’Round the world in 72 days: Australia

by Philip Wagenaar (Part 4 of a series)

Having narrated our Australian travels from Broken Hill to Sydney last month, in this issue I will conclude the Down Under portion of our ’round-the-world trip.

After leaving Sydney, my wife, Flory, and I drove north through lovely rolling countryside under an azure sky to our overnight at Mount Seaview Retreat (315 Mt. Seaview Rd., Mount Seaview, NSW 2446, Australia), the head office of Australian Wilderness Tours, the company that had organized our five-week Australia tour. (As mentioned previously, we had combined a number of shorter, all-inclusive tours, paying a total package price.)

Upon arrival at 7:30 p.m., we were surprised with a delicious dinner of salmon, Greek salad and pavlova with cream in our guide’s home. Nevertheless, to our dismay, our sleeping facilities in an out building were ice cold, with inadequate bed coverings and no towels or soap, which we received after requesting them.

Leaving Mt. Seaview

The following morning it was again splendid weather, and taking over as our driver was the personable David Clark, who, besides being a part owner of Australian Wilderness Tours, also operates his own company, AWT - Discovery Tours (PO Box 6171, Cairns, 487, QLD, Australia; phone + 61 7 4057 9866, fax 4057 9338, www.discoverytours.com.au), which I recommend.

David drove us past attractive, undulating pastures toward the coast, where a striking expanse of beach afforded us a beautiful view of the ocean.

We stopped in front of an old jail, erected in 1850 at a point overlooking the water. It was built in such a way that if convicts tried to escape, they would fall into the ocean from the steep cliffs surrounding the prison.

We stayed in Coffs Harbour at the beautiful Nautilus Beachfront Villas & Spa Resort (746 Pacific Highway North [PO Box 190], Coffs Harbour, NSW 2450 Australia; phone [02] 6653 6699, fax 6653 7039, www.nautilusresort.com.au/contact.htm), where our room was so chic, we almost fell over from surprise. (The property is now for sale.)

The next day, we kept traveling north, out of New South Wales, and stayed overnight at the Quality Hotel Mermaid Waters (corner Markeri St. & Sunshine, Mermaid Waters, QLD, Australia; phone [61] 7 5572 2500, fax 5572 9787), enjoying another large and attractively furnished room with a balcony overlooking the ocean.

Heading out the following morning, the Gold Coast, the second-most populous city in the state of Queensland, welcomed us. With its sunny subtropical climate and surfing beaches, it is a major tourist destination. We were disappointed seeing the huge skyscrapers that had been constructed haphazardly everywhere in the town since our last visit.

We bypassed Brisbane, having visited this beautiful city before, and continued along the Sunshine Coast. Averaging seven hours of sunshine daily, the area boasts five parks in both coastal and inland regions.

Fraser Island

After crossing the MacQuarie River, a 20-minute ferry ride took us to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Fraser Island, which, at approximately 410,000 acres, is the largest sand island in the world. Two boats provided transport to the island and both left at the same time. Our ferry carried only our car and us, while the other ferry held two cars.

Once on the island, we drove for hours on the mostly hard-packed beach, with the slow waves watching our progress. Many of the massive inland dunes consist of soft sand, however, causing a number of people to get stuck. To enable rescuing them, everyone driving on the island carries long ropes.

Our delicious dinner that night, at the Eurong Beach Resort, included mouthwatering crayfish as an appetizer and snapper as the main course.

To the mainland

Upon returning to the mainland, we traveled north on the Bruce Highway, the principal thoroughfare, to Rockhampton. The road was flanked by a never-ending parade of cane fields interspersed with areas parched by bushfires.

Our next destination was Airlie Beach, the vibrant hub of the Whitsunday Coast and gateway to the 74 tropical Whitsunday Islands, only eight of which are inhabited. All belong to the Great Barrier Reef National Marine Park, situated midway along Australia’s Queensland coast.

We stayed at the lovely Best Western Colonial Palms Motor Inn (corner Shute Harbour Rd. & Hermitage Dr., Airlie Beach, 4802 QLD, Australia; phone 07 4946 7166, fax 4946 7522, colonialpalms.bestwestern.com.au) for the ensuing two nights.

Hamilton Island

The following morning, under blue skies and a quiet sea, a ferry took us to Hamilton Island, one of the most spectacular islands of the Whitsundays.

The best way to get around on the island is by golf cart, and a rental office was close to the boat dock. Fortunately, I had remembered to take my driver’s license, as it was required to operate the cart. Driving was on the left, and, contrary to the norm in the rest of Australia, the steering wheel also was on the left.

Hamilton Island is hilly, with wonderful beaches, gorgeous homes and abundant, exquisite flowers. Although the area is tropical, brisk trade winds make the heat tolerable.

On the way back from Hamilton Island to Airlie Beach, the ferry first stopped to pick up passengers at the airport pier, situated adjacent to the runway, where several colossal planes landed so close to our tiny ship that we could almost touch them.

Continuing our trip

The next day, as we continued north past endless cane fields, possums crossed high over the roads on specially made rope bridges. Signs warned motorists to watch out for two rare species: cassowaries, large flightless birds, and tree-kangaroos, adapted for life in trees.

In Yungaburra, we were lucky to observe the rare platypus, a semiaquatic creature endemic to eastern Australia. This small mammal lays eggs instead of giving birth to live young.

Daintree Rainforest

On Oct. 10, David took us through the Daintree Rainforest, where it can pour in the wet season. After traversing a magnificent, paved trail, which was bordered by superb tall trees and ferns, we stopped at a beach, where two vacant chairs beckoned Flory and me to rest and contemplate the waves.

The next day, we took an exhilarating ride on the 7.5-kilometer Skyrail Rainforest Cableway (corner Cook Hwy. & Cairns Western Arterial Rd., Cairns, QLD 4870, Australia). Our cable car glided just meters above the pristine tropical rainforest canopy, descending through the canopy layers deep into the heart of the forest at two rainforest mid-stations. A Skyrail experience will take approximately 1½ hours one way or two to 2½ hours round trip.

This was followed by a visit to the small zoo Koala Gardens (Heritage Markets, Rob Veivers Dr., Kuranda, QLD 4872, Australia), in which koalas, kangaroos and wallabies moved freely.

The unforgettable, superb alfresco lunch, courtesy of David, took place at the The Daintree Tea House (3225 Mossman-Daintree Rd., Daintree, QLD 4873, Australia; phone [07] 4098 6161), deep in the rainforest, where we sat, like king and queen, on a platform amid tall trees.

We flew back from Cairns in northern Queensland to Sydney, where we overnighted at the excellent Stamford Plaza City Airport Hotel (O’Riordan & Robey streets, Mascot, NSW 2020; Australia; phone 1 800 2 23 56 52, fax 011 61 2 9317 3855, www.stamford.com.au/ssa), across from Sydney’s domestic terminal. At AUD200 (about US$184), including breakfast, it was cheap by Australian (not our) standards.

Our Australian visit came to an end as we flew China Southern Airlines to India, along the way having a two-night stopover in Guangzhou (Canton), China. In my next column, I will narrate our experiences in Guangzhou, where a different culture awaited us.