& SYDNEY AUSTRALIA
Australia, the “land down under,” is a land of beauty, congenial hospitality, and comfortable travel. Part of its allure is the strange creatures with strange names like platypus, koala, cassowary, and chowchilla. Scientists theorize Australia separated from world’s once contiguous land mass much earlier than other continents, allowing diverse development of plants and animals. In fact, Australia boasts over 820 bird species, 4000 different kinds of fish, and over 25,000 plant varieties, many of which are not found anywhere else in the world.
Or maybe we are attracted to the beauty of Australia: the white-sand beaches, sparkling seas, marine reefs, blue mountains, green rainforests, lush wetlands, and volcanic craters. Adding to the allure, the people of Australia offer a warm welcome to visitors. Their spoken English appeals to the ear and their words have an attractive ring. Friendly and laid back, they are often described as generous and humorous.
Queensland, the sunshine state is the premier state to visit in Australia and is readily amenable to traveling by RV. This tour particularly emphasizes the natural beauty of the area and focuses on viewing its wildlife, yet also includes cultural sites such as Tjapukai.
Everyone visiting Australia cannot resist a visit to Sydney. What a contrast to the many nature- and culture-related sites of Queensland compared to the big city! Tall skyscrapers, great restaurants, famous bridges, and of course the Sydney Opera House.
Day 1: We will start our trip in Cairns, a coastal city in North Queensland. After checking into our hotel we will have our orientation meeting and Welcome to Australia dinner. As night closes in, we will watch the incredible departure of flocks of huge flying-foxes as they ascend from roosting palms and circle the skies over the city. Cairns hotel for two nights.
Day 2: Queensland is noted for its white-sand beaches and, of course, the Great Barrier Reef which stretches 1240 miles from Bundaberg northward. We will visit the magnificent reef–the longest in the world–by charter boat from Cairns for snorkeling to view colorful tropical fish just an arm's reach away. Enjoy a presentation from a marine biologist followed by fish feeding at the reef. If you'd rather not snorkel, you can view the fish through a semi-submersible propelled above the coral reef. For the adventurous, scuba driving is available at a nominal cost and includes training for first-timers. Also, with a shuttle boat, we will be able to land at Michaelmas Cay where noddies and terns nest, and frigatebirds fly overhead. Since we will be out all day, our cruise includes a generous buffet lunch as well as snacks with afternoon tea and coffee.
Day 3: In the morning we will pick up our RV's. We will be renting RV’s for travel, sleeping, and many meals. Typically, these are late model Class C turbo diesel vehicles accommodating two to four adults and including double bed, gas stove, refrigerator, microwave, shower, toilet, air-conditioning/heating, pressurized hot & cold water, and radio/CD player. Also included are linen, bedding, and kitchen equipment. We will be able to drive and camp right where the sightseeing action is best. Cairns campground for three nights. (Travel ~5 mi.).
Day 4: It's an easy walk to the Cairns Esplanade and Cairns Botanic Gardens. The Esplanade is famously known for close-up views of up to 2000 shorebirds at high tide in the extensive tidal mudflats. The nearby Botanic Gardens lie in lowland tropical rainforest and display the best of Australia's colorful flowers and unusual trees. Flocks of Torresian Imperial-Pigeons fly past our campground at dawn and dusk.
Day 5: Just north of Cairns we board the Kuranda scenic train that chugs up-mountain to the village of Kuranda. We have plenty of time to stroll around the tree-lined town and visit its art and souvenir shops. Then we descend to the coastal plain on the Skyrail, passing over the tops of the tropical forest. Camp again at Cairns.
Day 6: After an early morning walk on the Esplanade, we will visit Tjapukai Cultural Park, learn about Aboriginal culture, watch a fire starting demonstration, hear didgeridoo music, and be taught how to throw a boomerang and an atlatl. Then we'll drive northward along the coastal Captain Cook Highway, enjoying the scenery, turning inland through the tropical rainforest, and climb 1443 ft. to the Cairns Highlands. Our campsite is at Mt. Carbine located on the eastern edge of The Outback. We can search here for a tree where the strange wood-like Papuan Frogmouth roosts and at dusk meet dozens of Agile Wallabies. Our camphosts will prepare for us a traditional Australian campoven roast dinner. (Travel ~82 mi.)
