Cooktown (Part 1), Thursday 13 to Saturday 15 June 2019

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.

Byerstown Range lookout and rest 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.

Rainbow at the racecourse

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, the botanist from James Cook University

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.

Looking for crocodiles among the mud and the mangroves
Possible crocodile tracks, or Aquaman
A peaceful life way upstream

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.

Dexter enjoyed the cruise

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: .

Statue of a gold miner to commemorate Cooktown’s 125th anniversary. Cooktown was established as a substantial port in 1873, 103 years after Cook’s landing, to support the Palmer River goldfield.
Memorial to Captain James Cook
The landing place of the HMB Endeavour was well marked

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.

Another informative plaque at the summit of Grassy Hill
Endeavour River from Grassy Hill lookout
Cooktown from Grassy Hill lookout

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.

Plaque at start of the track to Cherry Tree Bay
Briefing at the start of our botanical bushwalk, with Darryn holding the straw hat and Tony pointing the way to go

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.

Like Dexter, Sally the chocolate Lab enjoyed the bushwalk

Impressive nuts on an old cycad “tree”

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.

Cherry Tree Bay, where Dexter couldn’t help drawing attention to himself

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.

Sand sculpture by Dennis Massoud

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.

Port Douglas, Wednesday 5 to Wednesday 12 June 2019

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.

Ramada Resort Port Douglas
Ramada’s poolside restaurant with trees growing through the roof
The pool

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!

Matilda parked opposite the beach
A grey day at the beach, but the lifesaver remained on the lookout for idiots in the rough water
Thai style chicken chow mein

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!

Ian playing his guitar

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.

Risotto and crocodile spring rolls

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.

The latest must-have kitchen gadget—a pancake machine

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 river looking upstream towards the Marina
Good to see local coffee—from Mourilyan, near Innisfail
Top breakfast from this van

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!

Bruno the sugarcane juice man

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!

Ian’s new Big History T-shirt

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.

Katie coming out of St Mary’s by the Sea
Hemmingway’s tasting paddle
Tasting notes

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.

XXXX Bitter—the Original, but not the same

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.

Dexter in a tartan coat with his new Red Kelpie friends
Dexter with Kim’s daughter, Grace, and another doggie friend

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 Home out 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.

Grant, Jacqui, June, Ron and Katie after dinner. Katie Is wearing her Star Wars Meets Abbey Road T-shirt with four Stormtroopers using a pedestrian crossing.

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.

Brilliant morning for a beach ride on the Trek. No idea who the other rider is—he is just there for scale.
Jacqui and Grant on bikes on the beach
Grant and Ian preparing to do some trick riding

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.

The Rex Lookout on the Captain Cook Highway between Port Douglas and Cairns, looking south
Red dragon fruit

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.

Kim with Ian and Dexter, next to Matilda

Townsville, Sunday 2 to Wednesday 5 June 2019

Shortly after 2:00 pm on Sunday, we checked into the Townsville Lakes Caravan Park, which has ensuites available for all powered sites. It is next to a lake which has a concrete path around most of it for walking Dexter.

Castle Town Shopping World was almost next door, so Ian walked to Woolworths to buy some groceries. We were very tired, had leftovers for dinner. We cracked a pawpaw (papaya) we got from John, and it was delicious.

Dexter had his first walk around the lake on Monday morning. We had leftover spaghetti bolognaise on toast for breakfast to make more space in our fridge.

The need to fix the awning has become quite urgent as we travel up the Queensland coast. We drove to the Jayco dealership in Townsville enquiring about repair opportunities for Matilda. They were not interested as they were fully booked up for several weeks. There was nobody available to even look at the awning to see if it was a 5 minute job to fix. In Cairns it was the same situation. Our first opportunity to get a Jayco dealer to look at the awning would be at Mt Isa, and if not there, then Darwin. What appalling “service”, or total lack of it! Hard to believe that a business that sells recreational vehicles with “service” centres around Australia does not cater for people that need service as they are travelling.

John told us that Artie’s Music in Townsville had a baritone ukulele with guitar tuning. Ian had never seen one, and was keen to rectify that. So, we found the shop and Ian went in to enquire. He learned that the baritone uke could be set up with guitar strings or normal uke strings. There was also a bass uke with very fat strings. Very interesting music shop! He came out with some rubber plectrums, or picks, which John also mentioned was available, and some felt plectrums. We then had lunch at nearby Subway, which was out of convenience.

As Katie’s hearing aid batteries stock was running low, we headed for the Townsville branch of National Hearing Care, with which Katie has a battery supply contract. Soon she was stocked up for enough batteries to last another month or two. She also took the opportunity to buy a new pyjama set as her current pyjamas were damaged by one of the caravan park laundries.

In 1978, Ian was at Monash University planning a postgraduate geological research project on Heard and McDonald Islands, in the Southern Indian Ocean. The last geologist to visit Heard Island was Jon Stephenson from James Cook University in Townsville. In November that year, Ian took coaches from Sydney to Townsville to meet Professor Stephenson. He stayed one night in the Youth Hostel on nearby Magnetic Island, and the following day hired a Mini Moke and drove around the island with three other young people. Ian was keen to go back to Magnetic Island for a look. To our surprise, you can still hire a Mini Moke 41 years later. So, for Tuesday we planned to leave Dexter in nearby doggie daycare, take the passenger ferry to Magnetic Island, hire a Moke, and explore the tropical island again.

On Monday afternoon, while playing Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl on his uke along with Cynthia Lin’s video just outside the motorhome, Ian was invited to perform later in the week at a charity barbecue. Unfortunately, we were planning to be in Port Douglas during the barbecue, but he was humbled at the offer. We had takeaway pizza and a Hershey cookie from Pizza Hut that evening for dinner.

