A Queensland Odyssey
By Karen Johnson, for Out of the Kaje #4 (June/July 99)
Day 15 – Whale Watching, Bundaberg
This was the day I’d been looking forward to, as we were going whale watching
with Lady Musgrave cruises. If you want to go out and see the whales at
Fraser Island, I’d recommend this company highly. Almost everybody who
goes whale watching leaves from Hervey Bay, so the boats from there are
very large and crowded. Our boat from Bundaberg was smaller, but with fewer
passengers, so everyone got plenty of opportunity to see the whales and
I got some great photos. The whales also tend to congregate towards the
north of Platypus Bay, so this boat has an advantage over the competition,
which take that much longer to get to where the whales are. They also have
a courtesy bus, which picked us up from the motel in the morning, and took
us back again after the tour.
The ride out to Platypus Bay takes about an hour and a half. The first
part was quite bumpy, but once we got out to the bay we were sheltered
by Fraser Island, so it was much smoother.
There are strict laws governing the way the Whale Watching boats act
around the whales. There’s a maximum of 3 boats to one whale, for example,
and the boats have to circle slowly at a distance rather than crowding
in and upsetting them. We were very lucky, because we saw a number of boats
circling around a pair of whales almost as soon as we got to the Bay, so
we joined the queue. The whales were a mother and baby. The mother was
fairly quiet, but the baby was practically doing somersaults. It was playing
games, and it kept going for about an hour while we watched. I used a whole
roll of film photographing the pair, but a lot of them only show the splash
left behind as the baby disappeared under the surface after a leap.
After lunch, we cruised around for another hour or so without seeing
any more whales, but we did get a good look at part of Fraser Island that
you don’t usually see – the far northern end. We were just about to tun
around and go home when we saw another pair of whales swimming around quietly.
According to our guide, it was actually the same pair. I’ll take her word
for it – all whales look the same to me! I think the baby must have worn
itself out this morning in that case, because it was just lying quietly
on the surface.
We had a smooth trip back to Bundaberg, and got back to the motel at
Day 16 – Lady Musgrave Island
One word to say about today – Wow! Actually there’s another word you could
add to describe the trip out to the island – Ugh!!! 2½ hours on
a pitching boat isn’t exactly my idea of pleasure, but it wasn’t too bad.
The sea was said to be dead calm, but it didn’t seem like it while we were
cutting diagonally across the swell. Now I know why Lady Musgrave Tours
warned people to take anti-seasickness measures in the advertising brochure!
I was pretty much OK thanks to my little white pills, but a lot of people,
especially the kids and the Asians tourists, weren’t. Some of the latter
were so desperate to get off the boat in the afternoon that they handed
over large sums of money to fly back in a small seaplane which had been
running aerial sightseeing trips.
There isn’t actually a lot at Lady Musgrave Island, but it looks exactly
like I imagined a coral reef ought to. Because it was the holidays, there
were about 50 other boats there, but the lagoon is so big that there was
more than enough room for everyone.
The tour boat doesn’t actually dock at the island, but rather at a
large private pontoon in the lagoon. While you’re there you eat a lavish
buffet lunch, and choose from a number of water-based activities including
snorkelling, trips to the island, and short cruises in glass-bottomed and
semi-submersible boats. Alternatively, you can sit around in the sun on
the pontoon, but that sounded a bit boring to me.
A semi-submersible is very strange from the surface. It’s long and
narrow, and when you get on board you climb down a ladder then squeeze
onto the benches so you can peer out the portholes (which are UNDER the
waterline, giving a clear view of the coral and fish.) It’s a bit claustrophobic
at first, but once the boat starts moving you’re too busy looking out and
admiring the view to notice. We saw a bunch of turtles swimming around
and one big one resting on a coral bommie (big coral mounds which turtles
believe were created just to act as cushions. They lie on them to snooze,
and gradually squash a big dent in the top.)
