internal length of 5.50 m. It has a single axle and the tare weight is 1800 kg.
At Winjana RV we met Louise, who Ian had spoken with on the phone. She was expecting us, and showed us several fifth wheelers, including a secondhand Strzelecki 550, and a Strzelecki 550 that was being built. It appears that each fifth wheeler is custom made in terms of layout and features. They are entirely made on site by two blokes—Royce and Andrew—and we also spoke with Royce.
By this stage of our travels, Ian believes that a small fifth wheeler would be the ideal vehicle in which to complete our lap of Australia. We took a few photos and went away with an invitation to provide a sketch of our required layout.
At the Toowoomba Showground, we found a good powered site near the lake. Ian arranged to meet up with Rob Barnes the next day.
Ian spoke with a couple parked near us with a Ford Ranger ute and a large, twin-axle fibreglass fifth wheeler. They were in the process of having a second, lazy axle installed on their ute, as they felt that their fifth wheeler was too heavy for the ute’s current single axle. This meant removing the tub from the ute and installing a tray to accommodate the second axle. Sounded like a big job, but we were not going to be around to see the result.
We enjoyed minestrone soup fortified with pumpkin and feta ravioli, and sparkling shiraz for dinner. We did not have any TV reception, probably due to being in a low spot, so we played some music before hitting the sack.
On Friday morning, Rob Barnes tracked us down in his maroon 80 Series Landcruiser which he has owned for over 20 years. We showed him over the motorhome and had a good chat. Rob made a comment along the lines that we had a big kitchen on wheels. Katie volunteered to stay back with Dexter and work on our travel blog, while Ian went out with Rob for a drive around the Toowoomba area.
Toowoomba sits on the Great Dividing Range at 600-700 m above sea level. On a cloudy, sometimes drizzly day, Ian got to see the new privately built international airport, the new motorway through the Great Dividing Range, and Picnic Point with a view towards Brisbane. Older parts of Toowoomba have heritage houses like Rob’s. The city is still growing, with several new developments like we have in the Maitland area. Toowoomba appears to have a fair amount of local industry to support employment and avoid the need for commuting to Brisbane. The central business district has numerous cafes, but Rob laments the lack of restaurants and misses those in the Hunter Valley.
We stopped at Aromas for coffee and cakes, and we then returned to Matilda, Katie and Dexter. Rob headed home, and Katie and I went off shopping at nearby Woolworths.
Back at the Showground, we met Lyn and Barry who helped Ian fill the water tank. They kindly gave Ian one of their spare keys for the water door—ours has fallen down the back of a bulkhead and is irretrievable, along with the key to the external shower. They also opened the external shower door with a key marked CH751, which we should be able to pick up from a locksmith. This was another special encounter with top people.
We had chicken schnitzel and coleslaw for dinner, then another early night.
It was a cold night, so Ian turned on the heater around 4:00 am on Saturday morning. We both showered in Matilda, then enjoyed a breakfast of fried eggs and tomato on wholemeal English muffins. Having achieved both of our objectives for Toowoomba, we left the Showground, a little later than planned, and headed down the New England Highway for Stanthorpe in the chilly Granite Belt of Queensland.
We had booked a powered site at the Ups N Downs Farmstay, which is on the Carnarvon Developmental Road 5 km north of Roma. When we arrived in the afternoon, we could see that it was very dry. Robby Taylor runs this property with his wife, and we understand that it is up for sale. We set up camp and had a look around.
The bathroom facilities are clean and functional. There are 4 small bathrooms, each with a shower and a toilet. There is a fire pit and a rough but functional camp kitchen.
The place is littered with old trucks. One was turned into a simple water feature, and anther held up a sign, but we felt that they could have been presented in a more interesting way. If our friend Grant is interested in acquiring another old truck, this could be the place to go.
One of the more attractive features of the place was a large fuel tank painted on both sides with fabulous murals. One depicts horse racing, and the other is of a B-double fuel tanker presumably owned by Robby Taylor. Perhaps the murals are painted on one of the tanks of that truck?
At 4:30 pm, a bell is rung to signal that happy hour has commenced. Ian suggested that we should start doing that at our place, but Katie wasn’t too sure. Happy hour is held around a fire pit in front of the camp kitchen. We prepared a plate of nibbles and brought it along to share, but apparently this is not done—people are meant to just bring themselves and a drink, and an optional snack for themselves only. We had a very convivial happy hour around only the second open fire we had experienced on our trip.
Now to digress slightly. Four years ago, although it does not seem that long, we did our tag-along trip to the Kimberleys. Our preparations for that trip included buying a packet of dehydrated lamb casserole with mashed potatoes to eat as emergency rations if we got stuck somewhere. It is the sort of meal you would take on an overnight hike across the Bogong High Plains or Cradle Mountain. Needless to say, we did not need it, and it travelled home with us. We have taken it with us on more recent, shorter trips, including to Fraser Island, and always brought it home. It had gone with us on this trip in Matilda, and Ian felt that we should try it to see what we had been missing. We cooked it up according to the instructions on the packet—add hot water and wait a bit—and accompanied the reconstituted lamb casserole and mashed potatoes with real zucchini from Yungaburra. “Very reasonable” was Katie’s verdict. We did have some other food we could have cooked up if necessary, but we felt quite satisfied with our hiking tucker.
At Happy Hour, we learned about Bentley the pet pig. It had been raised on the farm from a piglet, and it was presumably very friendly despite being a razorback, or coming from feral stock. On Thursday morning, Ian took Dexter for a walk in search of Bentley. We found him in his own paddock, and indeed he was very friendly. Dexter was very keen to have a play. However, his tusks made him look rather fearsome, so Ian decided against giving him a pat.
We got away about 8:00 am, which is quite early for us. We filled up Matilda with delicious diesel in Roma, and set off for Toowoomba in an easterly direction along the Warrego Highway. It was a bright sunny day, but a strong, cold headwind noticeably increased our fuel consumption. We noticed that the road surface improved as we entered southeast Queensland.
We had originally planned to drive the Gregory Developmental Road from Charters Towers to Emerald and find a caravan park or cheap stopover in Emerald for one night. However, a couple we met at the roast dinner the previous night recommended a caravan park a little past Emerald on the shores of Lake Maraboon. Until then, we had not heard of that lake.
On Monday morning, we left Charters Towers and drove through grassy woodland. It then became drier as we proceeded south. Ian noted the lack of rest areas on this road, despite it obviously being a popular route for long distance travellers. The land greened up again around Clermont and Capella, which is a coal mining area. We stopped briefly for a driving break just north of Clermont, then stopped again at Clermont itself for a pie and the use of good toilet facilities. While there, we booked a night at the Lake Maraboon Holiday Village.
