The Sunshine State

The wait was over. My time at Camooweal was up and I could finally be reintroduced into the real world, into society. We flew from Mt Isa to Cairns on one of more nervous flights I have had on the trip. Queensland now being in summer also means the the wet season, which means the odd tropical storm/cyclone. Just as we were about to take off one of these hit Isa. We took off in a tiny propeller plane amid a huge tropical thunderstorm during the evening. The plane shaked the whole way up while wind and rain battered the air craft from all angles. During the flight I could see massive thunder bolts right outside the window! Nevertheless we eventually made it safe and sound into the tropical city of Cairns, on the east coast of north Queensland.

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My main reason to come to Cairns was to see and experience what Australia was most well known for, the stunning Great Barrier Reef. Cairns acts as a gate way to the reef as it is the closest the reef gets to the mainland. We spent a few days in Cairns exploring the city and enjoying a relaxing first few days of not having to work! We then took a boat trip to the outer reef for some snorkeling and to dive the reef itself. The reef is massive, its the largest national marine park in the word and can even be seen from space. There are so many good places up and down the coast with great access to fantastic diving, however Cairns offers you the opportunity to get to the outer reef which holds some of the best sections. We took a day trip out on one of the many boats which visit the reef each day and did two dives during the day. The reef was stunning, so many different types of coloured coral just covered the seabed with millions of fish small and large. We even saw another Black Tip Shark which is always exciting! This time of year the north east of Queensland’s coast experiences a huge increase in the amount of Jellyfish in the waters off the coast, its known as ‘Stinger Season’. Because of this we had to wear a rather fetching stinger suit while diving or snorkeling, even swimming off any of the beaches north of Noosa isn’t advised unless with a stinger suit or swimming in a stinger net. Traveling down the coast I saw hundreds of blue Blubber Jellyfish, so many washed up on the beach too. The general rule appears to be, if you can see them its all good, if you can’t then that’s when you could get in some trouble! The two stingers to be afraid of are the Box Jellyfish and the Irukandj. As is well known, the Box is one of the most deadly creatures on earth, a sting from one of these can mean game over in just 15 minutes. Its up there with the Sydney Funnel Web spider as being the most venomous creatures you’ll ever come across. Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t think it could get much worse than a sting from the Box, turns out Australia of course has something even worse. The Irukandji jellyfish is smaller than your thumbnail and is light years worse! Its venom is known to be 1000 times more potent than a Tarantula. A sting from this causes Irukandji Syndrome and apparently is absolutely excruciating, well known to cause deaths after a sting. Unlike most jellyfish whose stingers are found only on their tentacles, then tiny Irukandji’s stingers are found all over it. So the water may look clear and nothing visibly dangerous, but you wouldn’t get me jumping in off the coast in Cairns in summer time!

Once Cairns was over, it was off down the coast to spend a very Australian Christmas in Mission Beach. This tiny town rests on a stunning tropical north Queensland beach. Like something from a postcard, palm trees and coconuts littered the shore and perfect place to spend Christmas!

Mission Beach was also to be the venue for an activity which I couldn’t quite afford previously/was to nervous. Finally plucked up the courage to skydive and what a place to do it. I have been thinking about how to write this section for a little while and If I’m honest I can’t quite find the words to describe the feeling. As those of you reading who have also taken the jump it is almost indescribable. I was picked up after being slightly delayed due to bad weather early in the morning, taken to the Jump Centre. Got the talk on how one is to properly jump out of an airplane and filled out all the necessary ‘please don’t sue us if you die’ paperwork. After that I met the guy who would be looking after my life and we drove 30 minutes or so to where we would be taking off. On the way as we drove inland, the weather turned questionable at best. Lots of rain, heavy clouds and strong winds. Nevertheless my co-jumper, Rory was cool as a cucumber and even managed to fit in a tidy nap on the dive over! Meanwhile I’m sitting behind him looking to the heavens thinking, well this hasn’t gone well. We had a further delay at the air strip as the rain poured down, in which time Rory decided to show me a massive green tree frog chilling out in the bathroom. At this point I asked Rory if he gets the same rush everything he jumps, bearing in mind he’s done over 5,000 and sometimes does 10 a day. He replied with ‘nothing like what you are about to experience mate. Awesome.

