Success is getting what you want; happiness is liking what you get

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Spirit of Queensland

This will be just the way to travel from Cairns to Brisbane, we decided, while planning our Aussie Adventure all those months ago.  Instead of flying down, we’ll go by train instead, and decided to upgrade to the RailBed option.  And what a train ride it was – a 24 hour trip travelling down the Eastern coastline.  The spacious, comfy, leather seats, with enough legroom to accommodate a big burley super tall sportsman, magically change into RailBeds, the first of it’s kind in Australia.

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Our comfy seats by day

The cane fields are never far away in this part of the country, and it’s cane harvesting time.  We passed these wagons filled with freshly cut cane waiting to be taken to the factory.  And there’s the factory, just a little further along.

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Cut sugar cane and the sugar factory

Bananas are also grown here and plastic bags are placed over the bunches of bananas to ensure they all ripen at the same time.

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Banana plantation

The train passengers were provided with little blow-up neck cushions – not as easy to do as first thought.  Those little neck cushions will be travelling with us on our flight home.  Or we could just use the large squishy pillows in the train  instead.
 
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We loved the look of the old “Queenslanders” homes, built on stilts with lots of windows to let the breeze through, and shutters to keep the hot sun out.

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An old Queenslander

The miles rolled by, and we got off to stretch our legs when we were able, when passengers boarded further down the line.  The station at Tully is well maintained and someone with green thumbs takes a lot of care and pride in all the plants.

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A brief stop at Tully Station

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And another at Townsville

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Lots of water-birds

The train stopped at Home Hill and we were interested to see quite a collection of caravan parked up along the road – seems to be a popular “free camping” area we thought.  Campers were sitting outside in the sun, having Happy Hour together, and seemed quite happy.  Meanwhile, the train waited, and waited, and waited, and we were there well over an hour.  Unbeknown to us, there was a fracas happening in the end carriage, and one of the Townsville passengers got very abusive and threatening.  So the police were called, and the passenger and her rather large family were evicted from the train!

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Freedom Camping by the station

Our RailBed package included meals, and we had been well fed all day, including wine or beer if requested.  Dinner was barramundi for her and chicken breast for him.  We both commented how nice it was to be served meals with real cutlery and crockery, instead of having to eat with plastic as you seem to on plane travel these days.

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Dinner for two

Later in the evening we watched with interest as the RailBeds were made up for sleeping.  There are all sorts of workings inside which magically seem to unfold themselves.  Once fully extended, sheets, pillows and a duvet are added, and we’re ready for a good night’s sleep.  Our verdict?  Cozy little beds, the mattress was a little hard, but certainly beats sitting up in a seat all night.  And the “hood” makes everything seem very private.
 
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Our RailBeds

I was wide awake after my latest venture down the carriage at 5.00am when everything went berserk.  “Whoop, whoop”, went the sirens, the lights all came on and everyone raised their heads to see what was going on.  My first thought was “smoke” and I hurriedly put my shoes on, didn’t want to evacuate in bare feet, and told Robin to wake up now and put his shoes on quickly!  It was in fact smoke which had set the alarm off.  Luckily the train was not on fire – we were passing through a smoky burn off beside the track and the smoke had got sucked through the air intake into the cabins.  A false alarm – but it’s good to know that the alarms and procedures all work.  So that was certainly an early wake up call for everyone.

The RailBeds were changed back to our comfy seats, and after and early coffee from the CafĂ© Car, we settled down to wait for breakfast.  And getting slowly closer to Brisbane as we chugged along.

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The train was running very late indeed, as well as the incident with the police, there had been quite a delay at Rockhampton while refueling, so in the end we were two and a half hours late arriving in Brisbane.  Several of the passengers were running late with their airport connections.  We had a hotel booking in the city for the next few nights, so luckily it didn’t matter to us if we were a little late.

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Arriving in Brisbane


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Back in Sunny Cairns

It’s great to be back in sunny Cairns again and to recharge after our hectic train trip through the outback.  We were certainly “on the go” and needed to set the alarm clock for early morning departures.  Staying once again at Southern Cross Atrium and this time secured a room on the ground floor.  So much easier than lugging those cases up and down three flights of stairs as we did previously as this hotel does not have lifts.  And our poor little legs used to have a hard time climbing all those stairs after a big day out sight seeing.

We were welcomed back in style with a grand fire work display – how nice was that!  But to be truthful, it was all part of Cairns Festival and there seems to be plenty on.  The Esplanade at night is always quite pretty with lights.

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And we joined the crowds at Festival Stage to listen and watch the highly energetic group “Bombay Royale”.  A mixture of Bollywood and loud driving rock, this large group had the crowd up dancing and wanting more.

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Cairns is an interesting place, and the locals are just as colourful as the visitors.  We spotted the latest in roof rack decorations recently – real he-man stuff.  Spare tires, containers of water or fuel maybe, and a couple of bovine skulls tied on the front.  Wonder how this would go in downtown Levin?

