CAMPSITE # 159 - Cairns, Queensland

Everytime I hear the name Cairns, I am always reminded of my favourite joke (of which Tom hates)...

Two sardines travelling around Australia, where do they end up??

In Cairns!!

Now having visited Cairns for myself, I will no longer need to be instantly reminded of my cheesy joke but instead I can actually paint my very own picture.

Cairns is a traveller’s paradise. Not just for us but even more so for those new to Australia, desperate to experience our culture and ready & waiting for a really good time. It is seriously party central. Just walking through the streets of Cairns on a Thursday night, you can feel the busy nightlife atmosphere floating through the air. All of the restaurants along the Esplanade were exploding with people engaging in loud & expressive conversations over their Cabernet Sauvignon and fresh barramundi. The trendy oceanfront bars serving beers on tap by the pint would have their music blazing as their stereos compete with their neighbours to lure in potential customers. You could hear the buzz of the Night Markets every night of the week, as tourists barter their way into a new pearl necklace or genuine Australian Merino sheepskin Ugg boots. When it all just gets too much and you need a break from the abundance of tourists bouncing down the street, you can venture over to the boardwalk for a gentle stroll along the beachfront with the ocean breeze giving you goosebumps as it lightly touches your skin.

So why is Cairns such a Mecca for potential tourists? Let’s say you wanted to book a holiday. Perhaps a relaxing walk through a rainforest searching for cassowaries and birdlife is totally your thing. Or perhaps you prefer to bask on white sandy beaches sipping the milk from fresh coconuts. Or perhaps you’re an adventure seeker and are desperate to sky dive over the ocean and land on the beach. Whatever it is you’re looking for, I can almost guarantee you’ll find it... in Cairns!!! ;)

Rating : 10 / 20
Facilities : We kind of cheated and booked ourselves into a cabin. For $70 per night, the three of us slept in a cabin together, shared bathroom facilities with a few other cabins and a communal kitchen area. Really great value for money. 

Somehow, five weeks managed to just fly right by. Returning to Cairns meant dropping young James off at the airport for a 30 hour journey back home to England as an unaccompanied minor. Saying goodbye was really difficult, we instantly felt as if something was missing. James came and spent time with us and transformed our trip in ways he'll never even know. His leaving meant Tom no longer had his little bro around to teach the ways of the world and I no longer had him around to gang up on Tommy with. Oh and it also meant I no longer had an excuse to consume Coco Pops every morning. 

James - we loved every second we spent with you on the road. I just hope that you take with you everything you learnt during your travels. For years to come, the three of us will enjoy sharing memories of these past few weeks. We will certainly miss your big smiling face.

CAMPSITE # 158 - Hartley's Crocodile Adventures, QLD

We couldn’t contain our excitement about visiting Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures just north of Cairns, Queensland. We had heard so many good stories from other folks on the road, we just had to go there ourselves. I used James, the 13 year old travelling with us, for an excuse to act like a child at an adventure park and from the stories we’d heard – I liked the place already even before I had set foot inside.

It’s funny how much faster you pack up camp when you’re full of energy and excitement. We arrived half an hour before opening and had expected to have a rather impatient 30 minute wait until they let us through. Instead, we were greeted by a very jovial English lady and led straight through for a pre-opening sneak preview.

The best thing about Hartley’s is that you never once feel like you’re at a zoo. No viewing animals from behind giant iron prison bars, not even the salt water crocs! 9 O’Clock marked the time for the really good stuff to begin. As we were such early birds, we were on the first boat cruise of the day and shared our salt water crocodile viewing & feeding in their man-made lagoon on a very empty boat with less than ten other people. Hartley’s houses 18 salt water crocodiles in their lagoon, 15 females and 3 very busy males. The one you really have to keep your eye out for is Big Ted... the second largest crocodile in captivity in the world.

