Distance Travelled: 51,884 km
Dates: 25th September – 6th November 2012
After living in Coral Bay for four and a half months, it was time to move on. It’s a tiny place, and idyllic as it was, there’s not that much to it.
After a quick trip around a couple of the national parks in WA, I flew with Louisa to visit Ashlynn and Collin in Melbourne. They are good friends from working at Coral Bay, and it was great to see them again.
Melbourne is a great city, and it was good to be back in civilization. While there we sampled a lot of the bars in town, making the most of the multitude of happy hours. There was also time between bars to take a couple of day trips outside the city. The most memorable being when we drove up into the Dandenong Ranges to visit a sculpture garden. Sounds boring I know, but these were really cool; appearing out of rocks and trees in a primordial forest of giant ferns, cycads and gum trees.
Sadly, before I knew it, time was running short on me and it was time to start heading north. With only a limited time left on my visa, I had to get a move on to fit as much in as possible.
The next stop was Sydney. This allowed me to meet up with Jani and Martin, more friends from Coral Bay, and to get to meet Nigel, the best man at my parents wedding. It was great to get to meet him, and his wife Nikki. They were wonderful hosts, and I was invited to stay for lunch and dinner with them. Perhaps best of all, Nigel told me a couple of stories about my dad from when they were at university together (which, dad, you’ll be glad to hear I won’t retell on here), and described him as “a bit manic”, which was worth making the train journey to hear all on its own.
The main reason I had returned to Sydney though, was to meet up with a friend I’d made way back in Launceston, Tasmania. She was currently living up in the Blue Mountains, with her ponies and alpacas. Neither of which I liked much, but in the end I spent a very enjoyable week staying with them.
The Blue Mountains are utterly stunning and as we walked around them, new and beautiful sights would reveal themselves at every turn. It’s a difficult area to get around by public transport, and I was lucky that we had a car so could get anywhere that took our fancy (which I was allowed to drive- it was so much fun on the twisting mountain roads).
The first weekend I was there we drove down to Pebbley Beach, 4 hours south of Sydney, to go camping with a couple of her friends. It’s a great little beach hideaway, hidden in the bush but easily accessible by car. It is home to probably the greatest concentration of kangaroos I saw anywhere in Australia, and definitely the most this close to civilisation.
The other major trip out from the central Blue Mountains was visiting Jenolan Caves, a beautiful limestone cave system (in which most of my photos were blurry and poor). The caves themselves were stunning- possibly the best examples of artistically formed stalactites, stalagmites, columns, etc. that I’ve ever seen, and phenomenally beautiful too. If you are near the blue mountains, and have visited the major walks, you should definitely visit Jenolan – the caves are great.
Just outside the caves is a small lake, with a small family of the famously reticent duck-billed platypus! It really made my day getting to see one in the wild, even though I couldn’t get a decent photo of it no matter how hard I tried.
Taking a train north, I stopped off at Kempsey to get to the nearby South West Rocks. From there you can take a dive boat out to one of the best diving spots in Australia (and therefore in the world), Fish Rock Cave.
This is a small rocky island, with a network of gulleys around it, and a cave that tunnels through the base of the island, emerging at the other side. It is also home to dozens of grey nurse sharks, some of them up to 2-3m long. They were a little inquisitive of us, drifting slowly towards and around us, but getting spooked by the bubbles as we exhaled. They are beautiful animals, despite their fearsome appearance.
On the boat ride back, we spotted a pod of dolphins, and a mother and calf humpback whale splashing around in the shelter of a bay. I would’ve liked to stay longer, but it was time to head north again.
Townsville is a nice little town, although there isn’t much to it. The beaches were closed because of the annual return of the dreaded box and irukandji jellyfish, but the walk up to Castle Hill was pretty nice.
The main draw of Townsville though is the SS Yongala, a 100 year old wreck of a passenger liner. It takes three hours by boat to get there (45 mins from Ayr, but their boat was being serviced), but it’s definitely worth it. The wreck is still relatively intact, and the abundance of life that has colonised it is amazing. (SS Yongala photos all taken by James Suttar, excluding the last one)
There are huge marble rays holding in the current on the bow, tons of brightly coloured coral, turtles, the “VW”- a huge Queensland grouper, and thousands of tropical fishes of all sorts of shapes and sizes. I was lucky enough to see an absolutely stunning eagle ray gliding silently past too, a real highlight.
From Townsville I continued north, driving another 350km on a greyhound bus up to my last stop in Australia – Cairns, and the Great Barrier Reef.
I wasn’t able to get a photo of the eagle ray I saw, but it was something like this guy: