It was one of our main reasons for picking the eastern coast route: Open-window driving with the sea breeze coming in, exploring the beaches and dipping into the water here and there. Add to that world-renowned scuba and you have a pretty good travel program. This post will be on what we saw above, under and next to the Coral Sea.
The largest part of our ‘seafront driving’ we did in Queensland (Australia’s Northeastern province) along what’s called the Coral Sea. We then went inland pretty much after entering New South Wales (Southeast) which is were the Tasman Sea starts. The charm of the Coral Sea beaches lies in it’s natural roughness: sandy with large rocks, small stones, seashells and vegetation with ‘green’ dunes protecting the land behind it from the ocean. The Great Barrier Reef stretches out over 2300km along the coast and effectively works as a wave-breaker. This results in a fairly quiet sea in the northern part of Queensland while you’ll find bigger waves (and more surfer-towns) towards the southern part where the Reef ends.
Our first ‘feet-in-the-water’ moment was in Palm Cove, a small holiday town not far north from Cairns. It was a good introduction to the type of beaches we would see along this coast and so were the warnings and restricted areas. We visited Queensland in stinger season (roughly November – April) which means you’ll find all kinds of jellyfish in the water and they can cause serious (lethal) damage to you if you get stung. The large ones are quite obvious and you can generally spot them, but the tiny ones can be lethal as well. To enable people to still swim you’ll find swimming enclosures at most beaches. However it’s not just stingers that you should be aware of, crocodiles and (to a lesser extent) sharks are known to be roaming around the coasts as well, especially there were fresh water creeks flow into the sea. Apart from one flushed ashore stinger in we didn’t come across any of these animals, however the possibility of encountering them meant we couldn’t just dive into any stretch of water we saw.
Making our way down Queensland’s coast was a driver’s feast. Small, well-maintained roads took us along loads of places to stop to enjoy the beautiful stretches of beach and impressive sea views. It was such a treat to stop at a picnic area at the beach, put some food on the public ‘barbie’ and top it off with an hour of relaxing on a (sometimes nearly empty) beach. We’d generally make sure we stayed the night near a beach or at least stopped during the day. To give you an impression here are some of the places we saw:
After Palm Cove’s holiday vibe there was Kurrimine’s long-stretched narrow beach
Alva Beach had lots of wood, seashells and vegetation. Also quite a few families driving up and down the beach in quads or 4WDs
Airlie Beach is known as backpacker haven with a buzzing nightlife. The beach was a bit more idyllic here, although there wasn’t much of it
The beach at Cape Hillsborough made for great pics as it was surrounded by hills/mountains and forest. You might have read about the bouncing beach visitors at sunrise in an earlier blog (see Ausome Australia: wildlife)
We stopped at a few beaches along the Capricorn coast. Lots of vegetation here and widespread empty beaches.
On our way to the Glasshouse Mountains we drove along the Sunshine coast and stopped for lunch at a tiny carpark with access to a rough bit of sea. This part of Queensland is already popular for surfing. The day we were there it was pretty windy!
Our last beaches were in New South Wales just south of Brisbane. We drove from the Gold Coast (yes, that’s a city) down to famous Byron Bay to spend the day and then further to Lennox Head for the night. Great views, first of the Gold Coast in the distance, then the surfers at Byron Bay. The sunset at Lennox Head (thanks Piers for the tip) was pretty cool as well with the clouds being lit by the last rays of light.
The Great Barrier Reef
Anyone travelling in Australia with a diving certificate must have a very good reason not to go. Unfortunately the tour operators (I wouldn’t call them dive-schools) in Cairns are very aware of this and are able to charge ridiculous prices. But, you have to do it, so we did. We started looking around for the right (read: cheapest) agency and then thought: “This is going to be expensive anyway, so we might as well make the memory last”. So we booked the one-day ‘Get High’ package with Down Under Cruise and Dive. Two hours one-way on a large boat with a hundred (!!) other people didn’t sound great at first. However most of the other passengers went either snorkelling or did a introduction dive (we didn’t really understand why you would do your
intro dive in the Great Barrier Reef as it’s so expensive and you’re mainly focussed on the diving instead of enjoying the underwater world). In the end only six other people were certified divers so the two diving groups were pretty small and it all felt quite organised and not crowded at all.