These 18 crocs are the lucky ones, they laze about day & night, breed their little hearts out, lay their eggs on their nests and then four not-so lucky Reptile Keepers sneak into the lagoon to steal their eggs.

The eggs are then transported over to the crocodile farm where they are hatched and grown for a few years to then become upmarket fashion accessories. Interestingly, as males grow larger and faster than female crocodiles, the Reptile Keepers ensure that they are only farming male crocs. But how do they ensure that only male crocs are hatched? When the croc eggs are first laid, the unborn croc doesn’t have an X/Y chromosome. What determines their gender is the temperature at which the eggs are kept. 32.5 degrees ensure a male crocodile, any degree above or below that temperature are females. It seems there is quite an art to collecting and hatching crocodile eggs, when the Reptile Keepers raid the nests, they must ensure that the eggs remain in the exact same upright position they found them in. Even the slightest movement in their upright positioning could kill the unborn croc.  

Finally! A real life Cassowary, even if it wasn't in the wild. 

I certainly wouldn't be doing this in the wild...

One of James' favourite, the Koalas and the Laughing Kookaburras...

This guy spends his day living in fear, he's a Night Herron and loiters around the crocs to feasts on the Crocodiles eggs... when the keepers aren't fast enough to collect them!

Freshwater Crocodile / Saltwater Crocodile / Alligator skulls

Advertised as “The Greatest Crocodile Show in Australia”, we were really hanging out for the 3 O’Clock show. It is well and truly clear to me now that these guys must have a death wish. To climb into a confined area no larger than a backyard swimming pool with a four metre crocodile is a seriously gutsy thing to do. And there is no such thing as a tame or friendly saltie. They are absolutely vicious prehistoric beasts and only ever see humans as a giant piece of meat. Even after twenty years of working with the same 4 metre beast, our host still had to remain on his guard throughout the entire show if he wanted to keep all of his limbs intact.

At some stages, he would be standing in cloudy shin-deep water with Stan the crocodile lurking in the waters below waiting to pounce.  It was absolutely the most enthralling, entertaining & mesmerising performance of any kind I have ever been to. Looking around the amphitheatre at the other 200 or so people eagerly watching his every move, I’d say it was safe to say they too were enjoying it just as much as I.  

So, how much would you expect to pay for a full day of action pack family friendly entertainment? Having now been there and experienced it all, I wouldn’t hesitate to pay $100 per person and I would still be confident that it was absolutely great value for money. Finally, a tourist attraction that didn’t just see us tourists with giant dollar figures tattooed on our foreheads. Entry was $33 per adult and stuff having to fork out another $90 just to feed the family full of soggy hot dogs and oversized & overprized postmix coke – their food was actually really affordable too!

Hartley Crocodile Adventures, you’ve done everything right, I take my hat off to you. From your friendly staff, to your very affordable price tags to your very well kept & well maintained wildlife habitat... everything about our day was absolutely exceptional.

Site : Palm Cove Camping Ground
Rating : 12 / 20
Facilities : Really close to the beach & fishing jetty. A nice stroll to the restaurants & shops on the Esplanade. VERY reasonably priced @ $20 for an unpowered site. Toilets & Showers were ok. 

CAMPSITE # 157 - The End of the Road to Cape York

It was time to say goodbye to gravel road... thank god! After spending a whole week driving with the windows up to block out the dust, corrugation that would make every item inside the Troopie rattle to infinity and red dirt clinging to everything and anything, we were well and truly ready to put the road just travelled very far behind us. 

Returning to bitumen also meant returning to civilisation. Sweet, sweet civilisation where diesel was no longer $2+ per litre, where you could actually purchase fresh milk from the local grocer and, most importantly, where we were legally allowed to consume alcohol!! It felt good to be back.

Site : Lakeland Caravan Park
Rating : 10 / 20
Facilities : Really nice facilities, manicured lawns, very well maintained garden, exceptionally good showers & toilets. But no camp kitchen or cooking facilities.

