Sunday 23 June 2013

Finch Hatton and Eungella June 13-17, 2013

Finch Hatton and Eungella June 13-17, 2013

Before you read, I'll give you a warning that this is a long post, as we did, and saw so many things in this area.

The beaches on the coast of North QLD were starting to taste a bit stale (the sight of a never ending low tide was not impressing us), so from Mackay we began to head west towards Eungella National Park. The drive was amazing, and the closer we got, the bigger the gigantic green mountains grew. Fields of sugar cane gave a low clearance for some amazing views!

We decided our first destination would be a camp site called Platypus Bush Camp, situated on the Finch Hatton side of the Eungella NP. I had picked up a brochure describing this place and the photos were nice. It claimed fame for the best viewing spot to see a platypus! This excited us, as we knew they are very shy creatures, and not easily spotted. We have seen many native wildlife over the years including echidnas, many a kangaroo, wallaby, and birds, but not the humble platy. For those who don't know, the platypus is an unusual animal which people say it was created by God as a joke. The reason being that it has a beak like a duck, tail like a beaver, it is nocturnal, and it is a mammal that lays eggs! The male also has a poison spur on its hind legs.

The Bush Camp was rustic to say the least. There were three little huts that people could stay at, or do the usual camping with either tent, camper trailer, or Troopy. The Huts were wooden, with a bed inside. No windows, but there was a mozzie net above the bed. Very cute. The Honeymoon Hut was right by the river, and on the website claims that you can wake up, look out the window and see a platy. Even though it is called the Platypus Bush Camp, the place still has a few luxuries, such as FLUSHING TOILETS, (but in reality, even a drop toilet like we had in Stanage Bay is good, as there are some places where you have to dig a hole), and even more of a luxury is a HOT SHOWER! The showers were heated by wood fire, which is an experience to say the least, but they were beautiful. The water stayed hot for a few days, but when it gets cold, the fire is once again stoked up to heat the water. It did take some getting used to using an outside shower. Not fully enclosed, and the other side open, looking out into the bush. I believe some bush turkeys were watching me the first time.

It was a beautiful site. We stayed 2 nights. Three times we attempted to spot a Platy. We were told the best time to see them is at 5.30. The first evening we set up our chairs about 4pm. We waited, read, waited, read, and waited some more. At 6pm we called it a night since we could no longer see without the head torch and decided to try again in the early morning. After awakening early during a beautiful Finch Hatton sunrise, we again attempted to spot the illusive platypus. As great as the morning was, no platypus was spotted. However waking up in 'Rocky' to hear the river running is definitely a nice sound to wake up to. Much better than somebody's generator, or even worse, a crying baby. We tried again that evening, still no luck.

It doesn't often happen that we have finished breakfast by 8.30. Everything takes a long time in the mornings. Boiling water on the gas for the morning cuppa takes much longer than the electric kettle, and the bed has to be put away so there is room to stand. On the first morning however since we were up so early eagerly awaiting a view of a platypus, we were in fact ready to embrace the day! We headed off for a lovely walk, up to the waterfalls. 100m up the road however, we were stopped by the sight of water flowing over the road. Cameron didn't want to get his feet wet so we headed back to camp to change our approach, to get a towel so we could take our shoes off and dry our feet on the other side or decide if we wanted to drive the 2km to get to the start of the walking track. Back at the camp site, 2 backpacker guys told us they had gone up the previous day in thongs, and had also worn boardies so when they reached the waterfalls they could go swimming. We changed our total approach, got changed into cozzies, and ditched our hiking shoes for thongs! Our usual approach when go walking is to walk to the furthest distance first. This was the 'Wall of Fire'! The walk was lovely, and as usual we took our time, making sure we took lots of photos along the way.

Eungella is a Rainforest. It is very green, with many large, very wide trees. On the way, we came across a large tree that had fallen across the path. Not sure when but a section had been cut out of it so it did not block the path. Sitting in a little crevice was a lizard. Most lizards we see run at the sight, sound or tremble of a human, but not this little guy. It just sat there, relaxed, as it watched people walk past. Funnily enough, it was still there later when we returned. Initial thoughts were it may be dead, but it wasn't, as I saw it blink.

