Category Archives: Far North Queensland

Engage all your senses

Life is about living – fully engaging all your senses.

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With today’s modern technology so much is done on computers that our sense of sight – vision – is often dominant. It’s not like you can smell what’s on the screen or taste the food (not yet anyway). However there are so many memories and associations that are linked into our other senses – taste, touch, smell, sound and even the sixth sense of “gut feelings” that activate our emotions and enrich our lives.

Thoughts are so powerful, and combined with emotions, can take you almost anywhere. Such is the craft of a storyteller.

This is a memory of my childhood when I would walk up the hill behind our home to relax after school.

Reaching the top of the hill I would sit on the bare dirt and just let the thoughts of the day go – forgetting about anyone and anything that might be bothering me.

Finding an elevated site to sit and relax helps to lift you out of your troubles and gives you a different perspective.

Finding an elevated site to sit and relax helps to lift you out of your troubles and gives you a different perspective.

As the clamour of thoughts started to drift away with the gentle caress of the afternoon breeze, I could hear the distant hum of cars on the highway in the valley behind me and the rustling of the wind in the nearby trees.

Closing my eyes drew my other senses into focus. My skin felt clammy with the high humidity and a pungent, celery-like scent wafted in the air. My mind filled with images of the first time I had encountered the smell. It was when the family moved north to the tropics, taking the Easter school holidays to travel up the coast.

Life was a great adventure then. The week-long drive felt like a month off school. There were so many new, exciting things to discover and places to see. Like the celery-scented vine. We used our noses to sniff out where it was coming from, discovering a vine with weird, tendril-wrapped balloon-like seed pods. And how they were all excited at the first coconut they saw growing. I laugh now remembering how we were amazed at the size of it; not realising there was a thick, fibrous husk around the nut. Even trying to climb the coconut palm was a challenge, and then finding a way to remove the husk once they managed to knock a nut down. Everyone got involved, trying to smash the coconut with a hammer or saw it open, using different tools until someone had the bright idea of stabbing it with a screwdriver and leveraging the husk off.

Coconut palms at Clifton Beach. Councils remove the coconuts for safety reasons but is it taking away one of life's simple joys?

Coconut palms at Clifton Beach. Councils remove the coconuts for safety reasons but is it taking away one of life’s simple joys?

As we get older and caught up in the worries of the mind we tend to forget to find the fun in life’s simple pleasures. Councils decide to cut down coconut palms because the nuts become a hazard in cyclones or may drop on some unwitting person’s head.

Are we taking the joy out of life for future generations, so intent on staying indoors that they miss the incredible sensory input nature is constantly giving us?

What memories will they treasure do you think?

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Out of the darkness

 

There are hidden treasures in the great grasslands of north-west Queensland and not all of them are gold and sapphires, as I discover on a drive along the Savannah Way


 

Undara lava tubes were created as rivers of hot lava flowed across the land some 190,000 years ago.

Undara lava tubes were created as rivers of hot lava flowed across the land some 190,000 years ago.

Unexpected warmth emanates from the cavernous tunnel before us. Its source is not the river of hot molten lava that formed this high semi-circular “tube” – that cooled about 190,000 years ago. Hardy bushes now grow in the tumble of rocks at its entrance.

It comes in waves as if the cave is breathing.

Behind us the temperature is dropping as the sun sinks towards the dry savannah horizon. We wait patiently, eyes keenly peeled for any sign of movement. But the warmth endures as the sun sets over the savannah behind us, glowing deep orange.

Sunset over the western Queensland savannah at Undara Volcanic Park

Sunset over the western Queensland savannah at Undara Volcanic Park

A faint odour wafts from inside the cave, hinting at what’s lurking inside. I try not to breathe too deeply or make any sudden moves. Voices are hushed as we all focus on the darker depths of the lava tube.

Minutes pass. There’s a rush of air past my shoulder. I duck as movement flits past my face.

These are the scouts, checking if it is time yet. The light is dimming and the flash of wings comes more often, disappearing back into the cave’s depths. My eyes adjust with the fading light.

Before long there is a swirl of 20 or so tiny creatures circling in the cave entrance only metres in front of me, building up confidence to venture past. A 5cm fur-ball zips past me into the cool dusk air – followed by another and another. As if on cue, hundreds of resident horseshoe and bent-wing microbats dart for the surface en masse.