Eventually the rain eased and we piled into the plane and took off for the 20 minute flight up. Once we reached our height of 14,000ft we leveled out and all of a sudden the door opened up and a huge rush of wind flew into the aircraft. Next came one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen. A human being falling out of a plane. I was forth out so watching others just drop out and fade away into the cloud was very strange. Suddenly it was my turn. At this point I thought I was going to be as nervous as you could possibly be. One the flight up the nerves did pick up. I’ve never been much a fan of heights, doing this was because of that. Fight fire with fire was my thinking. Shifting forward and being asked to then put my legs underneath the plane made me think otherwise! Suddenly I was sitting on the edge of a perfectly good aircraft about to jump out. Before you know it, I was out the door and returning to earth. The next sixty seconds were euphoric. The sudden job was so intense, we flipped out of the plane, did a couple turns before leveling up, Rory tapped me on the shoulder meaning I could release my arms and we we falling through the sky. Seeing the plane fall away was incredible, it happened so fast. Within seconds we had reached terminal velocity, travelling through the air at over 200kph. The free fall lasted 60 seconds and I did not want it to end. To an extent it didn’t feel like falling, with the emotion and adrenaline it almost felt like floating. We speared through clouds, pretty sure with me shouting the whole way down. We fell over the beautiful ocean, the great barrier reef and its islands all below me and miles and miles of stunning beach. It was stunning. Before I knew it I felt a sudden jerk and we slowed right down as my parachute and saviour was released. We had fallen 10,000 feet in sixty seconds! The most exhilarating 60 seconds I have ever experienced.

Once the shoot was up, we glided around for another 4 or 5 minutes making our gradual decent. The views were simple epic, the clouds had cleared and I could see for miles. We eventually got closer to the earth and in true James Bond style landed right on the beach, I officially will never be as cool as that again. It was an incredible experience, truly like nothing I have ever felt. The buzz after it lasted for a couple days and I kept picturing the plane falling away from me and that first sudden feeling. I’d do it again in heartbeat. They say do one thing every day that scares you, I reckon that should hold me for a few weeks. So happy I finally did it, I picked up my stash and man points and headed for a well earned beer!

The next day was Christmas Day which was a great day. We were staying at a really small hostel right on the beach. It being so small meant that everyone got together, it kind of had that family feeling so it turned out to be a great place to spend Christmas. The usual freezing cold Christmas Day walk back home was instead swapped for board shorts and a beautiful walk down the beach in 30 plus degrees. It was seriously hot that day, it felt so far from Christmas Day back home! A great day nonetheless. A local chef cooked up a feast for us all and we all went down to his restaurant to have a fantastic dinner.

After the Christmas dinner had gone down we were back on the road again heading further south to Townsville. The city is largely considered the capital of north Queensland and acts as another gateway to the reef and also to Magnetic Island; our primary reason for a visit to the city. We were only there for a few couple days and made use of our time by a day visit to the Island which is just a 45 minute boat trip away. We took a great tour around the small island which took us all over. The island was covered in beautiful national parks and even better beaches and small bays. It would be a beautiful place to spend a few days. The wildlife there was brilliant. We saw some beautiful little Wallabies hiding in some rocks near the beach and were even lucky enough to see some wild Koalas up some trees in someones back yard! They are such an amazing little creature even though the spend the majority of their lives fast asleep!

Airlie Beach was to be our next stop as we traveled on. Airlie Beach I was really looking forward to as this would mean the start of an adventure around the Whitsunday Islands. The Whitsundays are a collection of small islands off the coast of Airlie Beach and they are simply stunning! We spend 3 days sailing around the islands on a beautiful trimaran sailing boat called Avatar. Avatar was a former race boat and is known as the fastest in the Whitsundays. In its hay day it won the Sydney to Hobart race 6 times along with many other famous races. It was a serious sailing boat and a great way to see the islands. For 3 days Avatar to us to all the best spots in the Whitsundays along with some fantastic snorkeling spots which once again included the lovely stinger suit! The snorkeling was fantastic. Almost as good as diving on the reef. We saw some beautiful fish including some large Bump head Parrot Fish and one of my favorites the Batfish. I also saw one of the biggest Green Turtles I have ever seen, just chilling out on the bottom, he was beautiful.

Avatar also took us to some of the islands for some great bush walks. None better than to visit the famous Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet. Whitehaven beach is the one you will see on all the postcards, the mesmerizing colours created by the shifting sands as they swirl along the bay. The Hill Inlet offered some great views across the beach, it really was stunning. Like no beach I have ever seen. Once we got down there it was even better. The water was so blue and the sand was amazingly white. I learnt later that it wasn’t actually sand and in fact Silica. It was so fine that you can actually clean jewelery with it! Along the waters edge were hundreds of graceful stingrays which was a great site. You could stand in the water up to your knees and the rays would gently glide over you and if you were lucky even the odd small Lemon Shark. A beautiful little shark as yellow as Bart Simpson.

Before we knew it Avatar was heading back to Airlie Beach, it was a great trip and a perfect way to see the islands. The Whitsundays were stunning, a huge thank you to all the crew on Avatar.