CAMPSITE # 156 - Bush Mechanics

Tom and I were so glad to be driving the Troopie back down south from Cape York without any major mishaps to speak of. We had heard so many stories of 4WDs being written off at creek crossings. We even saw a camper trailer that had lost its right wheel altogether and flipped on its side while travelling along a gravel highway at 100km/hr. Every single item that was in the trailer was sprawled out across the road. As we slowed down to check if they needed any help, the poor family looked so forlorn, with their heads in their hands and concerned looks on their faces. We later learnt that they had only just bought the brand new camper trailer two days before they left on the trip that they had spent 18 months planning & preparing. 

Not long afterwards, we pulled up for lunch next to this hire car that had seen better days - 

We also had a little friend try and join us for lunch...

We did have a couple of little mechanical hiccups along the way, that was absolutely nothing in comparison though! Tom removed the air filter hose to give the air filter a clean out & we realised the hose must have been close to an original 1989 part as it cracked and practically fell to pieces in Tommy's hand. Nothing a good dose of duck tape can't fix...

Our poor snorkel head may now rest in peace. The clamp must have come loose and it flew off as we were driving down a really steep hill. We could see it sitting, waiting for us to collect it right in the middle of the bitumen double-laned highway. I confirmed that there were no other cars in sight and then spun the Troopie around, flung the hazards lights on and approached it at a very slow and steady pace. All seemed well and good, until a Wanker of a truck driver came flying down the road with our hazard lights in sight and speed up right on my tail. I carefully drove around the snorkel head and had to speed up to get the loser off my back. Confirming his pledge into Wankerville, he then proceeded to run over our $100 snorkel head. That's money we'd prefer to hold off on spending. So, in the meantime... nothing a bit of duck tape & an old lemonade bottle can't fix...

Site : Merluna Station Stay
Rating : 8 / 20

Facilities : Very peaceful setting. Bit too far out of our way - 30 kms off the highway. Nice outlook under shady trees with some good grass. Big camp kitchen. Really nice people. But it felt as if something was missing, something just didn't feel quite right. $25 for an unpowered site.

CAMPSITE # 155 - I still call Australia home.

We did it! We got to the top... yippeeeeeee!!

I couldn't believe the road we took to get there. It was as though you really had to work hard to reach the top, no road signs directing you to where you wanted to go followed by seriously corrugated dirt roads followed by a rather deep creek crossing.

Taking the 15minute rocky walkway to the tip was quite a humbling feeling. I felt like Cadell Evans crossing the finish line of the Tour de France, or like Donald Bradman smashing century after century, or like Cathy Freeman in her condom suit in front of her home crowd at the Sydney Olympics. It was as if we had travelled all of this way around Australia just for that moment.

When I reached the top of that final peak and looked out towards the sign before me, I felt proud to be an Australian. At that point, I wished I had an Australian flagged draped over my back so I could do laps around the stadium as the whole crowd cheered as we all merrily sang together our national anthem.

We did it!!

The three of us perched on top of a shady rock and made our message in a bottle. Who knows where it might end up? Either way, hopefully they'll log onto the blog and let us know (let's just hope they speak English!!!)

Jim did the honours of throwing it out...

Afterwards, we jumped back in the car and took a short drive to meet up with our friends, The Morgans, and camp at...

Site : Punsan Bay Camping GroundRating : 14 / 20
Facilities : W
OW!!! One of the nicest beach camping spots yet! RIGHT on the beach. Campfires allowed. Glorious outlook with beautiful sunrise & sunsets. Showers were disappointing - no lights so it was like showering in a dark prison cell. Very reasonably price $25 for the three of us for an unpowered beachfront site. Above ground swimming pool & restaurant. Two additional points from Tom but just one not two from me due to my scary shower.

This photo was not enhanced in any way, check out how blue the water is...

Us & The Morgans... Jayne, Rhys, Darren & Angus...