Out of the darkness there's a rush of wings

Out of the darkness there’s a rush of wings

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The sheer numbers make them easy prey for pythons which strike from the bushes crowding the cave entrance.

The snakes are more prevalent during the warm summer months – when bat numbers also swell with the breeding season.A python strikes (look closely for the bat wing as it swallows its prey).

A python strikes (look closely for the bat wing as it swallows its prey).

But the call of nature is strong and they continue to run the gauntlet to freedom and food. Finely tuned sonar ensures the bats don’t collide with each other or the humans vying to get a photograph but it is impossible not to duck as they whiz past.

Measuring only 5cm long and with a 10cm wingspan, thousands of the insectivorous microbats emerge from this particular lava tube at Undara every night. The creatures need to eat their own body weight in insects before the sun returns at dawn and play a vital role in the  web of life on the savannah.

Our Savannah Guide Ivor Davies says the bat population can swell to a million during the summer breeding season, taking up to 90 minutes to vacate their daytime abode. During winter there can be a steady stream of creatures for 20 minutes or more. The effect is mesmerising.

This is the excitement of the Sunset Wildlife Tour at Undara Experience, a national park-based tourist facility some 275km southwest of Cairns on the Savannah Way, in north Queensland.

The lava tubes are among the longest in the world – more than 90km long – formed as an estimated 23 cubic kilometres of molten lava flowed in rivers from a single volcano across the McBride Volcanic Province. It is one of the longest lava flows from a single volcano in modern geological time, spreading more than 160km to the north-west.

For more details go to: Undara Experience, Undara Volcanic National Park; Ph 1800 990 992; www.undara.com.au

This is just one of the natural wonders of the north-western Queensland section of the Savannah Way, a 3699km trans-national drive from tropical Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef to the remote pearling town of Broome, in Western Australia.

Flyboarding out of a rut

Rise above it all with Flyboard Cairns - Ironman meets King Neptune. Picture courtesy of Flyboard Cairns

Rise above it all with Flyboard Cairns – Ironman meets King Neptune. Picture courtesy of Flyboard Cairns

Sometimes life gets so mundane we can’t see our way out of the rut of our daily routine – when you can only see what needs doing rather than what you feel like doing.

When I find myself in this state I know that drastic action is required. Another time this happened I signed up for the Minjin swing – being winched several storeys high up a metal tower and freefalling for several seconds before the swing kicked in and shot me out across the treetops at Kuranda markets. It was such an adrenalin-rush my knees were knocking so much afterwards I could barely stand. Great fun.

So this time I was sitting around feeling swamped by all the weeds that had overtaken my garden when I thought of Richard Branson.  Now that’s a man with a sense of adventure. I can’t imagine he even lets the word “boredom” into his vocabulary. He’s a superman of extreme action!

Now by the Law of Attraction, what you think you draw to you. And what you think about with emotion comes even faster. So, as it happens, the last time I felt really excited was watching a TV segment about this great new sport of Flyboarding. It looked fantastic – the presenter hovering above the water like a superhero with white water jets streaming out below his feet like some rocket exhaust.

It was a case of Marvel Comics’ Ironman meets King Neptune  – or science-fiction meets reality.

So a few days after musing over “what would Richard Branson be doing now” I was offered the chance to go Flyboarding. I didn’t even know Flyboard Cairns existed at that stage. With a mix of trepidation and anticipation I agreed to do it.

After all, when the Universe brings you what you ask for it is only polite to go with it.

Watching YouTube footage of the pros jetting 15m high did little to quell the fears of friends and family who know my mind often gets carried away with things my body is less capable of. But I knew I needed this. Balance and flexibility could be an issue – so I trotted off to an osteopath to ensure my spine could snake as much as the young bucks and beach babes on the flyboardcairns.com.au website – fat chance really.

Palm Cove with Double Island in the distance

Palm Cove with Double Island in the distance

Come 9am Saturday and it is a sightly-overcast day at the beautiful spa-spangled Palm Cove, about 30 minutes’ drive north of Cairns. The gentle blue-green swell of the Coral Sea is enticing. I make a mental note of an advertising board offering discount massages outside one of the hotels – may be needed after I’ve finished.