Once at the 'Wall of Fire' we saw the beautiful swimming hole. The one problem being that the mountain is over 1000m above sea level, is that the water is very cold! The area was also shaded but we looked to the sky and noticed that the sun was not far from coming above the top of the mountain. We guessed it would be about 30 minutes until it would be sunny. Even though it would not make the slightest difference to the temperature, at least there would be a sunny patch to sit at when we got out. We decided to have lunch while we waited.

While we procrastinated, the two backpackers who were telling us about it, arrived, went for a quick swim, and left. Once we finally went in, we didn't stay in long that is for sure, but you can see the waterfall best from in the water! Another 2 backpackers, S and J arrived so we started talking. We found out they were Aussies as well. They were following the show trail, and working for a kebab/ slushy stall. We had heard about the Pioneer Valley show, and since we were in the area, decided to go to it.

After seeing the 'Wall of Fire' we headed back down to see the 'Araluen Cascades'. Another beautiful spot. This time we didn't have to get in the water to see it. There was a lookout. People were swimming, but we decided against it as we had already experienced the cold so decided to just appreciate the beauty of the place without getting cold and wet again. After the 'Araluen Cascades' we started to head back. As we were walking back to the camp site instead of driving like most of the other people, we were able to take our time and explore a little. We were even lucky enough to find some bush passionfruit! Instead of being the usual purple colour, they were yellow. We did a little bit of a look around and found 6 that were ripe and hadn't been broken into by animals. Arriving back at 'Rocky' we had lunch then cut open the yummy, full fruit. And Yummy they were! Cameron had a hard time keeping up with me. At one point he suggested we save them and have the rest another time, to which I looked at him, reached for the next one and cut it in half.
The Second night we were there was Friday 14th June, 2013, two days before the show! That afternoon, Cameron, myself, and two other campers; M and T, decided we wanted a camp fire. As it happened, 'Toot the Magician' who was going to be at the show, (not sure her actual name), was staying at 'The Platypus Bushcamp'. There were some families staying at the camp, so Toot decided she would put on a show. It was a lovely thing for her to do. There was also a family related to the owner of the camp who lived nearby, and too came and watched the show. It was a nice evening sitting around the campfire, talking to everybody, and watching Toot. I even had the opportunity to reheat some leftovers for dinner on the fire as there was a shelf that could spin. To be put over the fire. It took a while, but we got there in the end. However, we learnt a lesson that night. Wet wood takes a very long time to light!

On Saturday we left the Finch Hatton side of Eungella National Park, and head to the south side to a place called Broken River. We had heard that you can see a Platy from there too. We eventually did see one. There were so many turtles at Broken River, and there was also a giant Eel. I think at times we were slightly distracted by watching these that we didn't always watch for the Platy, but we did see one none the less. The view from this side of the mountain was spectacular! You could see across the whole valley, and at night you could even catch a glimpse of Mackay city lights way in the distance. We spent the day sightseeing, and being very cold, as there had been a cold front come through when the weather decided to change. Some people were saying that the dry season had finally arrived in QLD! We went for a few walks in the area – The Sky Window Lookout, and the Rainforest Discovery Circuit. Not as many as we would have liked, but enough.

Sunday was show day! The Pioneer Valley Show (or as the locals say the Finch Hatton Show), was having its 50th Anniversary! It is also the biggest one day, Country show in Queensland and Australia. It was a fantastic show. Many of the official people (yes we sat an listened to speeches in the afternoon) even went as far as saying it is the best single day show. The usual attendance is 14000 people. This year there were 18000 people. Somebody told us that many people enjoy going to this show more than the Mackay show which happens a couple of days after. Most of the day was spent watching the wood choppers. There was a comedian act called the 'Crackup Sisters' which was good value Australian slap stick comedy. They appealed to both young and old. At the show there used to be the “Roly Poly” cars. These had been in retirement for 11 years but they were brought back this year for the 50th. They would drive these at speed into two big areas of sand and potentially roll through, however most of the time they would end up on there sides, or completely flipped. We walked around the show grounds as well. Here we saw some blacksmiths, bashing their metal to create little sculptures, wood turners, hand in wax, where you would dip you hand in wax, a few times, then they would take your hand out and put it into coloured wax of your choice creating patterns. During our stroll about, we found the stall J and S were working at. S made us both a slushy, and their boss said to come back later and grab a free Kebab each! AWESOME! In total for the day our spendings were only $35 which was 15 each for entry, and 5 for a hot chocolate towards the end of the night as it was getting cold. That's pretty good value considering we were there from 9:30am to 8:30pm.
Sorry for such a long post, but there was so much to say.
Thanks for reading.
- Jeni.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Off The Beaten Track - Stanage Bay

