August 26, 2017

The Great Whale Migration

Whale watching is one of the more popular attractions for tourists in Australia especially during the winter months. Unlike the likes of Sea World where one would see trained sea animals confined within a small pool, here you can watch completely wild whales on their great migration from freezing Antarctic waters to the warm cozy waters of the Great Barrier reef . These apparently they do every year and by the end of the winter head back to their rich feeding grounds in the Antarctic ocean. There are various species of the whales undertaking this journey, but the most easily spotted ones are the the humpback whales, which also travel closer to the coastline, making it easier to spot. Even though technically not as big as the blue whales (which are rarely spotted along the coast), the humpback whales are majestic in their own right.

From Sydney, there are various tours offering whale watching cruises which last from anywhere for a couple of hours to full day. The best season to encounter these beautiful creatures is in the end of June and beginning of July with maximum sightings during this period. Hence we planned our trip to coincide with this period and we were not disappointed.

We took the morning trip starting from Circular Quay and we entered the open water , which was the highway for these creatures. Within 10 minutes we started to get sightings. Whales breaching water and diving back into water is one of the most beautiful things to watch in the wild. They do this in order to get rid of the parasites in their skin which are removed due to the impact of water. The impact sound on the other hand is heard by other whales kilometers away and used also as a mating signal.

The first encounter was exciting , but with so many sightings with nearly 100+ breaches by the end of our 2 hr trip we were a bit saturated, but found ourselves lucky at the same time, since some cruises dont even encounter even a single whale , leave alone a breach. Overall a very satisfied customer !!! ;)

July 21, 2017

Fraser Island : Worlds Largest Sand Island

There are 3 biggest sand islands along the Queensland coast and all of them are at a drivable distance from the city of Brisbane. Frazer island is one of those remote islands and is preserved beautifully as a world heritage site. The access to these islands are via ferries from places like Harvey Bay and Rainbow beach. There are no proper roads within these islands and all the vehicles have to either use the inland bumpy roads or the wide sandy beaches for moving around the island based on the tidal activity of the ocean. Hence that means obviously only 4x4 vehicles are allowed into this island.

Since our car is a normal sedan, only option was to either hire a vehicle or go through a guided tour. We decided to do the later and our tour bus picked us early in the morning from a spot in Sunshine coast. There are various tour packages lasting for days together based on one's interest and we decided to go for a single day tour. Our means of transport was a refurbished 4x4 vehicle, used previously by Australian armed forces. Hence it was fairly comfortable journey in-spite of the road conditions.

We crossed the sea in a ferry and landed up in Frazer island. Initially our vehicle zoomed through the beaches crossing various fresh water rivulets draining to the ocean. These rivulets had crystal clear water and is prime source of drinking water in the island. First stop was the Central station, which used to be the heart of the island during the days when they were logging in the island for timber.  That is something unique about Australian cities or town, where there would be a place known as central. Currently abandoned after this island has become a conservation zone to protect its unique flora and fauna. This is one of those unique islands wherein rain-forest has adapted itself to grow on sand. Interesting.

The seventy five mile beach is the artery of transport into the island. It forms one of the longest beaches in the world running close to 120 kms. It also acts as a runway for small planes flying into the island. So much so that they even have a speed limit boards running along the beach. One can cruise in their 4x4 vehicles, with shark infested ocean on one side, rainforest filled sand dunes on the other and endless beach track ahead. A perfect driving experience.

Frazer island is also known for wild dingo population. Dingo is nothing but wild dogs and it was a bit odd for us to seek the dingos when we had seen millions of Indian street dogs back home, which look exactly the same. The highlight of the trip was a visit to Lake Mckenzie. We visited this island in the middle of the day, when we had a clear sky. Since we had visited on a working weekday, it was practically empty. The lake is easily the most pristine water body I have ever seen, with it gleaming under the afternoon sun under various shades of soothing blue. The initial shallow part of the lake is completely transparent and as the depth increases so does the shade of blue. Apart from this lake there are countless other lakes in the island which are formed due of collection of water between the sand dunes over the period of time. The sand bed also acts as a natural filter and hence we have crystal clear waters. We played to our hearts content in the mineral rich water.

