Miz Lizzie Adventures: Townsville to Cairns and the Tablelands

I know, I know, I’ve been neglecting you.

But I have been having such a lovely time. It has been a tad too hot, at 34°C/93°F and about 70% humidity, but that’s what air conditioning in cars and caravans was invented for!

The journey north from Rollingstone was uneventful and we made good time, to the extent that we took a 40km detour to look at Mourilyan Harbour, where sugar is loaded onto ships, but chiefly of interest to us as a place where the Husband did military exercises in small aluminium dinghies with outboards (universally known in Australia as ‘tinnies’). He has not-so-fond memories of constantly grounding the tinny on sand bars and having to get out and push it off. Which doesn’t sound so bad, until you read the signs…

We passed Queensland’s two highest peaks on our way north, which to be honest isn’t saying a lot: the tallest, Mt Bartle Frere, is only 1622m/ 5,321ft high, and the second highest, Mt Bellenden Ker, is only 1593m/ 5,226ft high. Not hugely impressive by European or US standards, but they are thickly coated with very lush tropical rainforest. The area is volcanic, so on the tablelands you see a lot of volcanic plugs, but the climate does tend to erode anything high quite quickly.

We are staying at the Crystal Cascades caravan park in the north of Cairns, in a valley between rainforest-covered hillsides. It’s ‘off-season’ as far as they’re concerned, which means we can enjoy the facilities virtually undisturbed apart from a few people who are also looking for peace and quiet in beautiful surroundings. In the early morning, the tops of the hills are still draped in cloud, while the sun lights up the lower slopes. It’s an amazing sight to see such contrast.  Imagine that sight, with the sound of birdsong and the smell of frangipani and jasmine to round the experience off!

The one downside of coming here in February is that it’s the month when many of the foodie places on our gastronomic trail seem to be taking their own holiday! Nerada Tea Plantation, the Tolga Woodworks gallery and Mungalli Creek Biodynamic Dairy (which I’ve written about before) and Jaques Coffee Plantation (which was new to us), are all closed. It’s a well earned rest, but we were a bit surprised, as there was nothing on any of their websites. Still, it’s made us slow down a little, which is no bad thing… On the upside, we went to Coffee Works in Mareeba yesterday, which was lovely! They grow, harvest, roast and sell their own coffee as well as blends and beans from all over the world. The smell is heavenly! They also have a gift shop which is a twinkly wonderland of coffee and tea cups, pots, chimes, candleholders, vases, etc, and best of all, an almost cold chocolate shop, where they make their own in all shades from white to 85% cacao, in flavours like lime and pepper, lemon myrtle, ginger and jaffa. Well yes, we did buy rather a lot of chocolate, and yes, we’ve sampled a fair bit of it already, but who could resist…?

We’ve also been back to Gallo’s, a working farm where they milk 200 Friesians every day. Rather than add their milk to the general supply, they have decided to add value and create a niche market and an interesting addition to the tourist offering on the Tablelands. They make their own cheeses and chocolates. The chocolates we bought are long gone, but I can remember the flavours: salted caramel, peppermint truffle, crystallised ginger, chilli, cherry ripe, berry bliss, almond truffle, hazelnut caramel and mandarin creme. And that was just a tiny selection from the huge display case of options. Besides, it was a hot day, and they might have melted… But the cheeses are still with us, and will be featuring on today’s menu, together with linseed, raisin and pumpkin seed crackers and some rather tasty grapes.

Last night it was time to visit our favourite Indian restaurant in Cairns, Tandoori Nights in Sheridan Street. We go there at least once and often twice when we’re staying here, and the food is simple, but great. The Husband had goat curry, plain steamed rice, garlic naan and a share of my subzi makhani, a creamy vegetable curry. I also had chicken korma and plain naan. Not adventurous, but what we both craved, and we left with contented smiles on our faces 🙂 By the time we’d though of taking photos of the food, it was much, much too late!

On previous visits, we haven’t had time to visit the Australian Armour & Artillery Museum out at Caravonica, so this time, with a couple of hours to spare, we turned in. It’s probably chiefly of interest to a couple where the husband is a Reservist of 20 years’ experience and the wife’s father was in the Normandy landings in WWII, landing on Sword Beach on D-Day 2 in his tank as a very, very young 2nd Lieut… We spent well over an hour exploring the vast display of tanks, armoured cars, mine clearers, mobile gun platforms, howitzers, field guns, etc. They had exhibits from Australia, the US, the UK, Canada, Germany, Japan, the Czech Republic and Russia, they had small arms, uniforms, badges… Well, you get the idea. It’s impressive, fascinating and vast, and worth a visit if you’re interested in that stuff. I’d only add that it’s an open-sided building and isn’t air conditioned, so I’d recommend visiting in the cooler months (May – October) if you’re not used to the heat.

We’re giving ourselves a lazy day today. It’s Saturday, and there are more visitors at the caravan park, the ‘sights’ will be busier and the city will be bustling. Time to lie back, enjoy the blue skies over the rainforested mountains, do a bit of handwork, and eat some of that cheese! We might tootle out and visit the Crystal Cascades after which this holiday park is named… or not.

But if anything interesting happens, I’ll be sure to let you know!

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Still, at last

We’re home. It’s both much too soon and at the same time not a moment too soon!

We’ve unpacked the car, put away the trailer, and restored 90% of what we took with us to its proper home. There are still a few random things sitting around the place, but I have no more energy today to do anything more than make some supper, and just possibly put a load in the washing machine.

This is the view from Clairview, where the tide was out. It’s a tiny beachside community about 120km/75 miles from where we live. It’s a mixture of tiny shabby beach shacks and elegant cyclone-proof modern beach houses. We stopped there on the last leg of our journey, at the beach, to eat some lunch, chill out, stretch our legs and take in the heat and light that said we were home, back in the tropics.

We’ve travelled about 3,500km/2,175 miles. We’ve stayed with friends old and new, in some lovely places and some real shockers. We’ve lain in our new tent wrapped in quilts and quaked as a howling gale and lashing wind buffeted our new tent. It held up just fine, and we’ll have more faith next time! We dived headfirst into the airbnb experience, and can thoroughly recommend it, so long as you do your homework. We used three. One was magnificent and we made good friends there. One was quirky, pleasant and friendly, but we probably wouldn’t go out of our way to stay there again. And one was just dreadful, and our experience there has become our new best travel horror story! We’ve eaten some memorable meals, seen some gorgeous scenery, had some wonderful days out on Miss Scarlett, and slept in 9 different beds in 14 days. It was all great fun, and a great change from routine.

But I’m glad to be sleeping in my own bed tonight…