We woke up early on Tuesday in preparation for our trip to Magnetic Island. The weather was mild with sunny patches and cool breeze. After Dexter’s morning walk, we drove to Doptopia Retreat, a doggie daycare centre inside Green Cross Vet, just about a kilometre away from our caravan park. Dexter was very excited, but he was unaware that he would have a hydrobath from Dogtopia before we picked him up – Dexter hates baths!

Dogtopia Retreat

We drove to Breakwater Terminal, parked Matilda and bought concessional tickets for the SealLink ferry to Magnetic Island. The lady behind the counter was most helpful, and checked that our Moke that we booked yesterday was going to be available.

For its residents, Magnetic Island features a relaxed tropical lifestyle with quiet secluded beaches. Two thirds of the island are National Park, and the island is home to northern Australia’s largest colony of koalas living in the wild.

Sealink Ferry to Magnetic Island

The ferry from Townsville to Nelly Bay on Magnetic Island did not take long. When we arrived at Tropical Topless Car Rentals, our Mini Moke was around the back having a new battery installed. Katie was quietly excited when they entered the car hiring place believing that one of the topless brightly coloured minis will be their hired car! Ian was overjoyed when the Moke was eventually brought around to the front of the office, but Katie was less impressed when she saw a dark blue chassis on 4 small wheels, without doors or roof, only a speedo for a dashboard, and a skinny steering wheel. It rattled when the engine was started, and changing gears without crunching was a challenge, especially Reverse gear. Katie had not seen a Mini Moke before!

Ian in, or rather on, his 1980 Californian Mini Moke
Other mini topless cars–Katie’s preferred choice

Our vehicle was a 1980 Californian model, so it would not be the one that Ian drove in 1978. It was one of the last Mokes made in Australia (production ceased in 1981), and has had its original 1275 cc engine replaced with the standard one litre version. It was not cheap–$110 to hire for the day—but it was worth it for the nostalgic experience. Getting on board was a little trickier than Ian remembered from 1978.

We drove initially to Horseshoe Bay at the northern end of the island where we had breakfast of lovely coffee and banana bread at Adele’s Cafe. We met a talkative couple who were selling their house at Horseshoe Bay for $1.6 million. It had been on the market for a while. Ian saw a FOR SALE notice for a yacht for $78,000, which was more affordable, and started having thoughts of selling Matilda. Suitably caffeinated, we walked around and photographed the bay and the Moke.

Adele’s Cafe
Horseshoe Bay on a brilliant day

We then drove to Picnic Bay at the southern end of the island. The Picnic Bay Jetty is heritage listed and is an impressive structure. This is where Ian would have landed from the ferry in 1978, although there have been too many years since then for Ian to remember the details. Since then, a new ferry terminal has been built at Nelly Bay.

Picnic Bay Jetty
Is this really a problem?

Well established fig trees at Picnic Bay

Our next drive was back to Nelly Bay, where we settled down at SOS (Stuffed on Seafood) for a delicious lunch of crumbed Spanish Mackerel, chips and salad for Ian, and seafood chowder for Katie. Ian also tasted some Tropical Coast Pale Ale, which is brewed in Townsville.

Spanish Mackerel and seafood chowder
The local brew

We checked out the Island Living Centre which sells a broad range of unusual goods from old jewellery, antique clocks, second-hand furniture and crafts. Ian bought a pair of polaroid sunnies to use when he is wearing contact lenses.

Feeling energetic after lunch, we walked along Gabul Way from the Ferry Terminal at Nelly Bay to Geoffrey Bay. The mostly elevated walkway was a recent construction. Gabul refers to the local Aboriginal Dreaming story of how the islands off the Townsville coast were formed. According to the Dreaming, Gabul was a giant carpet python who carved the landscape while travelling from Herbert River through the Palm Island Group, up Ross River, and coming to rest at Magnetic Island. Gabul’s head can still be seen in the Arcadia headland.

Gabul Way

Geoffrey Bay is where scientists discovered in 1981 that many coral species reproduce on the same few nights. We also observed interesting circular, probably algal, structures in the shallow water, reminiscent of stromatolites.

Geoffrey Bay with circular algal structures, looking north to the Arcadia headland—Gabul’s head?

We drove back to Picnic Bay for Ian to have a Wild Yak at the pub while thinking about our top day on Magnetic Island. We then drove back to Nelly Bay, returned the Moke, and boarded the 5:10pm Sealink ferry back to Townsville.

We picked up Dexter from Dogtopia, still damp from his hydrobath. We were given a health report and a behaviour report on Dexter—his behaviour was reported to be Grreat!! We also were given a paw print painting by Dexter that showed about the same level of artistic talent as his dad, i.e. minimal. Dexter received a parting gift of a dog biscuit. We were delighted that they had taken such good care of our boy for the day, and we would not hesitate to recommend Dogtopia in Townsville.

Dexter’s paw print painting

We both had had a top adventure on Magnetic Island. Ian felt 23 years old again while driving the Mini Moke. Katie had mixed feelings–during her whole time on the Moke ride, she hung on tightly with both hands as if she was riding on the back of our motorcycle—but she was pleased to have had and survived the experience!

We went shopping at Woolies and filled up with fuel before returning to the caravan park. We ate leftover pizza, Hershey cookie, and pawpaw for dinner, prepared for an early departure the next morning, and had another early night.

On Wednesday, Dexter had another walk around the lake, including a short time off-lead to chase sticks. We were able to get away at 8:30 am, which was fairly early for us. We still had to arrange accommodation for Dexter while we were staying in our next destination—Port Douglas.


Bowen, Thursday 30 May to Sunday 2 June 2019

Our destination on Thursday was the Whitsunday Paradise Estate where John and Joy live–approximately 10 km south of Bowen. We met John and Joy on our cruise to Hong Kong, where John was an important part of our ukulele group. We also celebrated John’s 72nd birthday on the cruise.

