With brochures advertising Mission Beach as ‘…where the rainforest meets the sea’ and ‘low-key’, we felt that this place may have something to offer us and so decided to spend 2 nights there on our way to Cairns. Again, we stayed in the YHA which is located outside of town with the nearest shop being 2km away. The hostel is set in the treetops of the rainforest itself and is very aptly named ‘Tree House’. After enjoying Magnetic Island so much, we expected it to be fairly similar.
Five weeks into a ten week stint in Australia, and I have finally found somewhere that I can honestly say I really like – Magnetic Island. Thank goodness for that, because I was beginning to think that Australia did not have anything to offer me!
Oh no, here we go again. We arrived late into Townsville, dropped off by the Greyhound at the ferry terminal where we would depart two days later to Magnetic Island. We walked back into town with our bags. It was Friday night, and the drinkers were starting to fill the streets outside the grotty-looking Irish bars.
Our trip to Bowen was nothing short of a 'di-sa-ster dar-ling'. We left Airlie Beach as agreed on the 9pm bus as we didn't fancy spending another night in that hole. Well, it was like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. The bus journey was only an hour, and so we arrived in Bowen at 10pm, to a closed ghost town.
We walked up the street to where we expected to find backpacker accommodation galore vying for our business, but everywhere was closed or looked deserted. We began to think that coming to Bowen was a bad idea.
Whilst sitting in McDonalds at Airlie Beach waiting for the photos to backup, we browsed through the glossy brochures Julie had picked up from her research. We had already decided on a day trip (to avoid joining a backpacker sailing crew in cramped conditions for 3 days), and 'Reefjet' or 'Ocean Rafting' presented themselves as common options through the commission-based agents. We decided to go with 'Ocean Rafting' as the lifeboat-style 'rafts' made for an interesting choice compared to the Reefjet catamaran that was similar to the one from our Hervey Bay outing.
It's true that the weather can make a big difference to your first impressions of a new town. We arrived in the much talked-about and highly-rated Airlie Beach at 7am one grey miserable overcast morning. It's true, the lack of sleep from the overnight bus journey probably did not help matters either, but we hated the place from the moment we stepped off the bus.
First impressions: a seaside resort attracting chavs of all nationalities and ages. I thought we had arrived in the TV series 'Benidorm'. There was even a Neptunes...
We took another 'tour', although this was more of an excursion run by our accommodation at Emu Park. It was the only way to access this remote farm without having your own transport.
The farm advertises the crocodile meat and skin products as much as being a tourist attraction in itself, which we found a little different to the norm. On arrival we started our crocodile experience with lunch...crocodile kebabs and chips! Not bad at all with a wedge of lemon. Would recommend, but not at a high price.
Thank goodness for Emu Park! Not the place to come if you want to party, but if you've been travelling for 3 weeks non-stop from Sydney (2-3 days in each location) you'll appreciate the relative tranquillity here. This was the first place we found that we could really chill, catch up on ourselves and relax. We stayed 6 nights. By now we had soaked up enough of the East Coast to reflect on our experiences, and inevitably compared Australia to our previous 6 months in Asia.
We left Brisbane on the 7.45am Greyhound bus and were in Hervey Bay – the whale watching capital of Australia - by lunchtime. The first thing I noticed was that the air was warmer and that I didn’t feel the need to reach for my woolly hat! With the sun shining, and in T-shirts and shorts, we set off on foot to the other side of town to the harbour to check out competing prices for whale watching. On the local map we had it didn’t look very far, but it took us about two hours to get there and another two hours to get back! Next time we’ll check the scale box.
After grey and cloudy Byron Bay, Brisbane was quite literally a ray of sunshine. We arrived at the city’s main Transit Centre one late afternoon. The information desk there helped us book in at a good hostel which was only a short walk away so off we headed. City Backpackers in Brisbane was a very well-run and friendly hostel. It was also very clean. The kitchen was well equipped, but unfortunately as the hostel was so busy, so too was the kitchen. We didn’t get chance to really cook in there other than to use the microwave, toaster and kettle!