The ninth day of the tour began with a trip to Ohana Cider House and Tropical Winery, for fruit and drink tasting. The couple who owned the winery had moved to Queensland for a simpler life and they showed us around their proud creation. Our noses were treated with lemon and aniseed myrtle and our taste buds sampled traditional bush tucker known as lilly pilly, which was very bitter; ice-cream-beans which unsurprisingly tasted like vanilla ice cream; delicious panama berries with a flavour of candy floss; sweet jaboticaba berries (as pictured centre); and comparatively sour star gooseberries. We were also shown baby figs, macadamia nuts, mango trees (pictured left), jackfruit (pictured right), grape vines, star fruit and avocados.
We were then taken into the lab to see the testing that occurs in order to check the quality of the wine before bottling. We tasted lychee wine, pineapple wine and mango wine, as well as jaboticaba liqueur and apple cider. It was definitely time for lunch now, as the different alcoholic beverages were getting to my head!
A delicious buffet lunch was made more exciting by trying to spot James, the friendly possum who inhabits the ceiling beams of the winery and pops out to say hello to guests.
On our journey from Ohana to our next location we played some fun quizzes and stopped off in the rural town of Miriam Vale, with a population of just 512 people.
We eventually arrived at our destination and toured our accommodation for the night. It was a picturesque farm called Creed Grazing Company and it offered entertaining and unconventional group activities.
We began with a tractor-pulled hay wagon ride around the farm with their very small and sweet dog called Molly, whilst finding out more information. With 26,000 acres of land, they keep horses and Brahman cattle (with a hump above their shoulder), and interestingly steam engines and aircraft, such as helicopters and jet planes. They have raised over 500,000 million Australian dollars (272,000 million pounds) since they first built the farm in 1858, they partake in show jumping and they are desperately waiting for rain in their mostly dry Queensland climate.
We ate a delightful roast dinner and were then taught how to whipcrack. The whip creates a cracking noise because it moves faster than the speed of sound and therefore breaks the sound barrier. Producing the noise was certainly not easy, but it was an amusing challenge when I wasn’t injuring myself with a whip!
Our next activity was line dancing and I enjoyed making a fool of myself (especially after a drink or two) trying to remember the moves for the Nutbush and Cotton-Eyed Joe.
It was then time for karaoke atop the bar, as we were evidently partaking in every embarrassing activity this evening. The boys’ rendition of “I’m Too Sexy For My Shirt” was certainly amusing.
It was a late one tonight as we relished the farm experience and the “true blue” Australian hospitality that the farm’s owners provided us with. This meant the following morning’s 6am start was all the more painful as we ventured onto the road once more.
We passed through Rockhampton, the beef capital of Queensland. There are a lot of statues of bulls here to commemorate this fact and weirdly people have began to steal the bulls’ testicles so they have had to put stakes through the remaining ones.
We disembarked the coach in Caneland (named after sugar cane as they produce a lot of sugar) and went for lunch in Mackay shopping centre.
We played another quiz on our journey and then dropped off those who were completing a two day sailing trip around the Whitsundays, before arriving at our next destination, Airlie Beach.
For lovers of sailing, the two day sail would be blissful, but as somebody who begins to feel a little queasy after too long at sea, I was happy to be sleeping on land for the next couple of nights and instead sailing during the day; especially when our accommodation looked like this:
I went for a quick swim in one of the hotel pools, and the noticeably hotter weather here made me feel like I was swimming in a bath.
We had dinner in the relentless heat and retired to our rooms not long afterwards, due to the fact that they were so much cooler with the much-needed air conditioning.
The next morning we experienced the vast hotel buffet breakfast, before taking shuttles to the Port of Airlie to board our Camira Sailing Adventure around the Whitsunday Islands.
The Camira was an impressive 85 feet catamaran fitting 60 people and seemingly unlimited amounts of food and drink. As we set off on our sail, our first activity was a snorkelling session in the clear waters of the sparkling Coral Sea. We had to wear stinger suits as it was jellyfish season, and although I fortunately didn’t spot any of these stinging creatures, I did see an abundance of beautiful sea life below us.