We had arranged to park Matilda on a strip of grass opposite their house. It was an almost perfect spot for a campsite—high and quiet. John and Joy were out having lunch with Joy’s mother when we arrived, so we set up Matilda and had our own lunch. Whitsunday Paradise is a newly established community estate with lovely houses, many of them overlooking the serene waters of Port Denison, which is one of the bays in a larger coastal recess called Edgecumbe Bay. John and Joy’s house is 2-storey high, with an uninterrupted view from their deck of Bowen to the north across Port Denison.

John & Joy’s house with Matilda camped opposite
Coastal scene

They welcomed us to their house when they came home. We chatted and played ukulele on their veranda. As their house is full of artistic and crafty creations by both John and Joy, we thought it best for Dexter to stay on our bed inside Matilda. We took Dexter out from time to time to stretch his legs and to relieve himself. Joy cooked banana pancakes with rosella jam for lunch. These were yummy, and Katie wrote down the pancake recipe so she can surprise Ian one day. Both Ian and John had a good chat and a ukulele playing session.

For dinner John drove us to The Cove on the waterfront on Horseshoe Bay Road. This restaurant serves a variety of Chinese and Thai cuisines. We all enjoyed a delicious banquet including red duck curry, washed down with a nice Marlborough sauvignon blanc. John and Ian had a good chat after dinner on the veranda over a couple of The Ardmore smoky scotches.

The Cove Chines and Thai restaurant

We both had a good night sleep with a cool breeze flowing through Matilda. After breakfast on Friday, John and Joy took us in their 200 Series Landcruiser  with Dexter in the back for a tour of Bowen. Bowen has industry–mining, fishing, salt production and agriculture. Bowen is also famous for being the birthplace of the Kensington Pride Mango. Bowen’s fresh produce includes capsicums, eggplants, zucchinis, chillies, pumpkins, and tomatoes. The Big Mango was erected in 2002 to commemorate the connection the area has with the fruit.

The Big Mango at Bowen

Bowen is regarded as being at the northern end of the Whitsunday Coast. John drove us around Bowen along the coastline, showing us some very impressive walking trails and lookouts. At one point, Dexter managed to go for a dip at a beach in Queens Bay. We then headed to Horseshoe Bay and climbed up to a Rotary lookout with a panoramic coastal view. We all managed to climb the Grade 4 trail up to the steel viewing platform.

Mother Beddock

We were amazed with Joy’s stamina and efforts in climbing up to the viewing platform, as she was recovering from recent abdominal surgery.

Joy and John climbing up to the lookout
Descending from the lookout

After our scenic climb, John shouted us morning tea with sweet potato chips at a cafe conveniently located at the start of the trail. We then drove up to Flagstaff Hill, another lookout with a 360 degrees view of the Bowen region.

John next took us to Arabon Seafoods at Bowen Boat Harbour which is famous for its seafood. It has the most modern seafood unloading and commercial marina facility in Queensland. It sells live trout, prawns, bugs, crabs, and all reef and estuary fish. John bought some cooked banana prawns and Red Emperor fillets for barbecuing for tonight’s dinner. We then went to a chemist for chemicals to alleviate Katie’s mosquito and sand fly “bites”. Our next stop was IGA to shop for ingredients for tomorrow’s spring roll making session.

John at Arabon Seafoods

Back at Whitsunday Paradise, Ian and John tried to repair Matilda’s awning without success. The only solution at this moment was to tape up the awning to its cradle. In late afternoon Joy’s sister Faye and husband Ron came over for a drink. We entertained all by playing the video of our ukulele performance from our Hong Kong cruise. We enjoyed the cooked prawns and barbecued Red Emperor fillets for dinner with a bottle of Cassegrain 2019 Semillon. We had a relatively early night after another big day.

On Saturday morning, Ian took Dexter for a morning walk. Katie worked with Joy to show her how to make spring rolls from the ingredients they bought yesterday. With the half Queensland Blue pumpkin we brought from home, Joy made pumpkin soup for lunch.

Joy making spring rolls

John and Ian played their ukes with YouTube videos performed by Cynthia Lin. They really got off on Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl, which we played on our cruise. We had spring rolls and stir fried Red Emperor with vegies and rice for dinner. We all watched the classic movie, The Guns of Navarone, on TV. Today Ian went “alcohol free”, a rare day indeed! Ian also had had an annoying headache for a few days.

Playing Brown Eyed Girl with Cynthia Lin on You

At night, John showed us his telescope, and Ian now wants one. We also admired John and Joy’s creativities in wood turning and pottery.

Examples of John’s woodturning

On Sunday morning, Joy’s pumpkin “scones” became a pumpkin slice, but it was delicious just the same. With our morning tea of pumpkin slice, we visited John’s brother, Peter, and sister-in-law, Karen, at a nearby farm producing chillies, capsicums, eggplants and tomatoes. We also met their dogs Ruby and Princess. Peter gave us some chillies and capsicums from his farm.

Ian, Joy and Karen at Peter and Karen’s farm

We got away from Bowen a little after 11am. John gave us some citrus fruit and a lovely eggplant from his own productive back yard.

What a great stroke of luck to meet John and Joy on our cruise. They made us very welcome during our trip up the Queensland Coast, and have become good friends.

Airlie Beach, Monday 27 to Thursday 30 May 2019

On Monday we drove non-stop from Flaggy Rock Café to the Island Gateway Holiday Park at Jubilee Pocket, which is just a little way past the main central business district of Airlie Beach. The park’s admin staff were especially friendly and helpful, and they also act as booking agents for local tours.

Matilda was allocated a nice grassy site. When we set up we looked at the awning and the electronic, which were both playing up. Ian slapped more tape on the awning to keep it closed at the rear end. The step now needs a little nudge to retract, and we decided to live with this.

We considered activities, dining and accommodation options for the next few days, and looked into a doggie day care for Dexter. Katie found an advertisement for a café that was particularly welcoming.

Nice to know that they welcome Chinese people, but what about people of other races?