We stopped at Emerald for fuel after having driven 474 km from the previous night’s caravan park. It was only another 18 km or so until we saw the impressive Lake Maraboon and drove across the Fairbairn Dam wall. We reached our destination in time to book a table at the licensed restaurant at the caravan park. Although we had planned to cook, the idea of sitting in a restaurant instead was very attractive after a long drive. We had to pick from the menu at the same time as booking, so Ian chose the Red Claw pad Thai while Katie chose the sweet and sour chicken.
We set up camp and fed Dexter, then settled Dexter on the bed in Matilda while we walked up to the restaurant. Ian had some Red Claw beer from the tap, which was nothing to rave about. Both of our meals were big and delicious, but Katie could not finish hers. The restaurant was packed. The large holiday village is about 20 km south of Emerald, where the nearest shops and presumably restaurants are, so with a reputation of good food, the restaurant is bound to do well.
As you can see from the above sign and offerings in the restaurant, Maraboon Lake is renowned for Red Clay Crayfish. This is a relatively large fresh water crayfish that is native to tropical Queensland, the Northern Territory and south-eastern PNG, but it is tolerant to a broad temperature range that has facilitated its range spreading to all other parts of Australia except Tasmania. Signs near the lake indicate that the species is considered invasive in this water body, and therefore you do not need a fishing licence to catch them and there is no minimum size limit. However, somewhat inconsistently, there is a bag limit of 40. We understand that there are also commercial Redclaw fisheries. It is a pity that carp are not as tasty.
Back in Matilda after dinner, we could not get any TV reception. We decided two things: (1) We would stay another night and have a rest day tomorrow—cannot get too much rest! (2) We would complain about the TV reception as we had just missed the ABC’s Q&A for the first Monday night of the trip. We had a cup of tea and an apple turnover we bought at Clermont, and hit the sack earlier than usual.
On Tuesday morning, Dexter enjoyed his first swim for quite a long time. Lake Maraboon water was brown, but Dexter didn’t mind. Katie made breakfast for a change—grilled avocado, tomato and cheese on toast.
We sorted photos and did some chores in the morning. Ian was able to borrow a TV coaxial cable to plug a TV into so we could access the TV network in the park, which was a first for us.
We had lunch of leftover lamb kebabs with couscous. Some noisy birds would hang around and stir up Dexter, but we forgot to ask the locals what they were. Since originally posting this, one reader, Sharon, identified them for us as Apostle Birds. The name arises from them commonly hanging out in groups of 12. They are also known as CWA birds because of their constant noisy chatter, which is very apt. Thank you Sharon.
In the afternoon, Dexter went for another swim, and this time Katie came down to the lake for a walk.
After playing guitar for a half an hour, we sat outside and relaxed with a drink. It was nice to watch the different vehicles enter the park for the first time. We noted that most motorhomes were towing another vehicle, either on an A-frame or on a car trailer. Readers may find this next bit hard to believe, but it is true–you just can’t make this stuff up! We recalled that we had made a very considered decision to tow nothing behind Matilda, and we were thankful for that decision. However, Ian commented that if he was going to tow anything, the ideal vehicle to tow would be a Mini Moke. A few minutes later, a large Jayco motorhome pulled in with a bright green Californian Moke with full canvas covers on a car trailer. Ian could not help but go over to speak with the couple who owned it, once they had some time to set up camp.
There was an enthusiastic discussion about Mokes, our adventure on Magnetic Island, and how RV manufacturers are generally terrible at providing service to their customers when they are travelling. The Moke’s owners’ one year old Jayco motorhome had stopped charging the house batteries, so they were now dependent on powered sites. It was probably going to be a challenge to get this fixed on the road. This would have certainly taken the gloss off our trip if it had happened to us.
Ian’s new friends also mentioned that they had stayed at a farmstay near Roma on the previous evening, and recommended it. They said that they liked supporting the farmers who also accommodate travellers, and their traditional farming business was being challenged with the drought.
Ian put his mind onto options for accommodation the next evening at Roma. The farmstay mentioned by the Moke owners was about 10 km out of the way, but another farmstay called Ups N Downs was on the Carnarvon Developmental Road 5 km north of Roma. A quick phone call to Ups N Downs received a positive response, so that was sorted.
We made pumpkin and feta pasta with garlic, zucchini, pine nuts and olive oil for dinner. This went down beautifully with the rest of the Hope Estate Cracker.
Like the caravan park at Charters Towers, this place organises functions during some evenings. Tonight was to be a guitarist and singer performing in the camp kitchen. We intended to go along, but Ian was rather tired after a big “rest” day, and Katie was keen to focus on writing up our travel blog. Dexter was also exhausted after two swims. We did hear him from within Matilda, where it was also a bit warmer. We watched some TV using the coaxial cable, which worked fine.
We got away after 9:00 am on Wednesday morning and made a detour to have another look at Fairbairn Dam. We found a great lookout not far from the caravan park, so we did not have to go much out of our way. We talked about coming back here to try our luck at fishing and catching some Redclaw.
The above three photos are looking south, from east to west.
Back to the main road, we turned Matilda’s bonnet south towards Roma and closer to home.
We had decided to head home to the Lower Hunter Valley via an inland route that passed through Charters Towers, Emerald, Roma, Toowoomba, then along the New England Highway through Stanthorpe and Tamworth. After we left Mena Creek, we had to backtrack along the Bruce Highway from just south of Innisfail to Townsville, but we then turned southwest to Charters Towers. Between Mena Creek and Townsville we passed lots of flowering sugarcane fields and banana plantations. The landscape became drier as we drove inland.
We arrived at the Big 4 Aussie Outback Oasis Holiday Park in Charters Towers at 2:50 pm, which was nice an early. We generally aimed to arrive at our destination by 4:00 pm so we had plenty of time to settle in before dark.
We set up on our large, flat site, then relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. We joined up for the $15 per person roast dinner that the staff put on in the Bushman’s Kitchen. It was also time for Game 2 of the State of Origin, and there was a large screen set up on which to project the game. We had our first fire of the trip, our last bottle of Hope Estate Cracker was cracked, and we were set for a good night.
The roast was excellent, and Ian went back for seconds on both the main and dessert. Awesome value! The first half of the State of Origin was very exciting. Recall that in Game 1, NSW started well, but as is so often the case, Queensland came back in the second half to win convincingly. We were hoping that NSW would be able to keep up the momentum throughout the whole of Game 2, and we were not disappointed. In the first half, NSW would not let Queensland out of their own half. Although we were sitting right beside the open fire, it was a very cold night, so at half time we retired to Matilda to watch the second half in bed with Dexter between us. NSW ended up thrashing Queensland—a rare spectacle!