After spending a few extra days in Airlie Beach and seeing in the New Year we continued further south stopping for a couple days in the inland city of Rockhampton before arriving in the tiny town of Agnes Water which was twinned with the Town of 1770 just a little north. Agnus is a beautiful little town on the banks of another stunny beach, just below it 1770 is where James Cook first landed in Queensland, in 1770 funnily enough. It was a great place to spend a few days relaxing and also getting my first surf in! Its the first place you can surf in Australia when traveling south down the east coast. The waves were only small and I did also put my hand through a huge Blue Blubber jellyfish which wasn’t ideal but it was great to be back in the water anyway!

Hervey Bay was another few hours away on the Greyhound and we were heading there for one reason; Fraser Island. If you haven’t heard of this place then you need to look it up and book a ticket! It is one of my favorite places in Australia. So much in fact that this was to be my third time going there! Fraser is the worlds largest sand island. It is about 120km long and 25km wide at its widest. A beautiful rain forest covers the inland while a stunning beaches border it. One in fact named 75 Mile Beach for obvious reasons. You can’t go there in normal cars as there are no roads whatsoever, it is all off road. We did a 2 day 2 night trip there with a group. There was about 20 of us in a convoy of 4 Land Cruisers with a guide in the front on and each of us took turns to drive which was a lot of fun! There is so much to do and see on the island I could have stayed for much longer. In the time we were there we just about managed to see all of the best sites. The lakes on the island are incredible. You are unable to swim in the sea around the islands due to rough surf and also because it tends to be a breeding area for tiger and bull sharks and or course there is also the stingers. In fact two people were hospitalised the previous week with Irukandj Sydnrome. Lake Wobby and Lake Mackenzie were a massive highlight. Wobby is a beautiful emerald green lake surrounded by massive sand dunes. I had a lot of fun running straight down the huge steep dune straight into the water! The sand under the water follows the gradient of the dune and its incredibly deep very quickly! It makes for a great swim. Mackenzie is the one everyone goes to see. Google Fraser Island and you will see why and I’ll bet the photos you find won’t be photo shopped. It actually is that colour. A magic blue water resting on the same silica sand found on Whitehaven Beach. The light blue suddenly turns into a darker blue as the sand drops and the water gets deeper. The whole lake is surrounded by stunning green rain forest growing straight out of the sand; which I still don’t quite understand!

We headed right to the top of the islands to Indian Heads lookout which looks for miles over 75 Mile Beach offering some great views. We managed to see more stingrays from the top too which was brilliant. We then visited Champagne Pools in the north too. Stunning rock pools are sheltered from the huge waves by massive rock formations. Every so often a huge wave will hit the rocks and the water and foam will fall into the pools and bubble giving the pools their name. It made for a really nice place to relax! Further down the coast we stopped at the famous Maheno Ship Wreck which was wrecked on Fraser’s coast 1935 and also Eli Creek. Eli Creek is a spring that flows from the rain forest to the sea. The freezing water has a gentle flow so you I could flow down gently through the forest eventually ending up at the beach.

Even though it was my third time to Fraser I’d love to one day go back. The huge baron beaches fascinate me and diving off road is a lot of fun! I did a lot of diving on the island along the beach and forest. On the way back we thought we were going to be late for the ferry so I had to put my foot down a tad which made for a bumpy ride but bloody hell it was good fun roaring through the forest!

Fraser was over all too soon and we headed for our last stop before Brisbane; Noosa Heads. Noosa has long been a favorite of mine. The upmarket surf town puts the Sunshine Coast on the map! I could live there in a heartbeat! Its such a chilled out town with lots to do. A beautiful national park and everglades made for a great walk around the coast. From the cliffs you can see stunning beaches and even saw a pod of dolphins. Unfortunately the surf again wasn’t brilliant, I did manage to get out a couple times. However I ran into my second stinger which was much worse than the first. While paddling out after being in the water for about 5 minutes I felt and shocking pain down my arm, looked down and saw the electric blue tenticles of a Portuguese Man O War wrapped around my arm. I can tell you from experience, it stings like a bitch! Without thinking I tried to get it off with my hand and then of course stung my fingers too! Eventually managed to wash the thing off but it was quite a shock! They are known as Bluebottles out here and are responsible for 10,000 stings every year so they are quite popular. Luckily it didn’t affect me quite as badly as it does some people and the pain eventually subsided after 40 minutes or so…just in time for a few more waves!

So here I am now back in Brisbane! Can’t believe we are back here already. Its been nearly 5 months since we were last year and its gone pretty quickly. A lot has happened in the past few months, this has only been a snapshot.

As always there is so much more to look forward to coming up. Tales from Sydney, Bryon Bay and even Fiji are yet to come, memories in waiting are to be made and I can’t wait. Tomorrow I head to Coolangatta on the Gold Coast, I can see the waves from here!

‘Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.’

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