We received a phone call from our friends John and Joy from Bowen (our next stop), and we arranged to catch up on Thursday and to try camping on vacant land across from their house. We met John and Joy on our Majestic Princess cruise to Hong Kong. We cooked smoked mackerel from Grunske’s and pearl couscous for dinner—so good!

After Dexter’s morning walk and breakfast, we decided to go a one-day sail in the Whitsunday Passage. We considered three boats recommended by the park’s admin staff, and settled on the Providence V. This boat is a replica of the Grand Banks fishing schooners and was built from North Queensland timber. The main objective of the sail was to see Whitehaven Beach, which is well known for incredibly white and fine quartz sand. We turned our attention to doggie daycare, and rang several providers. We had two professional people available to mind Dexter, but Narelle from the office also offered to mind Dexter overnight too so we could get away early for sailing the next morning. We settled on accepting Narelle’s offer.

We drove to Cedar Creek Falls which was a very nice secluded creek with rocky outcrops leading to a waterfall and a swimming hole. At first Dexter was not very confident to go over the rocky surface leading to the water—this was different from a sandy beach. The temptation to get wet was eventually too great, and he went for a paddle, but did not get out of his depth.

Dexter and Ian at Cedar Creek Falls

We then dropped Dexter off at Narelle’s house for an overnight stay. Narelle has a Labrador X Border Collie called Buster, and her daughter, Teagan, has a parrot called Mango. Dexter immediately got on well with Buster, but we were a bit concerned about the parrot, who often has the run of the house. We warned Narelle that Dexter likes to chase birds, and we did not want to think about what he would do if he caught one. We were assured that the bird would be OK, so we left Dexter with his bedding and some food. We received an SMS from Narelle later with good evidence that Dexter had settled in well—he was being spoilt by Teagan.

Dexter with new best friends Buster and Teagan

As we were now dogless, we walked across the road from the caravan park to the Jubilee Tavern for dinner on pasta night.

On Wednesday morning, we rose early to find sticky syrup leaking from a plastic bottle of peaches in the fridge, onto the motorhome floor. Cleaning up took some time, so we missed breakfast and went to the front of the caravan park to be collected by a shuttle bus. We arrived at Abell Point Marina North for boarding the Providence V.

Katie boarding Providence V

We had 20 adults and 2 small children on board as passengers. Kieran from Scotland was the skipper and Brett from Poland was the crew. This sailing boat has 2 masts and can raise a bunch of sails, but we motored all the way to Tongue Bay or Hill Inlet on Whitsunday Island.

Ian the sailor
Katie the sailor
Kieran the Skipper
Cutting through the water

Brett led us to a series of lookouts over Whitehaven Beach, where we looked down to Whitehaven Beach.

Our landing site for Whitehaven Beach

Whitehaven Beach from the lookouts

We then were given time to climb down onto the beach itself. Ian walked out into the clear water in search of rays and lemon sharks. There were plenty of rays and whiting, but no sharks on the day. We tried rubbing the very fine white sand on our bodies to exfoliate our skin.

Not real crowded here, and no sharks!

Back on the boat, we had a packed salad for lunch. Providence V then motored back to Hook Passage between Hook Island and Whitsunday Island to allow passengers to go snorkelling along the fringing reef. Ian wore his contact lenses for better vision underwater. You can lose track of time when snorkelling, and Ian was one of the last to come out of the water. Again, there was a total lack of sharks.

Most people on the cruise enjoyed some snorkelling

On the way back to Abell Point, we motored all of the way but raised four sails to assist sailing. It was a good feeling to be under sail in a relatively large sailing boat (for us). We enjoyed some fruit, then the bar opened and Ian had a couple of Coronas while topless soaking up the late afternoon sun. There are no photos of Ian topless.

All sails up

We arrived back at Abell Point at 4:30pm after a full 9 hours on board. We were driven back to the caravan park, from where we set off to collect Dexter. It was dusk, and Narelle told us that she had to go out at 5:00 pm, and she thought Buster was best in the house. We wanted to collect Dexter before dark so that he would not fret by being alone in the yard. James in the Tom Tom got us lost, but we recovered and arrived at Narelle’s just on dark to find Dexter waiting patiently for us at the front gate. We left a bottle of good Hunter Valley Semillon and a box of Malteasers for Narelle and her daughter Teagan for looking after Dexter.

Back at the caravan park, Ian relaxed over a couple of Cloud Catchers. All three of us were pooped. Dexter had his normal dinner, but Katie and I just had some bread and jam and ice cream for dinner. We all hit the sack early.

We slept well after a big day. We were ready to leave at 9:30 am on Thursday, and dropped into the office to leave a message of farewell and thanks to Narelle. We drove out to Shute Harbour, from where in 2004 we caught a boat to Long Island. We spent five nights at Club Croc. Unfortunately, the area was flattened by a cyclone a couple of years ago, and we understand that Club Croc no longer exists. The area around Shute Harbour was still looking a bit derelict.

Shute Barbour from the nearby lookout

John had asked Ian to pick up some ukulele strings from the Airlie Beach music shop. We found the shop OK, and bought some good quality strings with a low-G. In the same street there was a brewery, but it had just been set up and was not yet open—bugger!

We headed north for Bowen.

Flaggy Rock, Saturday 25 to Sunday 26 May 2019

Agnes Water to Airlie Beach is over 700 km. We had decided to try and limit each daily drive to 400 km, or about 5 hours of driving, so we looked for a stopover on the way to Airlie Beach. Using GeoWiki, we found a low cost ($10) camp site at the Flaggy Rock Café at Clairview on the Bruce Highway. However, multiple attempts to contact the Café by phone over two days failed to get a person to answer the phone. There was also the Flaggy Rock Community Centre, and the first phone call encountered a very helpful woman, who said there would be plenty of room on several hectares of grassy paddock.

