Final leg of the road trip - Gold Coast to Cairns
Trip Start Jun 15, 2007
74Trip End Jun 27, 2008
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So, after experiencing the delights of the Gold Coast, we hot footed it up the coast - our intended destination, BEERWAH!! Where? We hear you cry. Beerwah! Home of Australia Zoo and stomping ground of the late, great, Steve 'The Crocodile Hunter' Irwin. CRIKEY!!!!
From the moment we knew that we were coming to Australia, the one thing that we have both been looking forward to, probably more than anything, has been Australia Zoo. For those of you that have never encountered Steve Irwin then you will not know what all the fuss is about - for those of you that have, then I am sure you can appreciate the excitement. Unfortunately, the great man was killed a couple of years ago but we still wanted to come and see what he had created and pay homage to him.
After not much sleep due to far too much excitement, we headed over to the Zoo and waited for the doors to open. As you approach you drive along 'Steve Irwin Way' - named in his memory. You then see the signs - billboards with his face 'CRIKEY - WELCOME TO AUSTRALIA ZOO!' and pictures of him handling crocs. Our excitement grew to a fever pitch. We burst through the doors and spent a fantastic day exploring the grounds and seeing all the amazing creatures there. Here you find crocs, koalas, snakes, elephants, tigers, spiders, kangaroos, you name it - it is here. So what makes this different from any other zoo? First, and foremost the personality that brought it to the world's attention. Although he is in the great big zoo in the sky, the enthusiasm he had for wildlife still permeates (big word for a big man) throughout the park. Secondly, this place is less about looking at animals and more about conservation and awareness of the creatures and what we are doing to their habitat. You learn so much about endangered species and what we can do to ensure their survival. Plus, there is the CROC-O-SEUM (basically a huge arena modeled on the Roman Colosseum) where you get to see big crocs grab chunks of meat from the handlers amongst other things. COOL!!
OK - so maybe we got a little too excited about that little excursion - but it was cool and we loved it. However, we cannot ever step foot in the place again thanks to Nicola Marshall. Towards the end of the day, we went to see the Birds of Prey show. This basically involved us watching the handlers training the birds. One of the highlights of the show was when they brought out an owl. As the handler was bringing out this majestic bird of prey, she asked if anyone could guess what kind of owl this particular one was. Nic's hand shot up, always wanting to be teachers pet.
'Is it a Teat?' she asked
'A what?' enquired the handler
'A Teat. You know, a Teat Owl' replied Nicola with a big grin on her face.
Needless to say, this went down like a lead balloon and we were escorted from the park.
Departing quickly out of Beerwah, we headed for our next destination; Airlie Beach - gateway to the Whitsunday Islands. Along this route the roads were flanked by sugar cane fields for hundreds and hundred of kilometres. And high above these sugar cane fields, presumably due to a high population of good grub living with the fields, were wedge-tailed eagles. We were blown away by how many of these we saw, and how beautiful and majestic they were. Along with the eagles there were kestrels and bustards. This made the long journey the whole more enjoyable. Unfortunately, we very nearly had our first major accident when a wasp flew into the van and stung Pat on the leg while he was driving. Two options; one to swerve in front of the 50 metre long, 100 ton truck on the other side of the road, or the second, to swerve into the sugar cane fields. Unfortunately, for a split second Pat chose the first option much to Nic's distress. Thankfully no major accidents other than a swollen calf for Pat (and his calves need all the help they can get).
So on to the Whitsundays. The Whitsundays are a group of 74 islands, that used to be a mountain range until the last ice age (we do pay attention don't we?). With pure white beaches, clear blue seas and stunning islands, this is about as close to paradise you are going to get. The islands really are stunning. Also, it was to be our intended final destination on the road trip. The plan was to get here, put Jethro up for sale, head off on a cruise for a couple of days then leave for New Zealand. Unfortunately Airlie Beach is not a starting point for many road trips, so there was no market for selling a van. We soon learnt this, so decided that we would need to head up to Cairns, as this is a major city and the start of many a road trip for travelers.
However, we would not be leaving Airlie Beach without first seeing the islands and visiting the Great Barrier Reef. As a major destination, there are hundreds of options available catering for every need and every budget. We decided that we wanted to kill two birds with one stone and see both the Whitsundays and the Barrier Reef in one trip. To sail it would have involved a three day trip to get to the reef via the islands - we didn't really fancy the idea of this plus it was going to cost mega bucks. Then we noticed an excursion, reasonably priced, that took in the islands, and the reef all in one day!! Not by boat, but by plane. The trip was a five hour excursion, that took flight above the islands, landed on the water next to Whitehaven Beach, then took you out to the Barrier Reef. From here we had a couple of hours snorkeling, followed by flights above the reef and then back. What an opportunity to see one of the great natural wonders of the world, from the skies. We snapped the agents hand off and prepared ourselves for an unforgettable experience.
We were not to be disappointed. Arriving at the airfield mid morning, we departed on our 10 seater sea plane and circled around the islands. Here we truly got to see their beauty. We then landed next to Whitehaven beach, which to say the landing was on the sea, was very very smooth. Much better than what we had been expecting. We then had an hour on the beach to have a wander, drink champagne, eat lunch. Following this it was off to the reef. Wow, wow and wow again. Absolutely breath taking. We knew we had made the right decision to make this trip, as to see the reef from such a vantage point was breath taking. The colours, the formations, the shapes - just amazing. The photos we took just do not do this stunning natural formation any justice.
We landed next to a moored glass bottomed boat and were ferried over to a part of the reef, observing life under the water as we went, that thankfully no other cruises go to - so it was relatively unspoilt. Here we donned our stinger suits and entered the water. Nothing could have prepared us for the amazing coral and fish that we encountered. We did have an underwater camera, but unfortunately we have not yet had the opportunity to develop the photos but once we do we will post them on here. I hope they do the coral some sort of justice.
Following our snorkeling, it was time to head back to the mainland. What a day, what an experience. Money well spent.
As soon as we landed back at Airlie Beach, we started to make our way up to Cairns. It was still another six hundred and something kilometres, so we made sure we got on the road as soon as. We arrived in Cairns after a couple of days driving, and knew this was to be our final destination. During the time on the road we managed to cover over seven thousand kilometres, over a period of nearly seven weeks. Thankfully, for us, we managed to do this without any major incidents or mishaps.
First job in Cairns was to advertise the van. Just as we were printing off the for sale signs, we got a phone call from a couple of Irish lads in Brisbane, enquiring about the van (they had seen it advertised on the Internet). So after a few arrangements we decided that they would fly up to Cairns, and the deal would be done, confident that they wouldn't need to see before buying. So, with a mixture of excitement and sadness, we prepped Jethro ready for sale. Nick got on with touching up the paint work, brushing his hair etc, while Pat cleaned out the inside and made sure he was spick and span.
The Irish boys turned up as promised, and the deal was done. The keys were handed over and we waved goodbye. We were left standing on the side of the roads, again with only our rucksacks, wondering how we would cope without him. We were genuinely gutted to sell the van as it had been a great buy and we have some superb memories from our time on the road.
But, we must move on and after a couple of hours of uncontrollable sobbing, we made our way to the airport to make some enquiries about flying to NEW ZEALAND!!!