On Monday morning we had smashed avocado and cheese on toast for breakfast, then got away from the Aussie Outback Oasis around 9:20 am. We would strongly recommend this caravan park, and would stay there again anytime. We were in for a long drive to Emerald, with the aim of checking out a caravan park at Lake Maraboon that a couple recommended to us on the previous evening.
Paronella Park is well signposted. We approached from the north, passed the entrance, crossed Mena Creek and stopped just past the Mena Creek Hotel according to instructions Ian received on the phone. We had already bought tickets to Paronella Park on Wednesday, and these included one night camping in the grounds behind the hotel called the Paddock. We rang up while stopped at the gate, and were directed to powered site number 8, the last of the powered sites. We had an almost level, grassy spot. The Paddock campground is huge, with some areas set up with drive through sites, but most of the area was just grass. There are no facilities, so vehicles are expected to be self-contained. We understand that there is another caravan park adjacent to Paronella Park with more facilities, but this was full when we rang a few days earlier. We ended up getting the last of the eight powered sites at the Paddock.
As it was about noon, we quickly set up camp, left Dexter in his pen, and went to the hotel for lunch. Our Site 8 was next to the back gate to the hotel, which was very convenient.
For lunch, Ian had kransky, sauerkraut, mash and salad, which was a bit unusual, but OK. There were two beers on tap from the Red Dragon Brewery in Cairns. The Pale Ale was not a pale ale at all—it had no detectable hops. The Mena Premium Lager was better, even though Ian generally finds lager rather bland.
After lunch, all three of us walked down to the entrance of Paronella Park, about 250 m away from the hotel. There is an impressive suspension bridge over Mena Creek. This was built by the Army as an engineering exercise. Ian was very keen to walk across it, Katie was not quite as enthusiastic, and Dexter would not have a bar of it, so we crossed the road bridge instead.
We met Mark Evans, one of the owners of Paronella Park, on the front deck. The arrangement was that we could take Dexter and leave him to be looked after on the front deck while we toured the park. Mark was welcoming, and Dexter didn’t seem to mind as he nicely sat on a mat while we went inside to register.
We registered for the next daylight tour, and were also allocated to an evening tour which was part of the package. The receptionist even booked a table for us for dinner back at the hotel after the evening tour. Paronella Park and the Mena Creek Hotel are owned by the same people, so there is a lot of co-operation between the two businesses.
We had some time to fill before our 2:00 pm tour, so we had coffee ((an) and tea (Katie). Both were local products, and as the tea was particularly good, we bought some leaves to take away.
Our guide for the afternoon was Yana. She related the story of Paronella Park as we were taken around the site. We also learned that Mena Creek is named after someone called Philomena.
The story of Paronella Park in brief:
José Paronella left his homeland in Catalonia, Spain and arrived in the town of Innisfail in Queensland in 1913. He planned to create a splendid life for himself and his fiancée Matilda, who was back in Spain. He worked hard for 11 years in the sugar cane industry and prospered. While travelling he discovered a virgin forest alongside spectacular Mena Creek Falls and instantly believed this was a perfect place for his dream. On returning to Spain, he found that Matilda had already married someone else, so he sailed back to Australia with Matilda’s younger sister, Margarita, as his bride.
By 1929, José had purchased 13 acres (5 hectares) of beautiful forest near Mena Creek to start building his dream Spanish castle. Initially, a 47 step staircase was built to shift building materials between the lower and upper level. The staircase is still used to provide access between the two levels by visitors. A cottage to live in was hand built out of stone.
José Paronella’s main Castle was inspired by childhood memories of Catalonian castles. Over time, he constructed an entertainment area, a movie theatre that transformed into a ballroom, tennis courts, a picnic area by the falls, a pavilion with turret-topped balconies with views to the falls, refreshment rooms, changing facilities for swimmers, and the Tunnel of Love as a shortcut to Teresa Falls. More than 7,000 trees were planted including an avenue of Kauris surrounding the Paronella family’s home. A museum with a collection of coins, pistols, dolls, timbers and interesting keepsakes was also established.
José constructed North Queensland’s first hydro-electric generator to power the park in 1933, and the castle grounds were opened to the public in 1935.
Unfortunately, Paronella Park has suffered the effects of floods, storms and fires. In 1946, a flood brought a mass of logs through the park, destroying the refreshment rooms. The Paronellas repaired the damage, and the park re-opened six months later.
José passed away in 1948, leaving Margarita, daughter Teresa and son Joe. José‘s wife and descendants ran the park until 1977, when it was sold outside the family. In 1979, a fire swept through the Castle, leaving only the walls and the turret. In 1986, Cyclone Winifred hit the park and caused further damage.
In 1993, Mark and Judy Evans bought the park with the view of reviving José’s dream. They did a lot of work to repair aspects of the park, but Cyclone Larry in 2006 set them back. The hydro generator was refurbished in 2009 and is still used to satisfy all the park’s power requirements. Cyclone Yasi hit in 2011, but the dream continues more strongly than ever under Mark and Judy’s ownership.
In 2017, Paronella Park won the People’s Choice and the Gold Tourist Attraction in the Queensland Tourism Awards. Paronella Park is also ECO certified for Advanced Ecotourism, it is a Green Travel Leader, and a Climate Action Business. Rather than trying to refurbish the old, crumbling buildings, which would ultimately be futile, the focus today is on conservation of the buildings and other features of José’s dream.
At the end of the tour, we were left to ourselves, and we went to all the water sites and fed the eels, black bream, jungle perch and turtles with fish food we were given. Ian couldn’t believe the amount of fish in Mena Creek.
We went back to the front deck and had a sneak peak of Dexter, who looked very relaxed. We greeted him, and spoke with a woman who had taken over from Mark. It might have been Mark’s wife, Judy. She said that Dexter was the best dog she has had on the deck for a long time. It is hard to resist bragging about our boy!
We walked back to our campsite and whiled away a couple of hours. We fed Dexter and settled him in Matilda, then caught the shuttle bus outside the hotel for the 250 m ride back to Paronella Park for our evening tour. Our tour guide this time was a Canadian called Lexus. He projected his voice particularly well. We were each given a small torch. There were a lot of people touring at night at the same time, but it was very well co-ordinated. We went around all the places that we had went on the daytime tour, but the lights provided a very different experience. The falls looked particularly spectacular. At a couple of places away from the lighting we were able to see fireflies in the treetops when all the torches were switched off.