After leaving Agnes Water on Saturday, we stopped at the Rockhampton Information Centre where we parked on the main street street and had our lunch of tuna sandwich. Two volunteers in the Information Centre were very chatty and helpful. The Tropic of Capricorn passes through Rockhampton, and the road west of Rockhampton to Longreach, which we drove in 2015 on the way to Alice Springs, is the Capricorn Highway. The Tropic of Capricorn is the southernmost circle of latitude where the sun can lie directly overhead the earth. It is currently at 23°26′12.4″S, but it is moving northwards at about 15 m per year.

We reached the Flaggy Rock Community Centre at 4:15pm, having not seen any evidence of the cafe.  We were met by Ray, the cheerful and helpful caretaker, and we had no trouble finding a grassy spot to camp well away from others, and the facilities. Ray collected $15 from us just before dark. The site was next to a railway line, but apart from a few trains, we had a quiet night.

Dexter enjoyed a long walk on Sunday morning to the facilities, which are good. We met a couple in another Jayco Conquest motorhome who were travelling with their young Border Collie, and towing a small Mazda car on a tilt trailer. They had sold their house and were travelling indefinitely. Unsure if we could do that.

We wanted to get away early, but the awning refused to retract all the way at the rear end. Ian was able to tape it closed so it was not a problem when we were driving. Ian had wondered how long the flimsy looking awning would last. The electric step also decided not to retract unless it was given a light kick. Matilda was starting to play up—nothing critical, but definitely annoying. It brought back memories of a major problem we had with our awning on our tag-along trip to the Kimberleys in 2015.

When we eventually got away, soon after getting back on the Bruce Highway we came up to the Flaggy Rock Café, which looked open. We stopped in a dirt carpark, which is presumably where people are supposed to camp. Ian went in an explained that he had wanted to book a spot to stay, but he could not get anyone to answer the phone, possibly because the phone was faulty. The response was that they knew the phone was faulty, and words to the effect that they were seriously considering the possibility of thinking about trying to approach someone about doing something about it, maybe.

So, if you need to find an overnight stopover for a self-contained RV and on the Bruce Highway between Agnes Water and Airlie Beach, you would not do much better than the Flaggy Rock Community Centre (0477 545 618) at Clairview. We suggest giving the Flaggy Rock Café a miss, at least as far as a stopover point. Can’t comment on the coffee, as Ian did not feel obliged to support their business after their lack of interest in fixing their business phone line.

Agnes Water and 1770, Wednesday 22 to Sunday 26 May 2019

Agnes Water and Seventeen Seventy are two coastal towns located only a few kilometres apart at the southern end of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The town of Seventeen Seventy was named in honour of Captain James Cook’s first landing in Queensland. The Endeavour anchored in Bustard Bay on 24 May 1770, while his first landing on Australian soil was at Botany Bay near Sydney. Each year, the town of 1770 does a re-enactment of the landing as close to 24 May as practicable. There is also a 1770 Festival, and we were lucky to be in the area when this was on. We first heard of the town of 1770 when Grant and Jacqui went there for their honeymoon 10 years ago. We were curious to see what the place was like.

During our Around Australia trip, Dexter welcomed his swimming and walking sessions and enjoyed every minute of them, then he would “crash” at night. At Agnes Water, we chose the caravan park right on the beach, mainly for Dexter.

The Agnes Water Caravan Park has amazing facilities catering for various accommodation choices: powered and unpowered sites, beach front luxury cabins with designated parking facilities, studio apartments, bungalows for couples only, and treetop safari tents, as well as a coffee shop right on the beach serving breakfast and lunch. When we checked into the caravan park on Wednesday, we were amazed with their facilities, and of course, the pristine beach. Unfortunately, the beach adjacent to the caravan park was a NO GO zone for dogs, but dogs were allowed on lead immediately to the north, with access through a council reserve. We had another concrete slab for our campsite. We cooked red snapper fillets that we bought from Grunske’s, with a fish spice coating that is becoming too salty. Katie made a nice avocado salad using avocado from Jamie and Denise.

Many campers had bicycles. Nice tents in the background.

Thursday started off with Dexter’s beach walk and swim. He loved playing in the breakers, but it was disappointing that he had to stay on lead.

We spent the morning planning the remainder of our journey to Port Douglas. For lunch we had rissoles left over from our last dinner at Woodgate Beach. Ian tried to use Wiki Camps, but found it rather cryptic. On the other hand, CMCA’s GeoWiki was brilliant, and we used it to plan a stop over to break up the next trip to Airlie Beach. Ian had a short afternoon nap—the first of our trip.

We enjoyed some of our drinks obtained from Bundaberg in the late afternoon, and Ian played his guitar and Katie’s ukulele using songs from Rob in the Gold Coast.

Dexter had another great beach paddle on Friday morning. After breakfast, we went for a drive to the north and stopped at Joseph Banks Regional Park. Botanist Joseph Bank came ashore with Captain Cook and collected 33 plant species. Katie took photos of the Lieutenant James Cook Monument Cairn (a concrete obelisk). We could not take Dexter for a walk along the path of the Regional Park as it was not dog friendly. However, we located a little track to the beach in Bustard Bay , and Dexter had a short paddle. Lunch was grilled red emperor fillets and chips at a dog friendly bistro near the beach.

Commemoration of Captain Cook’s landing
Dexter having a paddle in Bustard Bay, 1770

Festivities for Captain Cook’s landing re-enactment at 1770 were scheduled to begin at 4:00 pm. To kill some time, Ian visited the 1770 Distillery and spoke with John, the owner, who has 4 varieties of fruit liqueurs. Ian bought a bottle each of two of them.

John and his range of fruit liqueurs at the 1770 Distillery

We found a very convenient parking spot for Matilda for the re-enactment. There was abundant seating available when we arrived, so we set ourselves up at the end of one of the rows of chairs. Ian bought a beef vindaloo and Katie had a mild chicken curry. A service club sold drinks, and was providing silicon cups for wine at $5, with a $4 refund at the end of the night if people did not want to keep them. Intrigued, Ian bought one with a sav blanc in it, and kept it for a practical souvenir of our visit. It felt a bit funny drinking out of it at first.

We enjoyed the re-enactment, which was well directed under a beautiful sunset. Captain Cook had a menagerie of animals on the Endeavour, including a couple of greyhounds. At least one of them came ashore at 1770. The re-enactment also explained why Bustard Bay got its name. The story is that the landing party saw a large bird, that they thought was a bustard. They saw this an opportunity to get some fresh meat, so the “bustard” was shot, and the bay where the Endeavour was anchored was named accordingly. Dexter enjoyed the experience tremendously, ingratiating himself with children and adults sitting on blankets around us.

Sunset over Bustard Bay, 1770
Cast of the re-enactment, including a greyhound

Next year, 2020, we understand that plans are for the Endeavour replica to be part of the re-enactment to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s landing. We would certainly consider coming back next year to be part of the celebrations, maybe on a 4WD trip to the tip of Cape York?!

When Ian rang to book the caravan park at Agnes Water, we were only going to stay until Friday. However, we were encouraged to stay another night to attend both the landing re-enactment and one day of the 1770 Festival.

Early on Saturday morning we took Dexter to Aunty Ray’s Doggie Daycare. The place was a little bit rough, but we felt that Dexter could handle it for a few hours on what was a fine day. We then parked Matilda in the town of Agnes Water, and boarded the shuttle bus to the festival venue. It was a very small event but well organised. There was a street parade and a fun run, which we missed, and at the main venue there were fishing, food, retail and games precincts. It was multicultural, with a Chinese dragon parade and a bagpipe band, but the most enjoyable performances were by the ukulele group and a kids acrobatic and dancing group.

The local ukulele group entertained the crowd
A relaxed Ian enjoying the performances on the stage

At one of the retail outlets called Kombi Dalts, Ian bought a comfy pair of long plants to wear in the hot evenings when the bugs are out, while Katie bought a shoulder bag and an overalls dress. All the products are made in Thailand, where the owners live. They love selling at festivals, including folk festivals. With our purchase, the shop owner gave a small present to Katie–a handmade fan.

Katie with one of the owners of Kombi Dalts and her new fan

In order to commemorate our visit to this special festival, both of us bought a 1770 tank tops. We thought these could be handy if we come here again for the HMB Endeavour Replica anchoring in Bustard Bay from 23-25 May 2020! We also bought some yummy beef jerky to enjoy for our trip.

We found a street store called Govindas selling delicious vegetarian koftas, so we had them for lunch and kept some for dinner.

We loved Govindas’ vegie curry, rice, koftas and a sweet grainy stuff

Back at the caravan park, Ian and Katie began making some cumquat jam with almost 1 kilo of cumquats brought from home, and half a lemon. We managed to fill 3 jars of cumquat jam.

After picking up Dexter from Aunty Ray’s, we took him to the off-lead beach near Agnes Water SLSC for a beach run and play. Katie was a bit worried about sharks, as it was dusk and there was nobody else on the beach at that time. Ian reassured her that the sharks had been scared off by crocodiles migrating south due to global warming.

Dexter had his usual paddle along the beach early on Sunday morning. We packed up and left the Agnes Water Caravan Park at 10:00 am to continue our journey north to Airlie Beach. We filled up our fuel at a service station just outside town recommended by the caravan park staff. A long drive was anticipated today with an overnight camp at the Flaggy Rock Community Centre.

Bundaberg, Tuesday 21 to Wednesday 22 May 2019

We decided on having a day in Bundaberg based out of Woodgate Beach because we had some difficulty finding dog-friendly accommodation. On the drive to Bundaberg on Tuesday we encountered our first rail crossing where we were stopped to wait for a train.

Stopped at a rail crossing

Everyone has had, or at least heard of, Bundaberg Ginger Beer. Well, it is actually made in Bundaberg, along with 16 other varieties of soft drinks. The company has a visitor centre called The Barrel. For $12, a person gets a self-guided tour of a museum showing how the ginger beer is made and packed, a taste of all 17 flavours, and a six-pack of 375 ml bottles of one’s choosing. This has to be awesome value! Katie and I were some of the first customers of the day.

I was surprised to learn that all the soft drinks made here are brewed, that is fermented, from one to four days. This creates alcohol, of course, but most of the alcohol is driven off when the wort is heated and the yeast is killed to stop the fermentation. I know that some alcoholic ginger beers are made by adding alcohol to a soft drink. However, I am now intrigued to see if anyone brews alcoholic ginger beer like a conventional beer and leaves the generated alcohol in.

It is not surprising that the soft drink factory is very highly automated. The museum uses cameras that are set up in the factory. We only saw one human being from all the cameras that we must have watched for about 20 minutes.

Katie and I came away with a carton of 24 diet ginger beer stubbies, a half carton of 12 pink grapefuit stubbies, a 6-pack of pineapple and coconut stubbies, and two mixed six-packs from the cost of the tour. I bought diet ginger beer because it has more ginger in it relevant to the traditional ginger beer, and it does contain less added sugar. I thought that the ginger beer would be useful to make Dark and Stormy with rum. The pineapple and coconut drink would go well with a white rum.

The Barrel at Bundaberg
Tasting 17 soft drinks with Kevin

We were advised by staff at the Woodgate Beach Caravan Park to try Grunske’s by the River for a fresh seafood lunch in Bundaberg. Sounded good, but it was not dog friendly. We found a parking spot next to both Grunske’s and the Burnett River. All the seafood at Grunske’s, except the Tasmanian salmon, is locally caught. We bought some seafood for lunch—crumbed mackerel, some calamari, and a seafood basket, washed down with a Bundaberg guava drink. We also bought some cooked prawns and some smoked mackerel for our fridge. The place is licensed, but very casual. It would be nice to have a sit down meal there, but we enjoyed our lunch in Matilda overlooking the river. Dexter scored more than one chip.