As Lucia only recently got her PADI certificate (see Scuba in Sipadan) this was to be our first dive together. Although Mark kept an eye on Lucia most of the time, he did get told off once for straying too far. This was done through a hand signal Mark had not seen before under water; something with a middle finger :-). The two dives were good, but not amazing. Some interesting fish on the first dive, great coral on the second. We figured our expectations were too high as you hear and read so much about diving here. The main impressive thing really is how widespread the reefs are. This is exactly what we could see for ourselves by booking the Get High package as it included a 10 min helicopter flight above the reefs! Between the two dives we were shipped to a floating platform where the helicopter was waiting. We were strapped in with four other people, waited for a sudden spell of vicious rain to end and then went up! It was the first time for both of us and after the initial thrill we loved the views of the reef from above. It felt like it was over in one minute!
Our friends Marieke and Nick had told us about the SS Yongala, the largest and most intact shipwreck along the Australian coast. With it’s 109m length and abundance of sea life living in and around it, it sounded like a great two more dives. Mark went alone as there can be strong currents and the boat-trip out there can be very rough. Lucia wouldn’t like either of these. He went with Yongala dive school based at Alva beach, mainly because it’s only a 30-45 min boat ride from there instead of the more common 2-3 hours from Townsville. This was a good call as the sea was particularly rough that day. Actually it was the last day the diving school would set out that week as the weather was getting even worse. A week later a tropical cyclone (Ita) would hit northern Queensland.
The dives were good, visibility decent and apart from the ship itself there was lots of fish and other sea life to be seen. Most noticeably a sea-snake from about three meters distance. They are know to be very poisonous (but not aggressive to people). Currents weren’t strong once you got down to under 4 meters, but once on the surface it was pretty wild. Especially the time on the boat between the two dives was rough. Mark was advised to take sea-sickness pills which made him very sleepy once above the surface, but probably did help. No own pics from the dive, but have a look here for an idea what it looks like (incl sea-snake).
Vychodne pobrezie Australie sme si pre nas karavanovy vylet vybrali z niekolkych dovodov, ale hlavne z jedneho – more. Jazda s otvorenymi oknami, morsky vzduch, objavovanie plazi a obcasne zastavky na kupanie. K tomu pridat svetoznamu potapacsku lokalitu a je to jasne. Tento prispevok je hlavne o tom, co sme videli vedla, nad a pod vodami Koraloveho Mora.
Najviac casu na ceste sme stravili v Queenslande (australskom severovychodnom state) na pobrezi Koraloveho Mora. Az po prekroceni hranic Noveho Juzneho Walsu (na juhovychode), kde zacina Tasmanske More, sme sa otocili smerom do vnutrozemia. Plaze Koraloveho Mora su typicke tym, ze priroda je tu zachovana v svojej povodnej, azda trochu drsnej, podobe. Z piesku kde tu trcia skaly, na plazi najdete mnoho musli, lastur a vysusenych kuskov morskych rias a vnutrozemie od mora chrania duny so zelenym porastom. Velky Barierovy Utes sa rozprestiera 2300 km po severovychodnom pobrezi a v podstate funguje ako vlnolam. Vdaka nemu su plaze v severnej casti Queenslandu celkom tiche, zatialco viac na juh, kde Utes konci, mozete najst poriadne vlny (a viac surferskych miest).
Prvykrat sme si v Australii namocili nohy do vody v Palm Cove, malom dovolenkovom mestecku kusok na sever od mesta Cairns, kde sme zacali nas vylet. Taketo plaze spolu s mnohymi vystraznymi tabulami nas potom cakali takmer po celom pobrezi. My sme navstivili Queensland v ‘meduzovom obdobi’ (cca november – april), co znamena, ze v mori sa nachadzaju meduzy vo velkom a dokonca take, co mozu po kontakte sposobit az smrt. Tie velke sa daju pomerne lahko spozorovat, ale nebezpecnejsie su tie male, ktore nemeraju viac nez 1-2 cm. Aby ludia mohli v pokoji plavat, na vacsine plazi australcania postavia hranicu so sietami, ktore meduzam zabrania prist dnu. Okrem meduz sme nachadzali caste varovania pred krokodilmi a menej casto pred zralokmi. Krokodily v Australii maju radi aj more, ale vacsinou sa vyskytuju v blizkosti usti riek. Okrem jednej vyplavenej meduzy na plazi sme nenarazili na ziadne z tychto nebezpecnych zvierat, no vedomie, ze vsade mozu byt nam nedalo len tak si skocit kdekolvek do vody si zaplavat.