The climax of the tour was a fabulous concert by three of the four members of the String Family in front of the Lower Refreshment Rooms. The family comprises Joel (Dad) on cello, Sarah (Mum) on violin and vocals, Heath on cello and Ashleigh on violin. They play a wide range of music, and on the night they played one of Sarah’s own compositions. Unfortunately, Joel had a fall and hit his head a little while ago. He came onsite for one musical piece with the aid of a walking stick. We were told later that he has just started playing music again. We bought a CD of the String Family playing Celtic music.
As we handed back our torches at the end of the night tour, Mark gave everyone a little pink bag with a small piece of José Paronella’s Castle. It is concrete that was hand mixed by José in 1930, and part of a wall that came down in Cyclone Larry in 2006. Quite unexpected, as was the whole Paronella Park experience.
We were also given a ticket for us to have free admission to Paronella Park for the next two years, and one night’s free camping in the next 12 months. We immediately had thoughts of dropping in next year if we head north for the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s landings in Queensland. We would definitely do the tour of the hydro-electric plant if we come back.
We took the shuttle bus back up the hill to the hotel, and checked on Dexter. We had a table booked, which is just as well because the pub was full on the Saturday night, especially with what appeared to be a hen’s party down one end. We were well looked after by Christie from Hong Kong. Ian had the Mena burger, while Katie had an Asian basket—both went down well after another big day of adventures. The party girls kept the jukebox going with classic rock music, so it was an enjoyable Saturday night at the pub.
On Sunday morning, we managed to get away after breakfast around 9:00 am. Our route took us back to the coast just south of Innisfail, then south to Townsville. We had stopped again at Cardwell beach for coffee, and Dexter had another brief paddle in the water. A guy came up and told Ian that a couple of Labradors had been swimming there recently, retrieving sticks thrown by their owner, but one dog was taken by a crocodile. The water was muddy anyway, so after Dexter had his feet wiped, we resumed our drive to Charters Towers.
The Atherton Tablelands is the hinterland west of Cairns in tropical North Queensland, centred on the town of Atherton. We visited the area twice. The first visit was on a trip from picking up Dexter in Cairns, through Kuranda and Mareeba (one night), on the way north to Cooktown on 12 and 13 June. The second visit was immediately after Cooktown on our way south when we stayed four nights at Atherton from 18 June.
On Wednesday 12 June, we stopped briefly at Kuranda to pick up some groceries at the IGA. We visited Kuranda and its famous market way back on our honeymoon in 1991, and we remember taking a very scenic, historic train from Cairns up to Kuranda. There is now a cable car called the Skyrail, so it would be awesome to take the train from Cairns up the range in the morning and the cable car down in the afternoon. Kuranda is a place we would like to explore more in the future.
Our objective on that Wednesday was the Kerribee Rodeo Campground just outside Mareeba. We had to get there by 4:00 pm to catch the people who run it. This was a nice, big grassy area with many powered sites. There were good facilities, including a dump point, but drinking water was limited. It was surprising that there were several dozen RVs camped there. We spent our first night back in Matilda after a week in our motel room at Port Douglas.
On his morning walk on Thursday, Ian let Dexter off the lead to play ball, but when Dexter got the scent of kangaroos he had to go back on the lead. We are not confident that Dexter would obey us and not chase kangaroos if he was off lead.
We drove a little back to Mareeba and stopped at Elgas, where Ronnie the manager confirmed that one of our gas bottles was empty. He put 4 kg of gas in it for only $13—much cheaper than at Bowen where we last filled a gas bottle. Ronnie even installed the gas bottle back in its place—great service!
With at least one full gas bottle, we headed north to Cooktown, which is the subject of the previous two posts.
On our way back from Cooktown on Tuesday 18 June, we again stopped at Elgas in Mareeba to fill the other gas bottle. Ronnie was there and again looked after us well.
At Ronnie’s suggestion, we stopped at Coffee Works in the hope of trying and picking up some local coffee. It was late in the day, but we were able to squeeze in a coffee, tea, chocolate and liqueur tasting. There is an amazing museum on coffee. We wanted to get to our caravan park in Atherton before dark, so we could not linger, but this is really worth stopping at. We bought some local coffee and tea, two types of chocolates, and a bottle of luscious Cocoa Crème Liqueur before resuming our drive south.
We checked into the Atherton NRMA Big 4 Woodland Caravan Park, and were given a top spot—nice and level, easy to reverse into, and a long way from neighbours. We had kanga bangers on Cooktown sourdough rolls for dinner, and Ian enjoyed a Cassegrain 2018 Sangiovese. We noticed the significantly cooler weather compared to Cooktown.
On Wednesday, we had a very slow day, being a bit tired after our travelling from Cooktown. We planned the next few days. Ian took Dexter to an off-lead dog park across the road from the caravan park. It had lots of balls available, as well as an agility course, but it was very difficult to get Dexter to focus on the agility equipment. We played fetching the ball, soccer and tug-o-war. Ian also checked out a roadside stall that had red papayas. We made pumpkin risotto from dinner—another culinary success! We took the opportunity to work on our travel blog.
After a good night’s sleep, we felt a lot brighter on Thursday. We checked out the How Wang Chinese Temple, which was just 500 m away from the caravan park. For $10 we were given a guided tour of the temple and old Chinese village by Lucy, who is a retired local teacher. Dexter was made welcome by Lucy. The temple is the last remaining building of a Chinese village called Cedar Camp, which was the precursor of the town of Atherton. The temple was built in 1903. Most of the artefacts in the temple came from China. Most of the Chinese moved away in 1920, but the land was eventually bought by a group of Chinese families. In 1979, the land and building were donated to the National Trust of Queensland.
The temple has a connection with Hong Kong, which brought memories of our attempt to visit the Wong Tai Sin Temple there. Yang Liang Chieh was the bodyguard commander to the last Emperor of the Southern Song Dynasty in China (1127 to 1280 AD). When the army fled Kowloon, Yang remained to organise defences. He died before the attack, but was later ranked among the gods for his courage and given the title Hou Wang, which can be translated as Prince Marquis. So, he was regarded as a god like Wong Tai Sin. The Hou Wang Temple is generally considered to be a Daoist temple, with Confucian and Buddhist influences.
Apart from the main building which was used to honour Hou Wang, other gods and ancestors, there is a community hall, a kitchen and a store. There is also a fascinating earth oven a short distance away—this was used to roast succulent pigs to feed large numbers of people attending major celebrations, for which the Chinese are generally renowned.
We lingered much longer at the Hou Wang Temple than we expected, so we had lunch at the adjacent Station Café. This appears to be an old railway station, and a train provides much of the seating. It was nice that Dexter was also welcome aboard the train, although he was not allowed on the timber veranda for some unexplained reason. Our curried pie (Ian) and chicken and mushroom pie (Katie) were made on the premises and were definitely First Class, while the coffee was beautifully hot.