After we scoped out Mount Morgan, we headed out to check out Yeppoon. Sadly the weather was awful, we spent most the time hidden away in the troopy watching movies.
When you are living in a small camper bad weather removes all the fun. We found paying for a powered site, hiding in bed, watching movies a decent way to go, but as we had just been released into the world of exploration, we didn't stay for long!
We got out of Yeppoon and back to Rockhampton for a night and then on the 30th of May we decided to head further north, our destination being Stanage Bay.

We decided we'd camp at one of a bunch of locations on the way, however the free camps were packed to the brim, so we decided to keep on to Stanage Bay.
Just before the turn off at Kunwarara there's a little fruit shop we stopped at, mistaking it for a servo, but what a gem it was! Gorgeous fresh fruit and it seemed everything cost 2 bucks, whether that be a pineapple or a punnet of tomatoes, all the grub was good!

As we turned off toward Stanage, over the cattle grids and down the sealed road at around 5:30 pm. This ride seems alright. Then the road became unsealed, potholes, corrugated, full of flood plains and giant puddles.
Was the roughest road we had hit yet, but thankfully we were behind the wheel of a Landcruiser!
The road to Stanage is about 100ks and mostly unsealed, a lot of the driving is through cow paddocks, so gotta watch out for them. At about 6:30 pm the sun had disappeared, this was about the time I realised the stock cruiser lights really aren't that great for the Aussie outback, dropped down the speed and did our best to avoid the potholes and skippys. One Wallaby in particular was very fortunate that the bullbar of the troopy came to a halt less than a foot from it's head.

Once we finally got to Stanage Bay we stopped at the first important place we saw, "The Crabpot Bar" which is the local pub, had a beer, then crashed out at the local campsite. Next morning in the sunlight we had a good look at the place we had arrived. What an amazing location! The 100k dirt track really paid of with our first off the beaten track gem. We had a bit of a look around the campsite and decided to move Rocky over to the other side of the grounds, our new campsite looked out over the beach which looked out to Long Island.

We made the decision to slow down and camp for a few days despite the lack of showers and flushing toilets. It's actually surprising how clean you feel from a dip in the ocean and a quick wipe off with baby wipes!
 We pulled out our collection of tarps and fabrics we received with the troopy and set up our rear annex. Life is good in Stanage. Chilling on the beach, laying about in the hammock or killing braincells up the pub was how most our time was spent.

Sunrise cruising through the ocean
Come Saturday night J, the publicans son, asked if I wanted a job as a deckhand on Sunday. I was already a bit full of the grog, but I jumped at the chance to get up at 4:00 am the next day and catch some fish! Naturally I woke up at 3:00 am unable to get back to sleep 4:00 am up the pub and by 5:00 am on the ocean heading out through the islands.
It was an amazing morning, cruising through the waves, seeing all the stars in a crystal clear sky, even saw a shooting star. Bouncing through the waves between the islands is a truly amazing way to watch the sunrise.

South Sail Rock
Our first trolling spot was a rock in the middle of the sea, known as "South Sail Rock". Baits in the water and a couple of laps intently watching the fish finder and "BZZZZZ" we're on. D, The bloke I was fishing with, pulls in the line and fights the fish. "Strap that belt to me" D says as he swiftly points to a belt then back to fighting the fish. After a good 10 minutes he asks "How good are you with a gaff?" to which I respond "Never used one." Turns out I wasn't too bad hooking the Spanish Mackerel and hauling it into the boat.
After pulling it in I was pretty shocked, don't think I've seen such a huge fish, even the sharks I've seen have been smaller than this thing! D grabs a pickaxe handle and clubs the fish in the head a few times to make it docile and then finishes the job with the knife "Alright, next one is yours". Crikey, the biggest fish I've pulled out has been a foot long Longtom, this was exciting me!