After lunch we went for a walk along the Eli Creek. This creek with again crystal clear water was used by aboriginal tribes as a meeting place strictly for the women folk. Since the aboriginals had already got enlightened with the mineral rich properties of the water of this creek, they used it as a spot for child births, which is similiar to the latest trend of water birth in the western world. The walk along the Eli Creek and the rainforest took us close to half an hour at a leisure pace and was very enjoyable.

Finally it was time to return back. We took the ferry back to Rainbow beach and enjoyed its namesake under the glow of the setting sun. It was also a pretty sight to watch. Hence one more world heritage site is struck off my list.

July 7, 2017

Gold Coast : The Vacation Capital Of Oz

Gold Coast is indeed the vacation capital of Australia. It has one of the highest number of theme parks and other tourism based attractions in Australia, which is unusual for a town which is just 1/10 the size of cities like Sydney and Melbourne. The best attraction of Gold Coast is definitely the endless golden beaches. Listed below are some of the attractions we had interest in and visited. Apart from these there countless number of other theme parks like Dreamworld, Seaworld, Wet N Wild, Whitewater world and so on. The best deals for these theme parks can be obtained from websites such as experienceoz.

1. Q1 : Skywalk

Q1 building is the tallest building in Australia and also in the southern hemisphere. The design is inspired from the 2000 Sydney Olympics torch. Even though there is an observation deck from where one gets great views of the Gold Coast area, we decided to do something more adventurous, opting for the Skypoint climb , which involves climbing outside the building to the topmost point of the spire, getting an even better view and just a harness for safety. Skypoint ticket also includes a free ticket to the observation deck, hence this made more sense to us. After providing a brief with all the equipment such as harness, jumpsuits etc we entered the exterior of the building from where one has to climb close to 50 steps to reach the pinnacle. It was not as scary as I imagined it would be. But the views were great from here. We were provided with a complimentary cap and a group photo. Individual photos are extra.

2. Movie World

Supposed to be one of the best theme parks in Australia wherein we enjoyed a lot of rides related to the movies produced by the Warner Bros Studios like the Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Bugs Bunny, Road Runner etc. But to be frank this theme park was not as spectacular as the Universal Studios which we have been to. However having said that it is still a very enjoyable place.  We went through some scary rides like Superman, Green Lantern and Arkham Asylum. There are a lot of road shows happening which involved a lot of comic and cartoon characters. There is also a kiddy zone especially targeted towards children. There is also an indoor Scooby Doo roller coaster which aims to be spooky. The best show however is the Hollywood Stunt Driver show which involves a lot of live car stunts performed by the stuntmen. Since we went on a normal weekday, there was minimal queues for all the rides.

3. Coolangatta Beach

Apart from the famous Surfer Paradise beach right in the heart of the Gold Coast, there is another beach around 20kms south of the town known as Coolangatta. This is an absolutely gorgeous beach and we enjoyed our time playing in the water and watching a glorious sunset. Not at all crowded and good place to relax and unwind. One can also see the Gold Coast CBD across the water rising like a distant fairyland.

June 30, 2017

Noosa National Park

Noosa is one of the more popular beach vacation towns in the south east region of Queensland, and we learned that the hard way during a visit on an extended weekend. We visited this place on the Good Friday weekend, and boy this place was crowded with no parking spots available anywhere. In the end after roaming for close to an hour trying to find a parking spot, we did park in a place but did end up with a fine :P.

The best spot in Noosa is definitely exploring the walking trails of the Noosa National Park, which runs along the coastline providing some awe inspiring views. There are multiple trails running through the national park (map here). We decided to take the much popular coastal track upto Hells Gate and return back via some shortcut. The day was perfect with mild temperature and sunny day, making it an enjoyable day for walking. The water right from the Noosa Heads was glistening under the sunshine in turquoise blue colour. Our plan was to walk around 5 km return.