We boarded the catamaran once more and it sped us past Daydream, Hamilton and Hook islands en route to the largest of the 74 islands, Whitsunday Island itself, which boasts the incredible Whitehaven Beach (with seven kilometres of dazzling white sand, it is regularly voted Australia’s best beach). Here we hiked to the lookout over the breathtaking Hill Inlet with stunning views of the azure waters below.
We also learnt the Aboriginal story of the Whitsunday Islands, explaining the Ngaro people’s (who inhabited the area originally) view as to why the islands exist. Long ago, in the time of the Dreamtime, there were no islands, only the vast blue of the sea. Then one day, the Rainbow Serpent passed through the water, laying her eggs as she went. These eggs were the first observers of the rising sun and the setting moon and they remain in place today, now more commonly known as the Whitsunday Islands.
We then left our footprints in the sand of the famous Whitehaven Beach and went for a swim, where we witnessed stingrays and baby sharks gliding alongside us.
Back on the boat, we had a bottomless BBQ lunch and made the rocky return journey to the Port of Airlie. Once in Airlie, we ventured out for dinner and drinks, determined not to be beaten by the heat and played some beer pong whilst listening to the bar’s live music.
The subsequent morning, we picked up our long-lost sailing friends and took to the road once more, with many of them delighted to be back on dry land. We drove past another of Australia’s “Big Things”, (we had previously seen The Big Banana) and this time it was The Big Mango.
We drove past some sugar cane fields and then stopped for lunch in Townsville to break up the relatively long journey to Cairns. Considered its own little capital of far North Queensland, Townsville is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef with views of Magnetic Island (named by Captain Cook because he believed it to have a magnetic effect on his compass).
Our final drive as a group took us through the coastal town of Cardwell and past yet another “Big Thing”: The Big Crab.
We then had our last group picture and our trip manager, Jill revealed that she had photos of everybody sleeping. Mine was pretty spectacular…
Jill revealed her favourite moments of the tour and gave us a quiz and some facts on Australia. I learnt that Tasmania had the cleanest air in the world, for example. We listened to the country’s national anthem and learnt the movements to “Give Me a Home Among the Gumtrees”, a popular Australian song from the 1970s.
We arrived at our accommodation, the infamous Gilligans Party Hostel in Cairns, that would be home for our final three nights in Queensland.
We went out for dinner and many of us opted to try kangaroo (interestingly there are three million more kangaroos than people in Australia). It’s supposed to be one of the leanest and healthiest meats, but I found it very chewy.
The next day we were boarding a boat on the Great Barrier Reef; the only living organism that one can see from space. We snorkelled and I was also really excited to try my first ever introductory scuba dive.
I saw clown fish, parrot fish, stingrays and a blacktip reef shark, amongst other fascinating sea life.
I also saw a green sea turtle when in a glass-bottomed boat, a beautiful, large and gentle-looking creature. Then on our second snorkel trip we saw a barracuda!
The opportunity to visit the Great Barrier Reef was obviously amazing, but it’s plain to see that it is not what it once was. Human intervention and rising water temperatures caused by climate change are bleaching the coral and damaging large parts of the reef. Small ways we can try and help this cause and be responsible tourists include never touching the coral as this can cause irreversible damage, and leaving only bubbles and taking only pictures when in the ocean. This wikiHow article is really interesting in explaining ways in which we can protect coral reefs.
The reef next to the Great Barrier Reef is called the Arlington Reef and I was intrigued to hear an interesting use of my surname! A quick swim in the hostel’s pool ended a thrilling and sun-filled day spent in one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
My final day in Queensland began with a quick shopping spree, escaping the 30° humidity of the city and browsing the popular Australian stores before it was time for the afternoon’s exhilarating activity:
White water rafting in Cairns’s Tully River was so much fun! Though I think even more rapids would have added to the action, it was a great first rafting trip that I would definitely do again.
This section of the tour ended with a bar crawl around Cairns on a party bus, which included free pizza, games and drinks. It was a lively and enjoyable night, despite the fact I felt 18 again and the next day’s dreadful hangover (with the addition of a flight to top it off) would definitely agree that I’m officially too old for such tomfoolery now…
At the close of this tour, I had now seen two of the three most photographed parts of Australia: Sydney Harbour and Whitehaven Beach. Next stop: Uluru. Watch this space for my upcoming blog post on the Northern Territory!