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What we like about Cairns is the fact that such a busy tourist spot is so casual.  Hoards of tourists flock to the Esplanade area, wave after wave of young Asians, and lots of older tourists like us.  This is a place that Aussies who live in cooler climes like to escape to for a winter break.  The outdoor dining is delightful, as is the people watching, and getting “dressed for dinner” hardly ever happens. Tidy and casual seems to be the way, and shorts with off the shoulder tops for those with young slim figures. Everyone seems so laid back, and we haven’t witnessed any trouble at all – a taxi driver told us that this is a very safe city.  There doesn’t seem to be flies around, or any of those nasty biting insects, which is a bonus, as I’m usually top of the list for insect bites. 

We’ve since returned to a couple of favourite eating places, such as the RSL Club, where we enjoyed one of our favourite meals, slow cooked pork belly.  Although the servings were so large I just couldn’t finish mine.  As mentioned previously, everything stops at 6.00pm as the Ode is played and everyone in the Club stands in respect.  What is really nice to see is that people walking by on the footpath stop and wait, and even those across the street on the boardwalk.

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Slow cooked pork belly for dinner

Last night we viewed City Lights, part of the Festival.  Now in it’s third year, moving artworks full of colour showing the culture, history and lifestyle of tropical North Queensland are projected onto the front of the Library building. 

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City Lights at the Library

We treated ourselves to a wonderful breakfast today from one of the many local cafes.  Avo, tomato, and feta on toast with smoked salmon and poached eggs for her, and a huge plate of French Toast, bacon and luscious fruit for him.  Wonderfully presented and quite reasonably priced too.

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Not bad at all

So we are just pottering around, done a little last minute shopping, and making sure we get rid of any perishables in the fridge,  As it will be our last night in town, we will be taking ourselves out somewhere nice tonight for our final evening meal.  Tomorrow is going to be a big day as we are off on another train ride.  This time, the Spirit of Queensland, a 24 hour trip from Cairns to Brisbane.  And we won’t be roughing it either – sitting in economy all that time.  Oh no, our upgraded seats magically turn into a RailBed so we can hopefully get to sleep at night – will let you know how that all works out.  So it’s goodbye to Cairns, and hello to Brisbane.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Savannahlander Rail Trip - Day 2

Thank goodness, the final catch-up post.  We had to be up bright and early, bags packed and loaded onto the truck, all ready for the final rather long day of travel.  A couple of the camp staff were cooking up enough bacon and eggs on the BBQ to feed several carriages of rail enthusiasts, so that was a great start to the day.

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Bacon and eggs for breakfast

Then it was all board for the final day of our outback trip.  There were no such niceties as air con on this vintage train, it was open windows all the way.

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The rail track is laid over both steel and wooden sleepers, both used for quite different reasons.  The steep sleepers keep the gauge accurate and requires packing, and the wooden sleepers provides foundation for the line.

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Bounding kangaroo and Braham cattle in the bush

The train stopped for an early lunch at the aptly named Railway Hotel at Almaden.  No fancy city slicker food here, but the cold meat and salad was a hit on such a hot day.  And there’s an artistic shot of our train across at the station.

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Lunch stop at Almaden

There was quite a bit of excitement on board when it was announced that we were stopping for a train photo stop.  Keen photographers clambered down from the train and got ready to snap some pictures.  The train backed up then slowly came forward, while the paparazzi started clicking like crazy.

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Train photo shoot

Our friendly driver Wil kept up a running commentary when he took over driving duties from Leigh in the afternoon.  Wil professes to a deep love of snakes, and has more than his fair share at home.  All sorts, and he breeds and sells them, and milks them for venom.  Wil was a zoo keeper in a former life, so whenever he sees something interesting by the track, the train is stopped and he is off like a shot to investigate.  Such as when he saw a kookaburra kill and fly off with a small snake in it’s beak and then drop it.  He then carried it up beside the train to show the passengers before puting it safely back onto the ground so the kookaburra can find it again and finish his meal.

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Wil with the small snake dropped by a Kooburra

Wil related the story of one of his hero's, Kevin  Budden, who set out into the bush in 1950 to capture a taipan as this was the final antivenin yet to be developed in Australia.   With no luck in finding this particular breed of snake, he returned to Cairns, where he caught 27 snakes before finding a taipan at the rubbish dump near Edge Hill. He caught it without any catching equipment or snake bag and walked to the nearest road and summoned a truck upon which he sat beside the driver with the snake in his hands. When he arrived at his friend’s place, the identity of the snake was confirmed. Unfortunately, Budden relaxed his grip whilst putting it into a bag and it bit him on the boot, before fastening on to his hand.  Horrified onlookers wanted to kill the snake but Budden insisted it was too valuable for research and it was secured and he was rushed to Cairns Base Hospital. Unfortunately, early signs of paralysis appeared, his condition gradually worsened and, despite receiving Tiger snake antivenin, he died on 28th July 1950.  The experts successfully made antivenin from the snake Kevin so bravely caught.  His memorial states: ‘‘Kevin Cliff Budden, 1950, He gave up life for all Queenslanders, let us not forget him’’.