Day 7: Our first stop today is Granite Gorge in the dry country where we will meet eye-to-eye with numerous Mareeba Rock Wallabies that have become accustomed to close approach and accept handheld food. The darling wallabies which hide out amongst the huge boulders are miniature relatives of kangaroos. We will pass a golf course where hundreds of Eastern Gray Kangaroos hop along the course. How about tasting peanut ice cream at The Peanut Place! This popular tourist destination sells 13 high oleic varieties of locally-grown peanuts. These peanuts have a different oil chemistry than regular peanuts. Camp at Atherton for three nights. (Travel ~65 mi.)
Day 8: We will travel by tour bus with a well-known professional naturalist and photographer to a creek for Platypus and then to another site for Tree Kangaroos. We will visit the famous Curtain Fig Tree, where Yellow-breasted Boatbills can be seen from the boardwalk around the huge strangler fig tree and colorful tropical pigeons feed at treetops. This is one of the largest trees in North Queensland and displays a curtain of aerial roots almost 50 ft. to the ground. In the farmland fields between wooded sites we can watch tall Brolga and Sarus Cranes prance in mating dances. For lunch (included) we will enjoy culinary delights at a dairy, cheese, and chocolate factory. We can walk through the barns of farm animals and see thousands of wild Magpie Geese sprawled across the pastures. In the afternoon, driving through blue gum (sclerophyll) woodlands we could see Emus and many Eastern Gray Kangaroos, as well as Common Wallaroo, Pretty-face Wallabies, and Whiptail Wallabies. From there we drive still higher in the Atherton Highlands to a private 300-acre tropical forest near Ravenshoe. We will visit the elusive Golden Bowerbird bower and stop at a 2000-year-old tree that harbors an Aboriginal secret. At night we will spotlight at the private tract, seeking rainforest possums such as Lemuroid Ring-tailed Possum, Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum, and Coppery Brush-tailed Possum.
Day 9: Your choice today: go birding with Bert and our excellent local guide or tour with Shari to The Coffee Works, Rainforest Bounty, De Brueys Boutique Winery, and the Gem Gallery. The Coffee Works displays the world’s largest collection of coffee and tea treasures, some as old as the early 1700s, and offers unlimited samples of coffee, tea, chocolate, and liqueur. The Gem Gallery specializes in cutting, polishing, and designing opal jewelry. You will learn about the unique qualities of Australian opals, a valuable education before you buy your travel remembrance.
If there are enough birders in the group, we will offer an alternative to Shari's tour and join Bert in visiting more of the Atherton Tablelands sites such as Green Valley, Hasties Swamp, Tumoulin, Lake Eachem, and enormous man-made Lake Tinarro. Birds of the day likely could include Cotton Pygmy-Goose, Brown Cuckoo-Dove, White-throated Treecreeper, and Jacky Winter. Near the Tinarro dam Scarlet Honeyeaters are attracted to the flowering eucalypts. The rainforests of Queensland yield a disproportionately high number of endemic birds, many localized to the areas we will travel. Along Tinaroo Creek Road we can find Blue-winged Kookaburra and Silver-crowned Friarbird.
Day 10: Early risers can join Bert for a hike around Lake Barrine in Crater Lake National Park. The Tablelands is a World Heritage Site known as the Wet Tropics. Atop a high volcanic plateau rising to over 3200 feet, we walk in the dark, cool rainforests. A real prize would be finding the bird-of-paradise Victoria's Riflebird which, at this season, could be showing its strange display, arching its wings to silhouette its head as the male attempts to seduce the female. With a view of the lake, we'll join the rest for breakfast (optional) served with locally grown coffee and tea. Camp near Mission Beach and walk along the sandy beaches or go for a swim in the sea. (Travel ~67 mi.).