We decided to go for a drive to nearby Herberton, which was an old tin mining area. We came across the Herberton Historic Village, and this became our third and last stop of the day. Also for the third time today, Dexter was welcome.
The historic village is a huge collection of buildings that have been brought together from all over the place to resemble an old town. We understand that there was a tin mine on the site, and there are some remnants of this. There is so much to see, you would need at least two days to see everything properly and have lunch at one of the old buildings. Ian has never seen so many old trucks, steam engines and cars. There is a huge working windmill that pumps water to a large tank.
We went into a library that was packed with old books. There were also boxes of records, and Ian pulled out one record at random. We had recently bought a T-shirt for Katie that depicts Star Wars Meets Abbey Road with four Stormtroopers on the pedestrian crossing. We could barely believe that this was an original Abbey Road album, and the record appeared to be in very good condition. Unfortunately, not for sale!
The afternoon was getting on, so we had little time to explore. We managed to speak with a guy who has restored and maintained a large amount of old printing equipment. We were impressed at the enormous amount of labour required to print a newspaper in the 1800s. We were told we could come back the next day, but we may drop in next time we are in the area.
All three of us had had a huge day, and dinner for Katie and Ian was a simple one of toast and jam, and a red papaya we bought from the roadside stall across the road.
After Dexter’s Friday morning constitutional, Ian bought coffees for a change from a van in the caravan park. The coffee was particularly good. The guy said he would be at Yungaburra Markets the next morning from 8:00 am, so that gave Ian the idea of making a small detour via Yungaburra on the way to Paronella Park. At Cooktown Caravan Park, we met a couple in a motorhome who were heading to Yungaburra, which they said was a particularly nice place to stay.
We had an easy day and looked after some chores and the travel blog. In the afternoon, Ian road the Trek mountain bike a total of 16 km along the Atherton Rail Trail to Tolga. This was an almost perfectly flat ride. Parking around Woolies was checked out during the ride.
After the ride, we drove into the Atherton CBD. At Pets to Pamper, we bought some frozen kangaroo tail for Dexter. We parked near Woolworths and did some substantial shopping. Back at camp, for dinner we had some mint and rosemary kebabs that we bought from a butcher outside Woolies, and pumpkin couscous. We realised that we were eating better on this camping trip than we usually do at home.
On Saturday, we were able to get away by 8:30 am by not having any coffee with breakfast. We found that Yungaburra is an RV Friendly town with marked RV parking along the road. However, after we parked, we found that the rest of the space assigned to RVs quickly filled up with conventional vehicles.
Yungaburra Markets are huge—definitely the largest we have seen for many years. After walking around the whole site, we failed to find our coffee guy from the Atherton caravan park. We ended up getting locally grown coffee from the Ulysses Coffee van. We have seen a few things marketed as Ulysses—this is a large blue butterfly that is common in tropical North Queensland and further north. The markets had abundant locally grown food, and we loaded up with zucchinis and bananas
We have been known to occasionally buy some art on our travels. On our trip to Venice in the mid 1990s, we bought a glass and gold artwork from Murano and were worried whether it would make it home in the post in one piece. More recently, we bought a large Aboriginal painting from Mowanjum near Derby in the Kimberleys, and we had similar worries. In both cases, our worries were unfounded, and we have this artwork proudly displayed in our home. We managed to avoid buying any paintings that were strongly marketed on our two cruises this year and last year, but at Yungaburra, Katie could not resist some copper art from Tony Batten the Copa Guy. She was particularly keen on two pieces that each included two mirrors, but Ian preferred a piece depicting a frog and G’day that he thought would look good in our entrance. There was some haggling, but we ended up walking away with all three pieces.
We dragged ourselves away from the Yungaburra Markets, although we could have stayed all morning, and headed south from the Atherton Tablelands for Mena Creek and Paronella Park.
When we reached Cooktown on the afternoon of Thursday 13 June, we had driven a total of 3,888 kilometres from home, The Sanctuary, at Rutherford in the Hunter Valley of NSW over 40 days. Except for the last segment from the Atherton Tableland to Cooktown, we had hugged the east coast of Australia. There is a coastal route from Mossman, just north of Port Douglas, to Cooktown, but the Bloomfield Track north of Cape Tribulation is for four-wheel drive vehicles only. The road from Mareeba to Cooktown is longer, but sealed all the way, and that is the one we took Matilda over.
Since Port Douglas, we had discussed our trip so far, and considered whether we wanted to continue with the next leg to Normanton and Kurumba in the Gulf of Carpentaria, and then the following leg to the Top End of the Northern Territory. We agreed that all three of us had had a wonderful trip full of adventures so far, but Ian and Katie were longing for the comforts of our home in the Hunter. Dexter, on the other hand, just seemed to live for each day. The thought of several more thousand kilometres of driving, with generally longer distances each day, was a bit daunting for Katie and Ian. Ian was having pain in his neck from driving, and we were unsure whether we would be able to get the awning fixed on the way. Otherwise, Matilda was going well, and we were all quite happy.
Ultimately we decided to head home after Cooktown, taking mostly an inland route through Toowoomba where we wanted to catch up with another Rob who was a work colleague from the Geological Survey, and Ian wanted to check out fifth wheelers at Winjana RV. We would still go to Victoria in October for the CMCA annual rally and then drop south to see friends in Melbourne, but the Top End, Lake Argyle, the WA coast, Margaret River, and the Nullabor Plan could wait for next year.
We really appreciate those readers and followers of our travel blog. We hope you enjoyed reading about our adventures as much as we have enjoyed reporting them.
We came to Cooktown for two reasons. Firstly, it is the most northerly town on the east coast of Australia that you can drive to by staying on the bitumen. Secondly, Ian wanted to learn about James Cook’s landing there in 1770 to repair the Endeavour after running aground on the Great Barrier Reef. Ian wanted to immerse himself in the history of the event. Be warned however, we have posted a lot on Cooktown as this place ended up greatly surpassing our expectations, and we stayed much longer than planned. We have broken Cooktown into two parts. This is Part 1 from Thursday to Saturday. Part 2 from Sunday to Tuesday follows.
We left Kerribee Rodeo Campground at Mareeba early in the morning, and after refilling a gas bottle at Elgas, headed north. We stopped at the Byerstown Range Lookout for lunch. It was a grey day, and there was not much of a view. The toilet was good, and there were some hanging signs with lots of interesting information about the area.
