The wet weather continued during our 350km drive from Cairns to Townsville but after checking weather forecasts, we were optimistic that there would be relatively clear skies once we got there. Our soggy things needed all the help they could get!
This drive would take us through a number of places that bore the brunt of Cyclone Yasi in February 2011 including Cardwell, Tully, Innisfail and Mission Beach. Having visited Mission Beach & Dunk Island years ago and remembering how lush, green and tropical they were Paul & I were interested in stopping to see how the area was looking. The havoc that was wreaked by the cyclone was clearly evident. There were gaping holes in the rain forest canopy and we could see where palm trees were uprooted or stripped bare. It is still a beautiful spot , just in need of time to recover. The resort at Dunk Island is no longer open although it is possible for people to make their own way over for a look around.
After a few other stops along the way it was fairly late in the afternoon by the time we pulled into Townsville. The van park we stayed in had en-suites on all of their sites and the kids thought it was very exciting to have their own bathroom! Our first job was to empty all of the wet belongings into the annex. The grey skies were a bit intimidating but luckily the rain held off. After two days of cleaning and airing we were eventually able to get everything dry again.
We all enjoyed Townsville and were surprised at just how big it is. There are heaps of things to do. We visited the filtered ocean lagoon, the free water playground on The Esplanade, Cliff Hill Lookout and had lunch at Anzac Park.
Our favourite thing was visiting Reef HQ. This is a fantastic aquarium with lots to see and we all enjoyed the Dive Show, where you could speak to a diver inside one of the huge tanks. There was fish feeding and a number of talks given by staff/volunteers who, you could tell, just love what they were doing, this is always appealing. The kids learned heaps and for a couple of days after all the boys could talk about were the scary sounding Irukandji Jellyfish, which are the most venomous creatures around. Included in the $66.50 family price was a tour of the adjacent Turtle Hospital which rehabilitates sick and injured turtles. It was wonderful to see the great work being done with the turtles and we were all quite taken with one which had a fibreglass patch over its injured shell.
We put our feelers out for work, although there was some around we had heard that there was lots of work to be had further south, so we headed towards Mackay with three days of R&R in Airlie Beach on the way.
On our way through to Airlie Beach we called into Home Hill to watch some sugar cane cutting competitions, where the cutting was done by hand. Talk about hard and dirty work. We also met some incredibly nice ladies in the Information Centre here who were just lovely. For any other travellers likely to head this way there is free camping on the street outside the Information Centre with very clean toilets and showers.
Bowen was another place we dropped in on and as well as being known for mangoes, it’s most recent claim to fame is that the film Australia, with Nicole Kidman & Hugh Jackman, was largely filmed here.
We indulged ourselves a little in Airlie Beach and stayed in one of the flash Big4 caravan Parks. We justified this splurge because when coupled with our member discount and the special they were running, it actually made it cheaper than the other parks in the vicinity.
Airlie Beach is a popular place from which to visit The Whitsunday Islands and we looked into making a visit to one but the prices were quite prohibitive. After some consideration we decided there really was nothing that we hadn’t already done, or couldn’t do, on the main land. It is likely that The Whitsundays will be a destination of their own on a future trip.
The main tourist strip of Airlie Beach is quite small with its focus being on getting people over to the islands. It seemed very much like a backpacking town, very loud with lots of ‘wicked’ style campers around. Apart from the lagoon on the water front there wasn’t anything that really appealed to us to stick around in town for. We spent one evening fishing from a jetty, with Emma & Ben being the only one to catch anything ( Emma on just about every cast mind you) and the rest of the time we lapped up the great van park facilities, including water slides.
The first time we went to the pool the kids had to sit out for 10 minutes due to questionable behaviour. So, Paul & I, being the nurturing parents we are, rubbed it in a little by making sure we had the first go on the slides! Being his parent’s child, Ben thought it would be funny to video, with commentary, us going down the slides! I have included it here for your entertainment – scores out of ten are appreciated!
*having trouble uploading video but WordPress are looking into it, so check back later if you want a giggle*
Feeling relaxed (although itchy from pesky sandflies) we headed off to Mackay, with the intention of getting some work, either here or a little further South in Gladstone. Both have become incredibly busy due to the mining boom in the state and we were confident that something would turn up. We were surprised, however, at the lack of family friendly parks in the area. In fact, we were told by two parks that they did not accept children! I partly understand why they might do this (mainly being set up for male workers) but it does make it hard for travelling/working families.
Paul was offered a job for a large company – basically because he had a heartbeat! – but to put him through the necessary inductions they needed a minimum three-month commitment. As we had plans to be in Sydney for Christmas, this just wasn’t possible. (yes I do realise I have some blog catching up to do!)
Turning down another job, from a local family run business, we had decided to leave the next morning and head for Gladstone where we potentially had something lined up but were put into a spin when we received a late night phone call from the family business, asking us to please stay on. They were really busy and finding it hard to compete with the mines in employing tradespeople. After a chat and, although financially heading to Gladstone would be a better option, we believed that it just felt right to stay and help this family and their business out.
So that is how we ended up calling Mackay home for the next six weeks.
It wasn’t all work and school though and next time I’ll update on what we got up to, including the kids and I driving five hours to catch up with a friend from Perth and the dash from Mackay to Sydney for Christmas upon which we saw turtles, glowworms, caught up with another travelling family, rode jet skis, screamed on roller coasters and jumped from jetties!