I wond’r if they’ll let me steer the boat? R&R time in Brisbane, followed by seaward voyages en route to Cairns

Despite thoroughly enjoying our rough and ready adventure to Lightning Ridge in the Outback of New South Wales, we were ready to return back to the creature comforts of civilisation. It was fortunate therefore, that Joella had conveniently lined us up with a house sit in the central ‘burbs of Brisbane – Queensland’s cosmopolitan capital 🙂

As I did my best to settle back into the frantic ways of city driving – attempting to avoid cruising at 110 km p/h or failing to stop at sudden red lights, we arrived outside what would be our home for the next week. Although extremely close to the CBD, rather than finding a small ‘unit’ (flat), we were instead greeted by a substantially sized house sat upon stilts, with a massive garage nestled underneath. Once inside, we were immediately welcomed by two adorably fluffy black cats by the names of Boo and Cece, whom we later found out seemed to be big Cisqo fans much to our amusement! Pleasantly, the interior was equally as nice as its exterior, and there was even a futuristic robot cat litter tray that looked like it had come straight from NASA’s R&D department. It was all quite a contrast to sleeping in prehistoric static caravans or in the back of our car!

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Exploring Brisbane

Conveniently we were just a 15 minute walk from Brisbane’s famous South Bank, bursting with a variety of eclectic things to do and see; including a surreal street beach, fascinating museums, striking galleries, lush parks, happening markets, impressive vegetable gardens and even a huge pagoda. Not surprisingly, we spent most days wandering through the maze of walk ways (and cycle lanes by accident), exploring everything this part of town had to offer. We especially enjoyed learning about Australia’s prehistoric past and amazingly unique wildlife in the Museum of Queensland; although I probably spent a little too long in the gift shop, much to Joella’s frustration…

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However, it wasn’t just the South Bank that got our attention; we made sure to check out other areas of town too, including Brisbane’s smart CBD peppered with contemporary sculptures, as well as the hipster haunts of Fortitude Valley and New Farm. The Town Hall in the centre was an impressive building that housed a delightful museum detailing Brisbane’s history, including the many devastating floods that have occurred periodically throughout the last 150 years (hence the houses on stilts). While in the alternative neighbourhoods we couldn’t avoid unintentionally blending in by grabbing an overpriced caffeine fix, then spending our arvo browsing secondhand bookshops and commenting on street art in the various laneways.

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On our last evening we climbed aboard the free CityHopper for a scenic cruise up Brisbane River, en route to check out the monthly comedy show at Brisbane’s impressively large and industrial arts venue; The Power House. The improv show was mediocre overall, but definitely worth our efforts considering the free entry and fun, lively atmosphere. Before turning in for the night, we couldn’t resist grabbing a quick drink at the quirky ‘Big Little House’; an old style, multi terraced bar, sat atop a set of four comically large stilts.

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Driving North

Our next house sit was scheduled to be in Queensland’s tropical city of Cairns later in June,  giving us six days to drive up, in amongst some sightseeing and adventures of course! Having heard good things about the rather well to do beach town of Noosa, we settled upon there as our first stop North up the coast. Expecting something along the lines of Byron Bay, we were disappointingly greeted with a smaller, busier version that unfortunately didn’t grab us like the hippy surf town did (although the cloudy weather probably didn’t help). So after a quick walk along the beach and main strip, taking in the various art galleries and boutique shops, we were ready to skedaddle out of there. Not wanting to pay over $40 at a caravan park for what equates to little more than a parking space, we conveniently discovered that the nearby Sea Scouts offer their facilities for a fraction of the price, so we headed there for the night.

That evening we flicked through the Lonely Planet “Australia’s best trips” book that Joella’s family had kindly got us, for destination inspiration (check me out – I’m a poet and didn’t know it!). After browsing through the various road trips featuring jaw-dropping photos, we decided upon the strangely named town of 1770 for our next days drive. But beforehand, we couldn’t miss out on a couple of capers en route…

First was the the opportunity to feed some wild dolphins at the Barnacle Dolphin Centre in Tin Can Bay. Unfortunately, despite a very early departure long before the sun had risen, we arrived just a little too late, and had to make do with spectating instead, which was amazing none the less given how close the dolphins came in.

Our second stop involved spending time in Maryborough; a small town mostly famous for being the birthplace of P.L. Travers – the writer of Mary Poppins! There we enjoyed learning about its colourful history (e.g. it was home to Australia’s only ever outbreak of pneumonic plague), while completing a self guided walk featuring lots of lovely bronze sculptures, wall murals and subtle nods to its links with the world famous English nanny.