The initial park of the walk is close to sea level, but slowly the elevation increases with the highest point being near the Hells Gate. The views on the other hand are spectacular and the best views again at Hells Gate, which gives a birds eye view of the Alexandria Bay. Apart from the views it was quite windy. Probably this would be a great lookout point for whale watching during the migration period. We then returned back and it took us close to 2.5 hrs for the entire walk.

Once we returned back from the walk we went to Laguna Lookout point which gives a birds eye view of the entire Noosa Heads area and the river. Spent time relaxing here and had our lunch. This spot was sparsely frequented by tourists.

The finale for our trip was to enjoy the waters of the Noosa Main beach. Luck finally smiled on us and we got a parking spot easily when we were at the right place at the right time. Others waiting along with us where not so lucky :P. We enjoyed the waters of the main beach, eventhough the waves were quite rough.

June 27, 2017

Bushwalking in Mt Glorious

Mt Glorious is one of the nearest rainforest bushwalking tracks from the city of Brisbane, with it just being 40 kms from the city centre and a perfect getaway on an unplanned weekend. We had visited this area just the week after the cyclone Debbie had hit the Queensland coast and we could see a lot of damage on the road upto the Maiala Picnic area from where the track starts and also on the bushwalking track itself with lots of tree debris strewn across it, making it a bit of an obstacle race :).

Maiala Picnic area has plenty of parking spots and the drive upto this place is quite picture-some. This spot is a perfect spot to spend an afternoon with family and friends even if one is not interested to go bushwalking.  Also from this place the Greene falls circuit starts , which is a 4.3km easy grade walk with not so difficult gradients. We took an hour of walking at a leisure pace to reach the falls and enjoyed it. The Greene falls is a decent sized waterfalls, nothing spectacular , but still good in its own right.

Once back from the walk we had our lunch and relaxed by the grasslands of the picnic area. The next stop was the Wivenhoe Dam which is the source of drinking water for the city of Brisbane. Enroute to this place we also came across a lookout area up in the hills having a birds eye view of the entire Wivenhoe dam catchment area. We went upto the dam and to one of the visitor centers. From here one can get into water and enjoy the pristine water of the dam. Overall a great place to visit on an unplanned weekend.

June 3, 2017

Springbrook National park

Springbrook is the one of the most well known part of the ancient Gondavana rainforest and listed as a world heritage site. In this forest the route through the hinterland of the Gold Coast is the most enjoyable part of the journey.

Our first stop was the Purling Brook falls. The viewpoint for this falls is just a few 100 metres from the parking area. We parked our car and went to the viewing platform saw the falls dropping into a deep canyon. There is even a 4km walking circuit which goes all the way to the bottom of the falls and is considered a bit strenuous. Since the amount of water was less, it was not attractive enough for us to go all the way down to the base of the falls. This falls would definitely look majestic soon after heavy rains.

Near the falls are 2 lookout points. The first is the Canyon lookout which is just off the road and gives great views of the city of Gold Coast. The lookout is literally named as "The Best Of All Lookouts" and requires a 10 min walk from the parking area. This route takes one through some ancient forest and also one comes across ancient Antarctic Beech trees along the way. The best of all lookouts looks into the state of New South Wales and lives up to its namesake.

The next stop was the natural bridge, wherein the water falls through a natural hole having an awesome cavelike setting. This natural cave is also home to glowworms and certain guided tours are conducted after sunset. There is a walking track which took us first inside the cave , then above it from where one can see the water entering the hole and then back. It was a very good place to explore.

On our way back we stopped at Hinze Dam, which is the source of water for the city of Gold Coast and a pleasant place to visit. One can literally walk for miles on the embankment with water and greenery on one side. There are even some barbeque and play areas. After this it was time to return back home. 

April 14, 2017

Byron Bay : The Easternmost Point Of Australia

Australia is the land where the sun rises much earlier than majority of the civilized world and that makes it distinctive. But alas that was not enough for us. We wanted to visit the place where the sun comes up first, than the rest of the Australian landmass. The beautiful Byron Bay is the answer to it, the easternmost point of Australia. Byron Bay is around 160km from Brisbane on the Pacific Highway and beyond Gold Coast and in the state of New South Wales.