The fish in the lagoon have got good memories – they know what time
the boat comes around, and they hang around the pontoon at just the right
time to get fed (it’s their reward for showing off for the glass-bottomed
boat, which they did on cue.) I was going to give snorkelling another try,
and got as far as putting on the flippers and mask, but then I found that
I couldn’t bring myself to get into the water because it was far too deep.
Instead, we went over to the island on the little boat, but the boat couldn’t
pull all the way up onto to the beach and we had to wade through the last
few feet. Then we walked across the island, and back to the pick-up site
via the beach.
As I said earlier, there isn’t a lot at L.M. Island. At one stage there
were a few buildings and they mined guano there, but now it’s a national
park. If you want to camp overnight, the tourist boat will drop you off
and pick you up again when you’re ready to go. I’m not sure why anyone
wants to stay there though – there’s nothing on the island except dead
white coral, big leafy green trees, and about a million nesting gannets,
and it smells dreadful!
All the things we saw today were fascinating, but about halfway back
to Bundaberg we were lucky enough to see one to top the lot – the boat
almost ran into a pair of snoozing whales! We stopped dead at the regulated
distance, and just sat there watching them for almost an hour. Everyone
got a really close look too, because the crew shepherded us right down
to the bow in groups of 20 (there was no room for more) and we got some
FANTASTIC close-up photos.
Day 17 – Bundaberg to Toowoomba
It takes quite a long time to drive from Bundaberg to Toowoomba, and we
had to take a slightly longer route than we’d planned, because the Burnett
Highway was blocked halfway between Gayndah and Goomeri. A semi-trailer
had overturned and they were waiting for a helicopter for the driver. After
asking directions from the police, we drove back a little way and then
went down via Kingaroy. The road was quite pleasant but there wasn’t much
to see. Kingaroy is right in the middle of the peanut and wheat-growing
belt, and the town’s major tourist attraction seemed to be a van selling
Kingaroy peanuts in various forms.
From Kingaroy to Toowoomba the road is quite scenic. You drive over
the edge of the Darling Downs past 6000 different farms, and finally you
get to Toowoomba. Toowoomba is perched on the edge of a cliff, and you
get great views at every turn. There’s a two-hour tourist drive along the
Edge, and we drove around a very small (30-minute) section to enjoy the
view. The main lookout, called The Edge, was very near our motel. They’ve
recently built a restaurant complex overlooking the cliff there, and it
would be a great place to eat because the view is marvellous. You can walk
around there, but we didn’t because it was already 5pm. We also went to
the Heights, which is an isolated bluff with more great views. There are
walking tracks there as well, but again, we couldn’t stay long. The reserve
gates are locked at dusk because there’s no lighting, so after that you
could easily fall off the cliff!
Our motel was lovely, and there was only one thing about it that I
didn’t like. A previous occupant of the room had obviously been a heavy
smoker, and the cleaner had lavishly sprayed air freshener around to cover
the odour. It was practically deadly, and I mean that literally! I opened
the door to deposit the first bags, and then fled the premises until we
could get a fan from reception.
The motel’s restaurant specialises in African and Mediterranean foods
and it has quite an exotic menu, but they also do steaks of various kinds
for the more conservative. The garden outside the window was floodlit and
it was a very pleasant place to have dinner.
Day 18 – Toowoomba to Armidale
The road from Toowoomba to Armidale is extremely scenic. Everywhere you
look there are great boulders and rocky outcrops sticking out of he ground.
The road winds around between hills/mountains for miles and miles, and
some bits are very steep.
We planned to get breakfast along the way but there wasn’t anywhere
good to stop for hours. The first possible place we passed through was
Stanthorpe, but there didn’t seem to be cafés, so we drove on to
Tenterfield, where I noticed a roadside sign advertising a cute little
teashop. We stopped and had some breakfast that was well worth waiting
till 10.30am for.
The rain clouds were threatening all day, and a little while after
we got to Armidale they opened in force. Armidale is a very pretty little
place full of old buildings, but we didn’t see a lot of it because of the
rain. The town has a heritage drive to show you all the landmarks, and
we tried to go on it, but the map we got from the information centre wasn’t
very good and we got instantly lost. We turned the wrong way on the very
first street and ended up following the signs for the shorter ‘heritage
walk’ instead. I transferred the route to a better (ie readable) map, but
by then it was raining too much to see anything anyway, so we went back
to the motel and watched videos. The Cotswold Gardens motel is very nice.