We arrived at Cooktown and were surprised to find that all caravan parks were full because we arrived just before the weekend of the annual Cooktown Discovery Festival held during 14 to 16 June. This year marks the 40th staging of the event that highlights Cooktown’s unique environment, heritage and culture, and commemorates James Cook’s landing and 48 day stay in 1770. We could not believe our luck, having also arrived a few weeks earlier in the town of 1770 in time for a similar event—the 1770 Festival. A re-enactment of Cook’s time here was scheduled for Sunday morning. When we let Grant and Jacqui know what happened, Jacqui recommended that we stay for that as she had seen it and was impressed.
We enquired at the Cooktown Caravan Park, where the manager indicated that a vacancy for a powered site for a motorhome will come up on Sunday 16 June. We had already found online a RV Rest Area at the local racecourse where we could stay for up to 3 nights for a donation to the amateur jockey club. We booked 16 June at the caravan park, and headed off for the racecourse, which was only a couple of kilometres from town. The RV Rest Area was quite full of vehicles, but there were some boggy areas. We found a spot that was high and dry, and we set up our camp with chairs, the table and the dog pen. Cooktown Council staff came around to check on campers to ensure that they do not overstay. They were friendly and helpful, gave us a program for the festival. They said that the RV Rest Area was likely to get packed over the weekend.
The program mentioned a cruise on the Endeavour River the next morning with a botanist from James Cook University of North Queensland. Ian was very interested, so Katie gave her permission for Ian to go, and she would stay onshore and look after Dexter. Ian made a phone enquiry, was told that the cruise was dog friendly—there was already another dog booked. It was a warm night with light drizzle at the RV Rest Area. We enjoyed Thai red curried prawns with pumpkin and coconut rice for dinner.
What a pleasant surprise to Katie when she stepped out from Matilda on Friday morning to see a beautiful rainbow at our campsite.
We laid out our table, chairs and Dexter’s pen to mark out our site at the RV Rest Area in the hope that we would still have a place to park when we returned in the afternoon after our river cruise. We parked at the wharf precinct, and met Nick from Riverbend Tours, Darryn Crane from James Cook University, and Sally the chocolate Labrador. The cruise boat was full, and we had a total of 29 people and 2 dogs.
Darryn led the Botanical Cruise up the Endeavour River, spoke about Joseph Banks and Dr Daniel Solander who explored the area when they landed in 1170. Joseph Banks financed the scientific team on Cook’s voyage around the world. He took with him Swedish botanist Dr Daniel Solander. They did a 3-day long boat trip up the Endeavour River, which was named by Cook. During their 48 days onshore in the Cooktown area, Banks and Solander collected 325 species of plants, but surprisingly no mangroves, which are the most common plant along the Endeavour River. Darryn indicated that the journals of Banks and Cook are available online.
Darryn mentioned that now Australia has 22 of the world’s 70 species of mangroves. Mangroves are grown in the intertidal zone of estuaries, are therefore flushed twice a day with seawater. They can cope with low oxygen and high salinity. Mangroves are an essential component of ecosystems that are the ultimate source of much of our seafood. Mangroves are also world champions at sequestering carbon dioxide—better than the same area of rain forests, although rainforests cover a much larger area of the world.
An interesting fact is that Solander and Banks did not see any coconuts during their time despite specifically searching for them. We are confident that coconuts were introduced into Australia from elsewhere. However, Australia has fossil coconuts 10 million years old.
We searched for evidence of crocodiles in the river, which reminded me of our fruitless crocodile search in the Daintree River on our honeymoon. We found tracks that are most likely to have been made by a crocodile, but we did not see any live crocs.
We had morning tea of blue berry muffins and feta and sundried tomato pesto tarts from the Driftwood Café with our tea and coffee. Dexter and Sally also enjoyed the cruise. This was a novel experience for Dexter, who Ian had to restrain to stop him diving into the water.
During the cruise, Darryn mentioned that he was also leading a botanically themed bushwalk the next morning. This was to start at Grassy Hill and finish in the Botanic Gardens. We met Tony Roberts, the curator of the Gardens, and asked him if we could take Dexter. Normally, dogs are not allowed in the conservation reserve, but he was prepared to turn a blind eye this time. It seemed that both Dexter and Sally were keen to go.
After the cruise, we walked around the main town centre and it was quite quiet. Stalls were setting up for the market. Ian was able to get a haircut in one of the hairdressing shops.
While we were walking around the parks near the riverbank, we met a young lady called Shadia from Chile who liked Dexter and wanted to play soccer with him. We enjoyed watching Shadia interact with Dexter. She is obviously a good soccer player. Katie took a short video and posted it on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/eitaknai/videos/2568067893204874/?t=42 .
Back at the RV Rest Area, our camp setup had not been touched, so we were able to slip back into our spot. That night, there were less RVs than the previous night, which was a bit surprising.
We were up early on Saturday morning, skipped breakfast, and met the shuttle bus to take us into the Botanic Gardens for our bushwalk. The driver had no problems with having Dexter on board, and Dexter behaved beautifully. We were pleased to be able to leave Matilda at the RV Rest Area so we were assured of keeping our camping spot. Eventually a crowd congregated at the Gardens, including Sally the chocolate Lab. Darryn and Tony arrived, and the shuttle bus took us in two groups to the lookout on the summit of Grassy Hill for photos. We understand that James Cook and Joseph Banks climbed the hill several times to get a good view of the coast and to help plan a safe route out through the reef.
We walked down the road to the start of the track to Cherry Tree Bay. There we found yet another useful plaque that depicted the HMB Endeavour beached against the bank of the river for repairs. We were happy that Cooktown proudly displayed its history to visitors.
After our briefing, Darryn led the walk while Tony backed up the rear. Darryn told us that Joseph Banks funded a scientific team of 10, including a geologist. This was particularly interesting to Ian who is a retired geologist. As the plaque at the start of the track depicts, the English befriended the Aborigines whom they called “Indians”. We would learn the full story at the re-enactment the next day. We made lots of stops to look at interesting plants.
When we arrived at the beach at Cherry Tree Bay, Dexter pulled Ian towards the water and had a splash at the water’s edge.
We then had a very steep uphill section at the start of the walk back to the Botanic Gardens. One old fellow struggled, and Tony stayed with him and saw him safely to the end. The main group also stopped at one spot, but we decided to walk ahead. We were caught in a light shower, but the activity kept us warm. We were the first ones to arrive back at the Gardens. We took the shuttle bus back to the town centre which was well alive with festival activities. We were so hungry and couldn’t resist the temptation of coffee and steaming hot donuts with zero nutritional value. Probably not the healthiest breakfast choice we could have made, but we deserved a reward after our three-hour strenuous bushwalk! We also ate the doughnuts while sheltering in the Navy stall during another shower.