As I rock up to their beachfront setup opposite The Reef House resort, Flyboard Cairns director/instructor Luke Kanowski assures me it this brave new extreme sport looks a lot harder than it is. Fellow director Chris De Santo says it generally only takes 10 minutes of instruction to be standing up out of the water and 15 minutes to learn to manoeuvre on the Flyboard. There are no weight restrictions (big relief) and about 20 per cent of their clients are aged 55-70 (out go my preconceived ideas that this is just for the young guns).

After squeezing myself into a full-body wetsuit and helmet, safety briefing over, and I join Chris at the jet-ski to get strapped into my jet-boots. Facing into the waves, the jet-ski powers up and the exhaust water quickly fills the 20m hose connecting us. As it exits the two metal pipes on either side of the Flyboard I start to move forward. The feeling is weird – effortless. Alternatively bending one knee or the other effectively controls your direction. We head for the safety of deeper water. I practice circling the jet-ski. Tilting my toes upwards and miraculously I rise up out of the water like some sea serpent. Nerves kick in as I get higher, losing balance and falling into the sea. Chris assures me that from the beach it would appear that’s what I meant to do. Yeah, right. We practice dolphin dives and work up to hovering. I make it up to 1.5m above the water. It feels more like 4m. I come crashing down on my side – my humpback whale breaching impersonation.

Up, up and away

Up, up and away

Getting my balance

Getting my balance

Beginners can usually get up to 1-2m high, Chris says, up to 4m for those with nerve and balance. With extended repetition it is possible to hover up to 5-8m, he says, with pros reaching 15m and top speeds of 20km/h.

“It is more about style and aerial stunts,” Chris says, which excites these pioneering sportsmen the most.

“It is so new, we don’t know what we can do,” Luke says, likening it to the advances in skateboarding tricks since the 1970s. “We don’t know what is possible”.

Flyboard Cairns instructor Luke in action at Palm Cove

Flyboard Cairns instructor Luke in action at Palm Cove

With that in mind, the guys are hoping to attract flyboarders for a North Queensland competition in 2014, with the aim of taking a team to national and world competitions at the Gold Coast and in Qatar at the end of 2014.

So far the tricks include backflips, dolphin dives and variations such as the twister/tornado and corkscrew. It takes “twisting by the pool” to a whole new level.

Thank you to Chris and Luke for blasting me out of a rut. And I didn’t even need the massage afterwards. Highly recommended.

For more info: check out www.flyboardcairns.com.au

(Flyboard session provided courtesy of Flyboard Cairns.)

Karumba surprise

ImageCrocs, prawns and barramundi aren’t all that the Gulf town of Karumba in northwest Queensland has to offer. I was recently surprised to see the diversity of wildlife on a Savannah Way drive out that way hosted by Tropical Tourism North Queensland (TTNQ for short).

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It was the time of the June “super moon” – the moon being at its closest distance to Earth – and we were treated to a beautiful sunset, moonlit night and stunning moon-set the next morning (pictured) as fishing boats headed out to sea at all hours.

Fishing is a big drawcard for the Gulf of Carpentaria, but take care, the reminder that this is croc country can’t be missed by the 8.63m Krys croc statue (pictured top) on show in nearby Normanton’s main street. The original crocodile was shot by a woman, Krystina Paulokski, on the banks of the Normanton River in 1957. The river empties into the Gulf of Carpentaria at Karumba, some 832km from our starting point on the eastern coast at Cairns. For travellers short on time, Skytrans has regular flights from Cairns to Normanton, with car hire available.

Karumba isn’t just for the fishing enthusiasts, although it certainly reels them in every year. Birdlife abounds, including the tall grey brolgas on the Muttonhole Wetlands, which extend some 30km inland. There’s a great little waterhole near the road at Karumba Point where pink galahs gather in the evening to drink and wading birds can be seen in droves in the early morning, sifting through the shallows.

Kites gather on the powerlines around the town like pigeons do in other cities. Agile wallabies dart across the golf course and feed by the roadside at dusk.

We head for the boat ramp as fishermen return with their catch, one visitor proudly lifting two barramundi from the large coolbox in his dinghy. Others are casting for bait as pelicans wander the beach in the hope of an easy feed.

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The town has good accommodation for anglers, from the character holiday unit of Bunratty Castle (pictured above), built from bricks carried four at a time by bicycle from the old town meat works, to multiple caravan parks and the spacious Ash’s Holiday Units and Café, which has rooms for up to six people and does a massive cooked breakfast to keep you going all day.