Nice parking spot to eat our seafood lunch by the Burnett River

In the afternoon, Ian booked a tour of the Bundaberg Rum Distillery. The museum in the distillery is amazing. On the tour we were taken through the rum making process, which Ian was quite ignorant about. The electric fences around the distillery were daunting—apparently they are essential to keep out people who have more than a healthy liking for the rum. We learned the story of the polar bear mascot, Bundy R Bear, and the distinctive square Bundy rum bottle, which were devised by Sam McMahon, brother of past Australian prime minister Billy McMahon. McMahon actually means “son of bear” in Irish, and that is why an Australian rum has a polar bear mascot rather than an Australian animal.

The Bundaberg Rum Distillery
Amazed to find a huge range of rums
Bundy R Bear in person

The tour included two full drinks—one of any rum, and one of a rum liqueur. One of the rums was recommended for those who don’t drink rum but who like Scotch whisky, so I went for this. It was perfect, but at $179 a bottle, I would have expected it to be. I had the liqueur neat and with some soda water, but was not impressed. I ended up buying a Reserve rum that was recommended for mixing with ginger beer to make a Dark and Stormy. I also bought a Bundy Rum glass.

While we were at Bundaberg Brewed Drinks we found a brochure on a relatively new distillery in town called Kalki Moon. We decided to visit on the way through Bundaberg to Agnes Water on the Wednesday. Rick, the owner, was very welcoming. He used to work at the Bundaberg Rum Distillery, but left to start his own distilling business with his wife. He makes rum, gin and liqueurs, but the rum is still ageing—it has to be aged for at least two years before it can be released as rum. Rick explained the gin making process to Ian and Katie. The gin starts life as a raw alcohol, which is purchased. It is mixed with juniper and other aromatic plants and then redistilled to make gin. Gin must involve juniper—if not, it is vodka. He makes three varieties of gin—a standard gin with 37% alcohol and a small range of aromatics, a middle of the road gin with a wider range of aromatics, and a top of the range Navy gin with the most alcohol and the widest range of aromatics. We each tasted some gin as mixed drinks. The standard gin was said to be good with muddled lime and ginger beer to make a Gin Gin Mule. Gin Gin is a nearby town. The standard gin was also good with Bundaberg grapefruit drink. The pink gin liqueur is infused with elderflower and rose, and is good with soda water. We bought a bottle of the standard gin and a bottle of the pink gin liqueur. Rick was interested in our travels, so we showed him through Matilda.

Kalki Moon Distillery
Ian at the tasting bar with owner Rick
Kalki Moon’s small barrel reserve rums ageing gracefully

So, Bundaberg provided us with insights into three drink making businesses, and a local seafood purveyor. Good memories, which will be stirred up whenever we have a Bundaberg soft drink, a Bundy rum, or a gin mixer. We also stopped at a shopping mall for lunch on the Wednesday and to stock up on provisions before heading off to Agnes Water.

Woodgate Beach, Saturday 18 to Wednesday 22 May 2019

On Saturday, we drove north from Cooroy and checked into the Woodgate Beach NRMA Caravan Park. This park is located across the road from a beach that must be about 10 km long. We had a concrete slab, which we found enabled us to keep the motorhome a bit cleaner. We put up the awning and the wall that attaches to the end of the awning. We were near the facilities and a dump point, the Serenity Cove Café is at the entrance of the Park, and there is also a convenience store selling essential items such as icecream. For dinner tonight, Katie made a pork, veggie and noodle stir fry dish, and we had Jenny’s leftover fruit and custard flan for dessert.

Our campsite at Woodgate Beach Caravan Park

The 18 May was Federal Election day. We voted before leaving home as we were uncertain where we would be on the day. We watched the election result that night on our TV with quite poor reception. Everyone had predicted a Labor victory, but by the end of the night it looked like the Coalition had won, possibly even with a small majority. What a surprise, and I must say, a pleasing one for a change. We felt that after the Rudd – Gillard – Rudd debacle not that long ago, current Labor would struggle to run a chook raffle competently, despite the strong reforms undertaken by Labor in the Hawke – Keating years. Of course, Tony Abbot and Peter Dutton damaged the Liberal Party significantly by overthrowing Malcolm Turnbull, and we think it is fitting that Tony Abbot lost his seat. Peter Dutton is still there, so our current PM needs to watch his back.

It was sad that just before the election, Bob Hawke passed away. He was an impressive leader of a political party and a country in his day, and we wonder whether we will see anyone that comes close to his leadership ability in our lifetimes.

We started Sunday at Woodgate Beach with a family walk south to Banksia Park looking for a dog lead-free area. At the time we thought it was at the other end of the park, so we simply retraced our steps along the concrete path. However, we found out later that dogs are allowed on the main stretch of the beach on lead, and they are allowed off-lead on the beach from Banksia Park southwards, and north of the boat ramp opposite the pub. Katie shouted breakfast at the Serenity Cove Café and we enjoyed a Canadian breakfast of pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, and coffee.

Canadian breakfast of pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, with coffee. Doesn’t get much better!

One interesting observation was that many places we had visited so far are dog friendly. It was common to find dog water bowls at street corners, front door of libraries, and near toilet amenities.

It was a good day for catching up with washing clothes and writing our travel blog. We shared the responsibility of writing up our blog, with most of the writing initiated by Katie (the Possum), and further text and photos added by Ian, who posted our entries to our web site.

Ian lifted the Trek mountain bike off the back of Matilda and took a long bicycle ride south along the path to Banksia Park, looking for an off-lead dog beach. He went on the beach and continued south on the hard sand for a fair way, then turned around and headed north until the sand became rather soft past the caravan park. He continued on the path to the pub and boat ramp, and then back along the path to the caravan park. This was the longest bicycle ride in months and took him 1 hour 20 minutes. He thoroughly enjoyed it even though his legs felt as though they had done some work.