Day 11: At our secluded seaside campsite near Mission Beach often roams a Southern Cassowary, a threatened species whose numbers have dropped precipitously owing to introduced predators, auto collisions, and destruction of rain forests through storms and clearing. This amazing flightless bird can weigh over 130 lbs. and its Papuan name derives from its unusual horned head, a helmet of tough skin which acts like a bumper as it runs through the rainforest. You will certainly want to photograph this strange bird as it wanders along the sandy beach. En route to our next campsite at Ingham we will visit Patronella Park, a heritage-listed attraction centered on Jose Patronell's dream to build a castle beside Mena Creek Falls. Now it is a lush rainforest boasting 7500 tropical plants and trees. (Travel ~90 mi.).
Day 12: If you are an early riser you could backtrack a few miles and hike grassy trails through Tyto Wetlands where dozens of Agile Wallabies roam. The wetlands sport a bonanza of wildlife, including colorful birds such as Crimson Finch, Green Pygmy-Goose, and Olive-backed Oriole. By mid morning we will all be heading south to Townsville and climb aboard the ferry to Magnetic Island. Beaches to swim, restaurants for dining, and trails to seek eucalyptus-clinging Koalas. You might choose to rent a 4-passenger topless minicar and fully explore the island. Camp in Townsville two nights. (Travel ~69 mi.).
Day 13: Everyone will be anxious to visit the Billabong Sanctuary for the thrill of being close up and personal with Australian animals and learn of the plight of Koalas, Wombats, and other environmentally threatened species. Watch an estuarine crocodile leap half-length above the water trying to grab meat on a stick.
Day 14: Most of the day will be spent driving north to Cairns where we will return our rental RVs. There is time though for a stop at Frosty Mango for a delicious cold mid-morning snack. Overnight at a Cairns hotel. (Travel ~216 mi.).
Day 15: Air flight from Cairns to Brisbane. Van or bus transportation to Lamington National Park, high in the mountains south of Brisbane. Dinner at O'Reilly's, a fabulous resort atop the mountains. Overnight at O'Reilly's resort with stellar views of the valley below (3 nights).
Day 16: Breakfast at O'Reilly's. At the resort we have a smorgasbord of activities to choose from: nature outings, Segway safari, wildlife encounters, and trekking on a sample of the many half-day and full-day walks within the confines of the national park. We could easily be surprised by a Red-necked Pademelon, a cute miniature version of a kangaroo. Pamper yourself with an optional "mind-melting" massage and skin treatment at the Lost World Spa. We will also have available a local naturalist guide and 4-WD transport in Lamington National Park. Dinner at O'Reilly's.
Day 17: Breakfast and Queensland Farewell Dinner at O'Reilly's where meals are so good you will want to lick the plate. Guide and 4-WD transport in Lamington National Park. Also, try out the 200-yard zipline above the rainforest; they call it the Flying Fox Adventure.
Day 18: Breakfast at O'Reilly's. Van or bus transportation to Brisbane airport. Coming off our Queensland tour, we will fly from Brisbane to Sydney and a shuttle will transport us to our downtown hotel. We'll have time for a stroll in the city and enjoy dinner on our own. Sydney hotel (3 nights).
Day 19: Breakfast is included at our hotel. Then we board a double-decker tour bus (with commentary) that will take us to the highlights of the city and surrounding area. You will have a 2-day hop-on hop-off ticket, so you can spend as little or as much time as you want at each stop. We will see Darling Harbour and Cockle Bay, cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and get spectacular views of the Opera House from Milsons Point. Among many other stops, we will get great views of the Pacific Ocean from Arabanoo Lookout, Bondi Beach and Pavilion.
Day 20: After our hotel breakfast, we will visit the famous Sydney Opera House. Our guide will tell us the fascinating history of its design and construction. In the afternoon you will have plenty of time to see the city sites you passed the day before and spend more time at some of the historic museums - perhaps visit the convict building and museum through which passed some of the 166,000 convicts deported to Australia from European prisons. Or, shop for bargains at Market City among the hundreds of Asian-run booths. Or, how about visiting the Sydney's famous Botanic Gardens and its colorful floral exhibits above which a colony of Flying Foxes hang!
Day 21: Following the hotel breakfast, for those of us that are continuing on the New Zealand tour, we will be transported to the Sydney airport, fly to Auckland, New Zealand, and be transported to a hotel near the harbor.