We watched the street parade which was very entertaining. It was far from glamorous, but the people involved obviously enjoyed themselves. Unfortunately, we missed the street parade in the 1170 Festival.
We went to the Sovereign Hotel for lunch. There was no local brew, and Ian found the 150 Lashes was yuck—what is it that pubs do to make a good beer taste off? He had a glass of not bad chardonnay with a barramundi burger. while Katie had avocado quiche and salad. This was the bottom pub, and they had put on some local entertainers. The top pub featured more prominently in the festival program, but a clear sign out front indicated that dogs were not welcome at all. A sign at the Sovereign Hotel indicated that dogs were not allowed on the premises past it, but this left two tables in front of the sign, so that’s where we sat while Dexter slept under the table and nobody said a thing.
After lunch, we caught the shuttle bus back to the RV Rest Area where all three of us crashed for the rest of the afternoon. We have no recollection of what we did for dinner—we were probably too pooped to care! We settled in for our third and last night at the RV Rest Area, and again, to our surprise, there were fewer RVs than the previous night despite being in the middle of the festival.
We had a week in Port Douglas staying at the Sheraton Mirage for our honeymoon way back in February 1991—this was a wedding present from Ian’s brother, Alan, who worked there in Security at the time. We then spent a week at Silky Oaks in Mossman where we met long time friends Bill and Diane Holloway from Canada. We have many fond memories of that fortnight in North Queensland at the start of our married life together. In November 2010, we enjoyed another week at the Sheraton Mirage in Port Douglas, but we also discovered another resort with a great poolside restaurant where we had some drinks and meals.
A couple of years ago we became owners of the WorldMark South Pacific Club, which owns resorts in Australia and overseas. The Club works by issuing vacation credits annually, and they expire if not used. The Club owns part of the Ramada Resort in Port Douglas, so early this year we booked a motel room there for a week to give us a rest from the motorhome.
As we did not expect the Ramada to be able to accommodate Dexter, we needed to find doggy accommodation for this period. We left it rather late to organise this—during the drive from Townsville to Port Douglas. We found that the only advertised dog boarding available in the Cairns to Port Douglas area was the K9 River Retreat in Kuranda. This was kennel-free boarding, and it looked wonderful, but we did not think it was possible to drive there and still end up in Port Douglas before sunset. Ian booked it for Dexter from the Thursday, which meant we would have had an interesting drive to Kuranda that day.
We still needed to find a place for Dexter to stay on the Wednesday night, so in desperation, Ian rang a doggie daycare place in Cairns—Pupstars Daycare and Grooming. Pupstars confirmed that they did not do overnight boarding, but we were put in contact with Kim, who is associated with Pupstars and minds dogs in her home. Relieved, we arranged to drop Dexter off at Pupstars with all of his things, and Kim would call in later to collect him. This is indeed what we did, and we continued on to Port Douglas, no doubt with Dexter wondering what had just happened.
We checked into the Ramada Port Douglas, and were delighted to find that it was the resort we had found in 2010. We had to park Matilda on the grassy reserve on the street as there was not a large enough space in the carpark. At the time this did not seem ideal, but in the end it was fine and we had no problems.
We did several trips unloading our stuff from Matilda to our hotel room. Ian then moved his bike into the staff bicycle parking area. The hotel room we stayed in had minimal facilities with tea and coffee only. Katie was disgusted as there were not even any biscuits to go with a cup of tea. Normally, we have stayed in WorldMark accommodation that is self contained. At Port Douglas, we felt we needed a break from cooking, and that we could either go to restaurants, or still cook meals in Matilda. For this trip, we were using vacation credits that would otherwise have expired before we left home.
After we settled into our room at the Ramada, we spoke to Kim on the phone. She has two Red Kelpies at home and said that they would be good company for Dexter. Her daughter Grace can also mind Dexter if Kim is at work. Dexter appeared to have settled in well at Kim’s home, and so we arranged for him to stay for the rest of the week.
For readers who are not familiar with the State of the Origin games (maybe because they are unlucky to live in a country that is not Australia), this is an annual Rugby League contest between two rival Australian states—New South Wales (The Blues) and Queensland (The Maroons). The contest consists of three games, and every game is watched by most people in these two states, regardless of whether they are rugby league followers! Game 1 of the State of Origin between New South Wales and Queensland was scheduled for the first night of our stay at the Ramada. We decided to have dinner at the Ramada restaurant next to the pool to watch the game with other patrons of the Resort. Ian had a Hawaiian chicken schnitzel, while Katie had salt and pepper squid, which Ian mostly ate as the dish was too “salty” for her! We finished dinner earlier than expected, and retired to the comfort of our room to watch the game.
In the end, New South Wales lost to Queensland by 14 to 18 even though NSW played well in the first half. This has been the usual result over the last decade. For some reason, the Queenslanders seem to have more stamina to play the full game than NSW.
Our friends Grant and Jacqui from North Arm and Jacqui’s parents, Ron and June, had arranged to stay in Port Douglas for a few days to celebrate Ron’s birthday from the day we were to check out from the Ramada. We had briefly met Ron and June a couple of years ago, and even considered dropping in to see them at Yorkeys Knob, which is on the north side of Cairns. As we eventually did not have the time to drop into Yorkeys Knob on our way to Port Douglas, we were keen to catch up with them before we headed for Cooktown.
On Thursday, we extended our stay at Ramada for one more night, making a total of seven nights, with no need to change our room. We then drove around Port Douglas to see what had changed since 2010. In short, not much! We drove Matilda to the northern end of Port Douglas Beach near the Surf Club and found a top parking spot opposite the beach. It was a grey, windy day, and there were not many people around. For a late lunch, Ian cooked a Thai style chicken chow mien inspired by Jacqui. It was so relaxing on a cloudy day to eat our lunch inside Matilda, well out of the wind and occasional shower, with a view of a serene beach almost all to ourselves!
One of the characteristics of WorldMark South Pacific Club properties is that owners are invited to attend an “update” on the club early in their stay. Vouchers and wine are usually offered as enticement, but these “updates” are really sales pitches designed to sell you more vacation credits. Our meeting with one of the sales representatives was held on Friday morning. We have 12,000 vacation credits, and we were strongly urged to buy more to bring our total to 20,000 and enable us to enjoy more privileges. However, we are happy with what we have, and dug our heels in for over two hours. We spent the rest of the morning writing up our blog. Ian took the opportunity to practise his guitar and uke, strumming in our hotel room. Ian’s playing has improved tremendously through much practise, while Katie’s playing has relapsed through lack of it!