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From the window – Retford, and one of the millions of termite mounds

The train came to a halt a little further along, and we were under siege, boarded by a couple of Ned Kelly look-alikes.  They came aboard brandishing their guns, helmets firmly in place, and holding their money bags aloft.  Robbing trains is obviously a very lucrative business, as we noticed a helicopter parked in front of the family homestead.

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Your money or your life

As we travelled closer to the coast the landscape changed dramatically as we entered the Tablelands.  Gone was the yellow coloured dry grasslands, replaced by viable cropping country.  Orchards of mango, citrus and avocado trees, coffee plantations, sugar cane, and even grape vines were growing in this area.  Wil related yet another story as we passed by a couple of brolga birds from his years at the zoo.  Seemed one of the male birds took a real fancy to Wil as he went about his cleaning and feeding duties, jumped on his back and ……….I’m sure you could work out what used to happen next if he didn’t get out of the enclosure in time.  These are rather big birds standing 1m high and have a wing span of 2.4m so would be hard to shake off.

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Two brolgas in the paddock

The final part of our journey continued down the Kuranda line and through the rain forest once more.  Once again the train came to shuddering halt when Wil and Leigh spotted a feral pig and new young family beside the track.  After racing around they finally gathered up five piglets, placed them inside an Eski (chilly bin to Kiwis) to take home a fatten up.  As Wil commented, these introduced pests ravage the delicate balance of the rain forest, cannot be hunted in this environment, so he is doing his part in their removal.  Plus he has Christmas dinner organised.  We stopped at the Barron Falls Lookout for a few photos – just a trickle now but well worth a photo in the wet season, we were told.

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Barron Falls
Savannahlander Trip
Then we were all gathered together for a group photo to go on the Savannahlander web site.

As we finally pulled into Cairns Railway Station, our train adventure had come to an end.  What a marvelous time we had during our six day trip in the great Outback.

Maps of our journey around the outback of Far North Queensland.

Road trip to Normanton and Rail Trip from Normanton to Croydon on the Gulflander


Savannahlander Railmotor Trip



Saturday, August 26, 2017

Undara Lava Tubes

Catch-up blog again, almost caught up now.  It was a matter of off the train, throw the bags into our rooms, and climb aboard a bus with hardly a minute to spare.  We were off to visit the Undara Lava Tubes.  ‘Undara’ is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘long way’. The park protects one of the longest lava tube cave systems in the world. About 190,000 years ago, a large volcano erupted violently, spewing molten lava over the surrounding landscape. The lava flowed rapidly down a dry riverbed. The top, outer-layer cooled and formed a crust, while the molten lava below drained outwards, leaving behind a series of hollow tubes.

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Land owner Gerry Collins believed the best way to protect these dramatic, ancient formations for future generations lay in developing a sustainable visitor experience,to develop a tourist facility to showcase the Lava Tubes located on his family holding, Rosella Plains Station.  Working closely with regional and state government bodies, the Collins family proposed a national park should be gazetted around the caves, and tours to the lava tubes be accessed from a lodge facility managed by the family.   This venture would  lessen the environmental impact but highlight the unique ecology and geology of the cave system and protect the caves for the future.

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Access to the caves is by guided tours only, and our guide led the way past an imposing Broadleaf Bottle Tree, the bare branches looking so dramatic against the clear blue sky.  And hiding away in the branches was a tiny little bird, but most of us had trouble spotting it, let along taking it's photo.

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Broadleaf Bottle tree

Walking was easy on the boardwalks, although some in our group had been to the caves many years earlier and related how they had to carefully pick their way over rock falls.  The huge size of the lava tubes certainly attest to unknown amounts of lava spewing up from the bowels of the earth.

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The Archway

We were all given torches to help negotiate our way through the longer darker caves.  There are various rods dotted around the cave system between the floor and the rock wall to detect movement – just in case.  There was cause for concern some time ago when one of the rods had moved  – was the wall collapsing? Thankfully not, the rod was up against a growing root in the ground which was causing it to move.

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Views of the lava tubes

It was a very interesting visit indeed, and we were glad we got to experience it.  I mentioned to our guide that back home in New Zealand we don’t have lava tubes.  But a quick chat with Mr Google once we arrived back in internet range soon told me I was completely wrong.  Check out these sites:  lava cave in the backyard or this one lava tubes in NZ.  New Zealand is dotted with volcanos so no wonder there are tubes and caves hidden under the ground.  But we do wonder why our home grown lava tubes are not better known?