Woodgate Beach looking south. Cycling along the beach was a novel experience.
Woodgate Beach looking north in the late afternoon

Ian then took Dexter for an afternoon paddle at the beach on lead. On this holiday, Dexter has enjoyed his beach time.

Sunday night was the best night of sleep for both of us—Katie slept in while Ian took Dexter for a morning walk on the beach. Ian made porridge for breakfast for the first time this trip. We then planned for the next few days.

In the afternoon, Ian took Dexter for a long walk to Banksia Park along the concrete path, and then onto the beach where Dexter could legally run off-lead. The tide was out, and he chased a tennis ball and a red squeaky plastic stick that floats along the sand flat and in the shallow water. We walked back along the beach that was supposed to be for dogs on lead, but as the beach was almost deserted, Dexter did break the law and go most of the way lead-free.

Dexter retrieving a tennis ball at the beach

Ian rode his bicycle into the supermarket to buy rissoles for dinner.

Ian rose early on Monday morning and took Dexter to the beach again, this time to see the sunrise. After breakfast, we drove into Bundaberg for the day—please see our separate post on this. Dexter had another 10 minute run on the off-lead part of the beach north of the boat ramp when we got back from Bundy. This was clearly not long enough for him, for Dexter bolted back to the beach after we toweled him down instead of jumping into Matilda. We enjoyed fresh prawn sangers from Bundy for dinner.

Sunrise over Woodgate Beach

We left Woodgate Beach on the Wednesday morning to drive north to Agnes Water via Bundaberg. We concur with friends Grant and Jacqui that Woodgate Beach is a perfect place to relax and get away from the crowds. The weather was kind, and the caravan park is in an ideal location.

Australia Zoo, Thursday 16 May 2019

We woke up early in anticipation of a big day out at Australia Zoo. What a blessing today was with sunny skies and only a brief shower. Ian walked Dexter along a mangrove board walk and a leash free area. We then took him to the nearby Caloundra Pet Resort for doggie daycare.

Australia Zoo is famous as the Home of the Crocodile Hunter–the late Steve Irwin. Australia Zoo is located on Steve Irwin Way, Beerwah, one hour’s drive north of Brisbane. It is managed by Steve Irwin’s wife, Terri, and his daughter, Bindi, and son, Robert. Robert has grown up to be a wildlife photographer, and much of his work is for sale at the zoo. Australia Zoo is the major sponsor of the Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors–a non-profit wildlife conservation charity established by Steve and Terri Irwin in 2002

There were 1200 animals and free interactive wildlife shows daily. There is the Wildlife Photo Studio where visitors can have their photos taken with a koala, snake or iguana. Children can visit the Australia Zoo Water Park to cool off. Visitors can book a hands-on animal encounter to pat a lemurs, have meerkats run all over them, or take a walk with a tiger or cheetah. Profits from these go towards Australia Zoo’s wildlife conservation efforts around the world.

Australia Zoo, here we come! We had visited the Sunshine Coast many times over the years, and now we finally had a chance to visit. The zoo is well patronized with many visitors in buses and cars, including several caravans and motorhomes. We parked Matilda alongside three other motorhomes.

Shortly after passing through the entry gate, we had our first adventure–a talk on Giant Aldabran Tortoises and a photo opportunity with Jarvis! Ian recalls he has a photo with a Giant Galapagos Tortoise taken at Taronga Zoo when Ian was only a few years old—must look out for it. Australia Zoo is trying to breed their Giant Tortoises, but it is slow going!

Ian & Katie with Jarvis the Giant Aldabran Tortoise

Ian enjoyed the dingoes, and we saw a couple of them being walked through the people coming in the gates. The binturong was an interesting looking animal—it is also known as a bear cat. We also saw a cheetah being walked by staff in the company of some paying guests.

Dingoes, Ian’s favourite dog
The binturong, or bear cat. Check out those whiskers!

We found it hard to follow the Australia Zoo’s schematic map. We tried to get to the tiger exhibit in time for an 11:00 am talk, but got hopelessly lost and ended up missing it. Several koalas were lazing around enjoying this bright sunny day and we just couldn’t help ourselves and patted one. We also patted a docile snake held by one of the animal handlers, and patted a docile kangaroo.

Docile kangaroo

We walked around Bindi’s Isalnd and saw lemurs. Further on we ended up in Africa, a savannah where giraffes, rhinos and zebras can roam free.  The meerkats are also in Africa, and seeing them reminded ourselves of our meerkat experience organized by our friend Michelle at Melbourne Zoo. While in Africa, we had a quick lunch of coffee, chips and ice-cream–not particularly healthy, but we enjoyed it.

Dinner time for the giraffes
A family(?) of rhinos
Meerkats on lookout, with rhinos in the background

We had a second opportunity to attend a talk on tigers, and this time we arrived well in advance, which was just as well because the limited seating filled up well before the talk started. We saw a Sumatran tiger being handled by two staff like a dog, except her treats were much larger. She ran up a tree for a chicken wing. As with dog training, positive reinforcement was the basis for the training. The audience was mesmerized, and it was definitely the highlight of our visit to the zoo.

A blind Sumatran tiger—not the one we saw perform
Well behaved Sumatran tiger

We had a top day in a well-run Zoo with very impressive landscaping. Attention to detail was extraordinary. Unfortunately, we missed the main show which included crocodiles at noon, but we felt that we had done well.

The gift shops promote Robert Irwin’s excellent photography. We bought a 2020 calendar featuring some of his work. Katie also bought a beautiful yellow color long sleeve shirt made of bamboo, designed by Steve’s wife, Terri.

We picked up Dexter on our way back to the Golden Beach Tourist Park. Dexter must have played with other dogs all day and looked thirsty and exhausted! We had leftover pizza for dinner, and we had an early night after a huge day.