On Friday night, we slummed it by having dinner at the Ramada restaurant. Ian could not resist the crocodile (spring) rolls—they were OK, tasted unsurprisingly like chicken.
We still felt slack on Saturday, so we had breakfast at the Ramada restaurant where Ian became intrigued with a pancake making machine. He made the trip’s second Canadian breakfast of pancakes with bacon and maple syrup.
We spent much of Saturday morning exploring the shops in the town centre. We bought a hat each, had a drink in the Rattle ‘N” Hum. Ian checked out a bottle shop and found some local beer on offer, which he just could not walk past. In Matilda, while parked with a view of the river, we cooked lamb cutlets and served them with an Italian salad for our main meal of the day. Ian tried the Hemmingway XPA and was pleased to find it very hoppy—excellent! It just couldn’t get much better. Back in our motel room, Ian played more guitar and uke.
We sprang out of bed relatively early on Sunday morning and drove to the Port Douglas markets. We found a great parking spot, then a coffee van that used locally grown coffee beans, and then a brekkie van where we enjoyed egg, bacon and avocado rolls. We lapped up the market life.
The market was large and has a variety of stalls selling produce specific to North Queensland such as paw paw, dragon fruit, sugar cane juice, custom jewellery, sun dresses, etc. We bought lots of sugarcane juice from Bruno, who has been at the Port Douglas market for many years—we think we bought juice from him in 2010. Sugarcane juice must really be the nectar of the gods!
Katie bought Ian a T-shirt with a Big History theme, while Ian bought Katie one that depicts Star Wars Meets Abbey Road. Ian taught a Big History course to the University of the Third Age in Maitland last year—this is a short history of everything since the Big Bang!
Katie went to a Sunday community worship service at the cute little St Mary’s by the Sea church. Meanwhile, Ian conducted research into tropical beverages at Hemingway’s Brewery at the Marina.
Ian’s research had an interesting result. As usual, the tasting paddle was organised to taste the beers in an increasing order of hoppiness (very similar to happiness for a lover of pale ale), with the 5th beer being the XPA, which is called Doug’s Courage. Ian was surprised that the taste of the XPA from the tap in the paddle was nothing like the same XPA he bought in cans the previous day.
Apparently, Hemmingway’s at Port Douglas has been so successful, that the owners have opened a brewery in Cairns, and now most of the beer is brewed in Cairns. The waiter was not able to say which beers were brewed where. Ian was not able to get an explanation of why the XPA was so different between the tap and the cans.
We had lunch at the Court House Hotel, where Ian finally got a chance to have an “original” XXXX Bitter. Unfortunately, it came in a stubby rather than out of the tap. Ian remembers when this was the most popular beer in Queensland, but now that title goes to XXXX Gold light beer. It had been many years since he had tried XXXX Bitter, but felt that the current offering in the stubby had changed, not for the better. For lunch, Ian thoroughly enjoyed a Coral Sea(food) curry, while Katie picked at a lovely Vietnamese chicken and prawn salad and took most of it away.
We drove to the Marina and found empty shops and the place devoid of tourists, apart from Hemmingway’s and another restaurant facing the river. We spoke with a lady in a shop from which we bought some stuff back in 2010. She said that the last couple of years have been very poor, with very few tourists. We can remember back in 1991 when the Marina was part of the Sheraton-Mirage Resort, and it buzzed with visitors, especially people from Japan.
We had a rest day at the Ramada on Monday. Ian had a touch of the trots, probably due to the previous day’s seafood curry. However, by the evening, Ian was feeling good again, and we decided to have another dinner by the pool. Ian just could not go past the goat curry, which was one of the specials on offer and triggered happy memories of his trek in Nepal, while Katie had a huge battered mackerel with chips and salad.
During our week at the Ramada, Kim updated us on Dexter. He was getting along well with the Red Kelpies, and Kim managed to get Dexter to accept wearing a coat. Later, Dexter also had a new doggie friend that looks like a Labrador cross. He made himself at home with Kim’s daughter, Grace.
On Tuesday morning, Ian played more uke and guitar. He was getting pretty good at the songs he got from Rob in the Gold Coast. He could play some of the songs on both instruments.
We met up with Grant and Jacqui, and Jacqui’s parents Ron and June, for dinner in the Court House Hotel on Tuesday evening. Everyone liked Ian’s latest science-based T-shirt and Katie’s new Star Wars Meets Abbey Road T-shirt. Ian steered clear of the seafood curry and chose the relatively safer option of a steak, while Katie again ordered the Vietnamese salad.
Ian explained that we had not been very adventurous while at Port Douglas for the past week. We did not even venture from the town. Ian spent a lot of time playing his ukulele and guitar in our motel room, and has mastered many of the songs he received from Rob in the Gold Coast. However, one song that he could not get out of his head was The Green, Green Grass of Home, which he was singing and playing on both the uke and the guitar. It was actually becoming a serious problem, and Ian was having sleepless nights as a result. He mentioned this to one of the staff at the Ramada, who very kindly arranged an emergency appointment for Ian with her GP. We went to see the GP, and explained that Ian could not get The Green, Green Grass of Homeout of his head, even when playing other songs. The doctor told Ian that he had a condition known as Tom Jones’ Syndrome. Ian asked if it was common, and the doctor replied, “Its not unusual…” (Adapted from our good friend John H in Melbourne.)
The six of us had a very convivial evening. After dinner, Ron gave us a bag of large mandarins from his garden to enjoy on the rest of our trip. We also expected some grapefruit from Grant’s overproductive grapefruit tree, but there was some excuse about baggage limitations on the plane.
After having lazed around in Port Douglas for a week, Ian took the Trek mountain bike for a ride early on the last morning, Wednesday, north along the beach to wake up Grant. Grant was already up, so Grant and Jacqui grabbed bikes from their resort, and the three rode off and found coffee at The Little Larder. The coffee was good. They then rode south along the beach, and Grant and Jacqui accompanied Ian back to where Matilda was parked.
We packed up Matilda, checked out of the Ramada, and headed south to Cairns. We stopped on the way at the famous Rex Lookout for some happy snaps. We had another brief stop at Ellis Beach to eat our red dragon fruit that we bought the other day at the market. Dragon fruit is the fruit of a type of cactus, and we saw lots of it growing on the Sunshine Coast—even Grant has some growing up fence posts. We were more used to the white dragon fruit that is more common in Asia, but the red one was refreshing too.
We navigated to Kim’s work place, and we met Kim for the first time. Clearly, she had fallen in love with Dexter and the feeling was mutual. Sadly, we had to relieve her of Dexter, and we drove off to our next adventure in Cooktown.