Since we wanted to catch the sunrise, we decided to drive to this place the previous day itself and camp for the night. It is illegal for one to camp unless in designated camping parks, where one is provided with site for camping, toilets, garbage bins etc to make it more eco friendly. Since we were visiting on a long weekend we could get one in Byron Holiday Park, which was decent enough, but not the best. Once we had settled and pitched our tents, we decided to visit the Tallows beach in the backyard of this holiday park. It is a good 2km walk from the park, taking us through some picture-some backwaters and grasslands. The Tallows beach on the other hand was huge and simply beautiful, with the Byron Bay lighthouse in the left end of the long beach.
The next day we got up early before sunrise and drove all the way to the Cape Byron Lighthouse, which is the best place to catch the first rays of the sun. But unfortunately many other tourists too had the same idea and with very limited parking space near the top, it took us some time to find a spot, much further down the hill and walk all the way back. We were just in time to catch the views. The sky was not clear, but still we got some good views. Once the sun rose we explored the Lighthouse trail which starts from the Light house, hugging the coastline, giving some awesome views of the coast and the endless ocean.
After checking out from our camping site, we decided to visit the main beach of Byron Bay, which was buzzing with activity. We enjoyed in the crystal clear waters of this beach, along with a large number of others who were there to enjoyed the pristine water even though we found a large number of mildly lethal blue bottle jellyfish carcasses washing ashore. After spending close to 2 hours in the water, we decided to explore the hinterland. We had lunch in a local Indian restaurant (Bombay to Byron) which was average, even after having such a unique and interesting name.
The two places we had decided to visit in the hinterland were the Minyon falls and the Rocky creek dam. The Minyon falls is around 35kms from the town, but the last 3-4 kms of the road leading to the falls is bad, unpaved and bumpy. Eventhough our sedan could take this road, it was a surprise coming across such a thing leading to a popular tourist attraction. Despite the roads being disappointing, the water falls was not. The cliff through which the water takes a plunge is very steep and easily gives one an episode of vertigo. According to my estimate it was easily a 150m fall, with near vertical mountain walls flanking it. I presume it might be a mecca for rock climbers.
From the falls we moved towards the Rocky Creek Dam which is another 20kms. This dam supplies water to the town of Byron Bay. There are a lot of trails along backwaters of this dam. We spent some time exploring this area and then it was time to return back to our base.

April 9, 2017

Lamington National Park

Lamington is one of the lesser known national parks in the Gold Coast hinterland, especially in comparison to its well known siblings such as Springbrook and Tamborine national parks. The infrastructure here are a tad lesser than the surrounding parks, which infact adds to the charm of the place, making it more in sync with the wilderness. This park has a narrow one lane road through the forest and very limited parking spots for those interested to explore this area. But that was exactly what made the drive through the rain-forest simply mind-blowing.

We had decided to explore 2 bushwalking trails. One which explores the Moran falls and the other which leads to the view from the Python rock. To reach the starting point of these trails one has to start towards O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat, which is a resort in the middle of this rainforest. Just before one reaches this resort there is a small parking lot which signifies the start of both the trails. The left trail leads towards the falls and the one leading to the right leads towards the view point.

We decided to explore the falls trail first, which is 4.4km return and goes through some decent elevation. Initially one gets the frontal view point of the falls and trail further leads to the top of the falls and also giving some good views of the valley forged by its water. Moran falls was with decent amount of water, testament to the recent rains which had lashed these regions. But there is no opportunity to get into the water either on the top or at the foot of the falls.

We returned back after taking close to 2 hrs and then we moved on towards the Python Rock trail. The return distance of 3.1km to the Python Rock goes through fairly flat terrain and can be completed in an hour. The views we got from this point was simply mindblowing especially of the rain laden clouds condensing over the nearby mountain ranges. Overall the hinterland regions of Gold Coast are a good place to visit especially in the peak summer, when the temperatures here are atleast 5-6 degrees cooler than the plains.

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