It is furnished in country cottage style, and it’s very effective – much
nicer than some of the other motels we’ve stayed at. We had a lovely, but
rather expensive, dinner in the restaurant, and finished up with coffee
and port in front of the open fire.
Day 19 – Armidale to Coonabarabran
From Armidale to Coonabarabran you go through some very pretty country,
and some quite boring country. Tamworth is a dump, but it’s a dump with
fancy motels. I think they’re only used during the Country music festival,
because there’s nothing interesting there for the rest of the year.
When you get close to Coonabarabran the countryside gets a bit more
interesting. The road runs through a pine plantation, but it’s not the
common or garden pines you see everywhere else. There are bunya pines,
bristle pines, and some funny pines with bristles that hang downwards.
You also go around some very rocky hills.
Coonabarabran is a very small town, and the main reason people stay
there is because it’s the jumping off place for the Warrambungle Mountains
and the Siding Springs Observatory. The skies in this area are extremely
clear, so it’s the perfect place for an observatory. As well as the large
observatory, there’s also a small tourist one called Sky-watch. We were
going to go tonight, but we decided to wait because it’s a bit cloudy.
Instead we went to look at the ‘crystal cave’, which is a small museum
of zeolites or ‘thunder eggs’ collected in the Warrumbungles area. Some
of them are very pretty, and they’re supposed to be unique. The same colour
ones grow in other parts of the world, but they aren’t nearly so big and
Day 20 – Warrumbungles
Today was a very busy day. We went to the park, up to Siding Springs, and
out to Sky-watch for star watching. The Warrumbungles are more impressive
than I had expected them to be, but you can only see them fully from the
Central Valley, or from the lookout right at the park entrance. It’s only
a gentle walk from the car park, and the track is carefully graded so that
even disabled people can manage it. I saw several lizards on the walk,
and a deaf couple who came along after us spotted a koala right near the
path. I never would have noticed it myself, but it was sitting up in the
fork of a tree pretending to be a stuffed toy. It looked straight at me
and blinked. So cute!
The main walks in the Park are all very steep and rocky, which is only
natural considering the landscape, but there are also some shorter ones,
and we wandered around near the visitors Centre watching the wildlife for
a while before we went to have lunch at the picnic area. As we were sitting
in the shade enjoying our delicious picnic hamper, we saw another family
who wasn’t so lucky. They were having a BBQ, and while they were cooking
it, a currawong swooped down and carried off a whole bread roll in each
We stopped at Siding Springs on the way home and trudged up to the
telescope. It’s big but not particularly awe-inspiring, because in the
daytime it just sits there. The educational exhibits looked interesting
but it cost quite a bit to get in and see them and it was nearly closing
After dinner we went out to Sky-watch and paid $10 each for an astronomy
session. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see very much because it was quite
cloudy, but Heather was pleasantly surprised. She hadn’t expected to be
able to see anything through the telescope, but she could see quite well.
We saw Jupiter with a couple of moons – someone said they saw 5, but I
only saw 2 myself; Saturn (you can actually see the rings as a fuzzy disc);
and in a break in the clouds I saw Alpha Centauri, which is one of the
stars in the Southern Cross. It’s actually a binary star, and you could
easily see the two parts through the telescope.
Day 21 – 23
From here on in, it was all over bar the shouting. From Coonabarabran,
we drove to West Wyalong (a long and boring drive through the largely flat
and featureless country.) From West Wyalong, the next stop was Cobram.
The motel was very nice and the room was terribly roomy, but there’s a
stockyard just outside the town, and when we arrived the wind was blowing
in the wrong direction… The motel manager said it only happens a few times
a year, but it was pretty dreadful for 30 minutes or so. Next day, we drove
the rest of the way to Melbourne, arriving at lunchtime on the 12th October
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