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As was becoming a habit, we hadn’t decided upon accommodation until we were an hour or so away. Although our original idea of a beachside getaway for the night did sound great, the opportunity to stay at a kangaroo sanctuary ultimately won us over! We were immediately rewarded for our decision, as a mob of adult and baby kangaroos jumped past perfectly on cue, to signal our arrival 🙂 The Horizons Kangaroo Sanctuary turned out to be fantastically sociable too, as we found ourselves still up, chatting loudly to the other international guests well past the 10pm noise curfew – oops! In the morning we got talking to a group of Irish girls travelling South, which ultimately led us to changing our travel plans. So, rather than having a relaxing walk along 1770 beach and a leisurely days drive, we instead found ourselves cruising full pelt in the direction of Airlie Beach – gateway to the world renowned beauty spot of the Whitsunday Islands…

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Sailing the Whitsundays

During the nine hour drive we continued to perfect our team skills; with Joella juggling iPhones and iPads researching boat cruises, while I kept my eyes on the road. By lunch time Joella had everything lined up for the next day: rather than being crammed aboard a noisy speedboat with 60 other tourists, we were to be sailing on Providence V – a classic 62-ft gaff-rigged schooner, with a far more intimate group size of 12. After even more driving that gradually became more tiring as day turned into night, we eventually arrived in the touristy town of Airlie Beach, where we picked up supplies and headed to the nearby Flametree campsite for an early night.

Bleary eyed but wide awake with excitement after a very early start to the day, we soon found ourselves walking along the harbour front as the sun began to rise, attempting to spot our vessel while ignoring the ominous clouds rolling in. Once our fellow sailors had arrived, we were led along the marina’s maze of creaking wooden jetties to Providence V, which pleasantly turned out to be just as gorgeous as she was in the pictures online (guys – I’m talking about a boat..). As most of the crew readied things for departure, a fellow Scot named Andy gave us our safety briefing and talked us through the days itinerary, with the help of some weather beaten nautical maps that wouldn’t look out of place in a Pirates of the Caribbean film.

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Once I’d been given the chance to put my sailing qualifications to good use (merely pulling a rope rather then touching the tiller), we begun our voyage with a little help from the motor to maximise our speed, together with an escort of Spinner Dolphins who performed their impressive signature barrel rolls while leaping through the air. The first port of call was to be Whitsunday Island; home of the famous swirly Whitehaven beach. It was refreshingly satisfying heading out to sea, with the ocean spray blasting us while enjoying mugs of warming tea and sugary cake 🙂

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We arrived at the viewpoint overlooking the serene Whitehaven beach just in time to gaze at its beauty and take a few stunning photos, before the blue sky disappeared behind the dark clouds we’d been pretending weren’t there until now. It wasn’t surprising therefore that within 10 minutes of arriving at the dazzlingly white sandy beach below, the heavens opened, resulting in a mad dash back to the boat.

Following a spot of lunch while sailing to a nearby secluded bay, we reluctantly got ourselves ready for snorkelling, even though the gloomy skies made things look more like the North Sea than the outer edges of the Great Barrier Reef! But once we’d taken the plunge we soon forgot about the dreary conditions above, while losing ourselves in the underwater world full of colourful fish below. As the cooler water got the better of us, we waved goodbye to Nemo and friends, then climbed back aboard for our return leg.

A whirlwind tour of Townsville

Our final overnight stop North was to be the mining town of Townsville, pretty much slap bang in between Airlie Beach and our final destination of Cairns. Thanks to putting in the brutal full days drive two days earlier, we had a relatively short three hour drive ahead of us, leaving the rest of the day to stretch our legs and explore the ‘ville…

Once parked up at the fairly central Rowes Bay Holiday Park, we set off on a picturesque walk along the beach fronted esplanade of the Strand, followed by a hard slog up Castle Hill – a large, imposing outcrop of Pink Granite, oddly rising up from the middle of Townsville’s streets. There we found a comfy spot on the hillside, just off from the busier pathways and viewpoints, to enjoy the sky turn a beautifully golden colour as the sun disappeared behind the clouds on the horizon.

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With our thirst and hunger growing, our tastebuds led us to Townsville’s brewery for a tasty tasting paddle, then on to the Herbert for a quick pub feed, before turning in for the night.

Spontaneously, the next day I got us up at the crack of dawn to enjoy an incredible sunrise over the Coral Sea, framed by the surrounding palm trees. As the sun rose higher, we reluctantly dragged ourselves away from the heavenly view before us, to hit the road North once again, for our next house sit in the tropical city of Cairns!

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