Tuesday, 16 July 2013

On up the coast, Townsville to El Arish

Townsville and Magnetic Island from Mount Stuart

Townsville looked as though it might have some rock climbing, but the indoor wall was very small (and only open at odd times, not suitable for us) and the advice we had from the lady route setter at the wall on outdoor climbing took us to Mount Stuart. It gives an excellent viewpoint over the town, surrounding coast and hinterland, set in amongst the many TV transmission aerials and dishes, but the climbing wasn’t so good. 
Following the track she mentioned, we found ourselves at the top of an impressive cliff which, after scrambling down, looked pretty good. There were bolts, but with the first one about 20m up it was mixed trad and bolt climbing only, and of course, we’d sent our trad gear home with Pauline! Had no idea what the routes were as we had no guide book, some looked OK, some very hard and, coupled with the ‘No entry’, ‘climbing and abseil permit required’ and that they were probably more than 30m high (too high for our 60m rope), we gave it a miss. I did offer to belay Jackie from the top so she could do one on a top rope, but it hardly seemed worth going back to get the gear, plus we could see some rain coming in.

There was a plaque near the top stating that Townsville was named after a Captain Towns, who I think founded the town. I had wondered where the name had come from, thinking it must be a French connection with ‘ville’ at the end, but it appears not. I think Townstown would have been a better name! From the summit we could see the nearby Magnetic Island, a granite massive sitting just off shore, so named by Captain Cook after it interfered with his ships compass as he sailed by.

Little Crystal Creek swimming holes
We’ve been ‘tourists’ the last couple of days, driving to waterfalls, walking various tracks and generally looking round and learning about the place (we did a reasonable ‘waterfall walk’ yesterday, walking down to the base of Australia’s highest single drop fall, Wallaman Falls. Our book says it has a 305m vertical drop, which makes it 1000 feet, but the notice board at the top put it at 285m. Anyway we walked from the top to the base and back up again in 1.25 hours, so we had a bit of exercise!).

Rockslides at Great Crystal Creek
A baby snake I accidentally knocked into the water. He swam and slithered up the other side
The track down to Wallaman Falls (in the rain!)
Cat no 7 was seen at a free camp we, along with well over the 30 allowed stayed in on Saturday. Poor little thing – it lived in a caravan with a whippet had to be on a lead, but worse than that it was a Devon Rex – this meant it looked like it had been attacked by a child with the hair strimmers! Apparently it’s supposed to be bald, so this one with a few hairs was really weird!

We are now in the tropical north, in North Queensland, well above the Tropic of Capricorn, but because it’s mid-winter here the locals are complaining its cold! There’s a high pressure just a bit to the west over us at the moment that’s bringing E to SE winds in which are a bit cool and are bringing moisture off the Tasman Sea, giving us showers of rain in amongst brighter spells. Sometimes it’s quite warm, others it’s cooler, but most of the time it’s quite humid. Cool is relative, we are still in shorts and tee shirts, even at night, so I suppose its low to mid twenties.

Wallaman Falls
The scenery and wildlife have definitely taken on a tropical look now, Ingham (where we stayed last night), up to Tully is a big sugar cane growing area, now in El Arish we’re in banana growing country and we can see coconut trees growing wild and large leafed trees and shrubs, a real tropical rainforest look, often going right down to the beach. The wildlife has changed too and, at night we see gecko’s coming out looking for insects to eat (Jackie wants a pet gecko in the van to eat the mosquitos!), a big variety of beautifully coloured birds and butterflies, 

A Cassowary warning notice
the creeks and rivers often have turtles swimming about, but most have warning notices that crocodiles live there as well (we haven’t seen any yet!) and, today by Mission Beach are warning notices to slow down for Cassowaries! I’d really like to see one in the wild and this area is their stronghold, but they are so endangered that this means their ‘stronghold’ area contains only an estimated 40 of them! We didn’t see any!

One thing we’ve learned of here is the big fear they had of a Japanese invasion in WW2. Many places round here were evacuated to Brisbane and many of the towns, hills and coastal lookouts have wartime remnants and were bristling with Australian and American servicemen, ready for the expected invasion that never occurred. Darwin was heavily bombed as were places such as Townsville and of course a Japanese submarine penetrated right into Sydney, but they were kept at bay. We just didn’t realise just how much of a threat invasion was, so this was a real eye opener for us.

Preparing breakfast on our 'free camp'. No electricity means using our gas grill and hob
The 7.9m high gumboot at Tully, representing the highest annual rainfall they got in 1950
Our relatively relaxed pace these last few days is in danger of making us into campervan curtain twitchers. We’re up around 7:30am and have a nice relaxing breakfast in our van for an hour or so and, during this time we can observe fellow campers, particularly caravanners. We’re usually woken up by early departures, as most people like to be on the road early, but most are hard at it (!) while we’re having breakfast. I would say that in 95% of cases the male (usually grey haired and late 60’s) empties the toilet cassette from their van and then goes through a strict routing of preparing their van for departure: unplug the aerial (they all have TV!), 
View down the gumboot
stow it away, remove hoses, carefully reel them up and put them neatly into a special bag, winch up the support legs, carefully stowing the little wooden blocks under each one, close windows, close curtains and then the wife appears to help stow the awning (this usually provides entertainment for us for 10 minutes or so) and then comes the bit where he has to reverse his big vehicle (they all seem to have big 4WD V8 waggons) up to the van while she directs him. This is usually great fun, a vague wave from her while she worriedly looks down, worried looks from him as he moves slowly back, followed by a shift of the hand to indicate ‘stop’, or even she taps the back. All good fun – gosh, is that the time!

Hungry turtles at the El Arish campsite
Anyway, we’re up in El Arish now at a very nice small campsite that has a little creek with turtles in it. The sign says to feed the fish and the turtles and don’t forget the eel! We went down earlier to see if we could see any and they all came swimming to the bank waiting! Couldn’t see the eel though – and there’s no sign warning us of crocodiles, so hopefully we’re safe!

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