Eagerly waiting for my chance to shine and "BZZZZZZ" another bite! With D shouting in my ear what to do "Pull up and reel, pull up and reel, spread the spool while you reel!" after about 15 minutes this huge Spanish Mackerel surfaces. D took over to land the fish, but man, no wonder they consider fishing a sport, I always thought it was about sitting around getting drunk!

D offered me a beer as the bites seemed to slow down as we got further from the turn of the tide. D asked if I'd like to check out Middle Percy Island, an international sailing stop-off.
What an island, as we head into the bay on the north side, it looks like that exotic island people get stranded on in movies. The most beautiful little beach (Almost as good as Whitehaven Beach). There was a Beach Hut which was full of bits and pieces left from people's yachts as if it was there way of signing "We've been here".

Up a sand track and there is a really cool looking treehouse which is inhabited by some local that must be doing it really tough!
Further up the track and the sand slowly changes to dirt through a bushy forest and opens up to show a river which flows through Middle Percy Island.
When I looked over the river it was all just mud, a couple of boats where sunk in on the mud, it was low tide. Several hours from now the tide would be in and the boats would be afloat on the sea waters!

After I finished exploring the north side of the island, I jumped back in the boat and tried our luck at the north side of the island where we caught up with J jigging with a local Stanage pro fisherman. They were pulling in a good feed of a variety of mackerel, however our trolling was unfruitful, so back to South Sail Rock.

"Bzzzz! Bzzz!" A couple more Spanish Mackerels decided to come on board.
We didn't get back to Stanage Bay until around abouts 7. When we arrive I'm asked how well I am at backing trailers, again, never done it! However after a few re-alignments I get the trailer down the ramp.
As I get back to camp I jump into the ocean to clean myself off and hide in the troopy - slept real well that night!

Just another Sunset at camp
The longer we stayed in Stanage Bay the less we found ourselves doing, other than going for a run every second morning, we were really living a lazed lifestyle! Definitely a good place to do it!
Lazing about in the hammock or sitting on the beach reading really was the extent of our stay! But come Origin night we were up the pub for Pie 'n' Mash with a few New's to wash it down and sticking it to the QLDers with a NSW win of the first game of 2012! Woohoo!

We originally intended on leaving after Origin, but after hearing of a long weekend coming up, we decided we'd hold our little piece of paradise for the long weekend! We made friends with a bunch of people staying in the park, in particular our neighbours A&G and their gorgeous staffys!
I pulled out Jen's ukulele and even gave that a crack! Might have to start a ukelee band soon!

On Monday we were running out of a lot of stock and whilst grabbing stuff from the Plumtree Store was very handy, it was a little bit expensive. So we packed up our little piece of paradise and decided before hitting the road to cut some laps of Stanage Bay.

First we went to "Beverly Hills" and decided to climb the large hill by the ocean with Rocky, what a climb! Not far from the top the road got a little too rough, with some pretty large ruts that would probably throw the troopy over! Jen jumped out and watched as I executed what was dubbed a "Billion point turn" and it had to be given where we were! Too far either side would see us tumbling down into the gorgeous waters below!

At the top of the mountain we were treated with Amazing views of the Stanage Coast. One of the main reasons that attracted me to Stanage Bay was the colour of the water Googlemaps shows in satellite views, and the views we got really showed this beautiful colour!
A few quick happy snaps and we cruised back down the hill and headed around the other side of Stanage to try and find some crocodiles down the river.

Was a nice drive down checking out all the bush and waving to the happy campers, however as we reached the end of the track and pulled up to the crocodile sign, we could see no crocs. I don't think any saw us either as we seemed to escape alright!

Back to the main part of Stanage Bay and we said hooroo to the lovely folks up the Crabpot Bar over some lunch then we returned to the 100k dirt track back to civilisation! Which was much easier during the day and dryer weather than when we came in!
Despite being back in civilisation, being stocked up on necessities and enjoying my first hot shower in 11 days I miss Stanage Bay and really look forward to visiting again one day down the track!

- Cameron