As the sun sinks lower, the focus shifts to Karumba Point. Watching the sun set over the water, some three days after watching it rise over the Coral Sea north of Cairns at Palm Cove, is a fitting end to this segment of the Savannah Way drive. In between is a wealth of open skies, surprising natural encounters and a rich mining and pastoral history.

Hope you can come and explore it too some day soon (dry season or winter is the best time).

Check out drivenorthqueensland.com.au for trip ideas.

Babinda kayak adventure

Sunset over the tranquil Babinda Valley. Pictures: Babinda Kayak HIre

About an hour’s drive south of Cairns in Far North Queensland is a beautifully tranquil sugar-growing town of Babinda, where a crystal clear river flows from the lush, rainforest covered mountains.

It is a great place to reconnect with the beauty of nature – and have a relaxing time with friends who aren’t scared to jump into it’s icy waters (well, as icy as it gets in the tropics). There’s just something so relaxing about floating effortlessly down a river, especially one edged on either side by lush greenery.

The magical green waters of Babinda Boulders swimming hole

Babinda Kayak Hire offers the opportunity to get away from it all on the clear cool waters of Babinda Creek, paddling along a 9km flat stretch of the creek well downstream from the impressive Babinda Boulders (pictured).

The mountain-fed stream flows swiftly enough that you barely need to paddle if you don’t want to.
The creek alternates between shallow sandy stretches where you can easily see the fish darting out from under the kayak to deep, green pools which are edged with moss-covered granite boulders.

These can be several metres deep but are clear enough to see right to the bottom and are perfect for swimming in on a hot day. You can even hire a mask and snorkel if you really want to explore underwater.

The water level varies between the wet and dry season but is always lush.

Large submerged tree trunks are a reminder of the days when rainforest covered this whole region, now edged largely by sugar cane fields. A few remnant giants remain along the riverbank, where birdlife and butterflies can be seen frolicking.
A cormorant watches from an old branch sticking out of the water, as we glide through its territory, taking flight across the water when we get too close. A buff-breasted kingfisher is revealed by a flash of brilliant blue in some overhanging branches. A horde of finches move like a wave through the grasses. Frogs croak from their hiding places in the lush creepers that tumble into the water like a thick blanket. Large bamboo clumps reach out over the water, debris in the upper branches revealing how high the waters can rise in the wet season.
There are numerous sandy beaches formed as the main current weaves its way back and forth with the meandering creek and a grassy islet or two to paddle around if you want to stretch your muscles.

Stop for a picnic at one of the sandy beaches along the creek

The kayaks are easy to paddle, with a middle seat in the doubles for small children as well. The paddling area is outside the national park so people can even bring their dogs along – with one woman sharing her kayak with two border collies.
There’s a convenient strapped area on the back of the kayaks where you can put your things. Waterproof “dry” bags can be hired for a few dollars to keep cameras, wallets and towels in. Netting bags for things like drink bottles are free to use. It’s a good idea to bring along a snack or two as there’s plenty of time to stop along the way for a picnic.
Young and old can manage the trip easily because the current does all the work for you. (Towards the end of the dry the lower water levels make it a bit tricky over the low areas.) There are two pick-up points on the creek, easily marked by road and railway bridges.

We made it to the first pick-up point in about 90 minutes so there is time enough for 1-2 hours of playing around if you want to. We carried on to the second pick-up point, arriving just as the south-bound passenger train crossed the bridge. It’s surprises like that which make this a trip you could do again and again, rain or shine. We had an overcast day so didn’t feel much like swimming, but that didn’t matter because the silence and beauty of drifting downstream had its own appeal.
This is a trip that you can easily make as active or as relaxing as you want. It’s great for families and suitable for people of all ages and abilities. I enjoyed it so much I bought my own kayak!

Babinda Kayak Hire is at 330 Stager Rd, Babinda (about one hour’s drive or 60km south of Cairns) in Far North Queensland. Drive 3km south of Babinda turnoff on the Bruce Highway, turn right into Stager Rd and drive 3.3km and turn right into the driveway with the orange kayak sign.
Choice of half or full day kayak hire. Minimum two people. Bookings essential.

Babinda Boulders bottom lookout

Photography courtesy of Babinda Kayak Hire. For more details or to purchase copies of these photos go to:  www.babindakayakhire.com.au