Jazda po queenslandskom pobrezi bola vodicovym snom. Male ale perfektne upravene vozovky vedu okolo mnohych zaujimavych miest a tak sme pri plazach a vyhladoch zastavovali, co to dalo. Jedni z najkrajsich momentov boli zastavenia na obed na predurcenych piknikovych spotoch, kde sme si na verejne barbeque hodili kus masa, ci zeleninu a po jedle hodinku vegetili na casto poloprazdnej plazi. Vacsinou sa nam darilo bud prenocovat blizko plaze, alebo sa aspon na nejakej zastavit pocas dna. V anglickom textu najdete par prikladov plazi, na ktore sme pocas cesty natrafovali.
Velky Barierovy Utes
Ktokolvek, kto cestuje po Australii, ma cas a ma potapacksy vycvik, by musel mat sakra dobry dovod nezajst sa potapat k Velkemu Barierovemu Utesu. Bohuzial, turisticke organizacie su si toho tiez dobre vedomi, a tak za svoje sluzby pytaju nehorazne peniaze. My sme ale prizmurili obe oci a do vysneneho dobrodruzstva isli. Po tom, co sme sa pozreli na ponuku niekolkych agentur sme si povedali, ze ked uz ideme do toho, nech to stoji za to, a objednali si ‘Get High’ balicek od firmy Down Under Cruise and Dive. Dve hodiny cesty tam a dve hodiny naspat na lodi so 100 dovolenkujucimi pasaziermi nas tak uplne nelakali, no nakoniec vysvitlo, ze len 6 dalsich ludi boli certifikovany potapaci, a tak sme mali dost pozornosti i miesta pod vodou. Vacsina s. Ostatnych spolucestujucich travila cas snorchlovanim a niektori absolvovali uvidnu lekciu do potapania.
Kedze Lucia si urobila potapacsky vycvik len nedavno, toto bolo prvykrat, co sme potapali spolu. I ked Mark vacsinu casu dozeral a daval pozor, niekedy sa nechal uniest a oddelil sa na par metrov, za co dostal patricne vynadane. Takyto potapacsky signal pod vodou predtym este nevidel. Bolo to nieco s prostrednickom :). Obidva ponory boli dobre, ale nie zas najuzasnejsie na svete. Videli sme niekolko zaujimavych ryb a aj farebny a roznorody koral. Nase ocakavania od toho, co uvidime, boli asi privelke. Najzaujimavejsiou vsak na Velkom Barierovom utese je jeho velkost a o tom sme sa presne mohli presvedcit v druhej casti naseho objednaneho balicka – z helikoptery. Medzi ponormi nas mala lod odviezla na nedaleky ponton, kde na nas cakala helikoptera. So styrmi dalsimi ludmi sme nasadli a priputali sa ked sa spustil mohutny dazd. Pockali sme kym prejde a pomaly sme sa zacali vznasat. Pre nas oboch to bola nova skusenost, a tak az po chvilke vzrusenej nervozity sme si uzivali vyhlady na komplez koralovych utesov. Bol to super zazitok a tak ani sme sa nenazdali a uz sme boli dolu.
Marieke a Nick nam povedali o parniku Yongala, najvacsom a najzachovalejsom vraku vo vodach australskeho pobrezia. Vdaka 109 metrov dlzky a udajnym velkym mnozstvam ryb a inych podmorskych zaujimavosti, ktore na nom ziju, to vyzeralo na dalsie 2 zaujimave ponory. Mark tentokrat isiel sam, kedze silne prudy su tu obvykle a plavba lodou byva drsna. Lucia by si ani jedno ani druhe moc neuzila. Mark isiel s Yongala dive school, ktora je v mestecku Alva, hlavne kvoli ich 30-40 min plavbe k vraku v porovnani k ostatnym agenturam, ktore odchadzaju z Mesta Townsville a plavba im trva 2-3 hodiny. Vybral si dobre, hlavne preto, ze more bolo v ten den extra burlive. Tento den bol poslednym dnom, kedy sa na vrak islo, pred tym, ako na severne pobrezie Queenslandu zavital cyklon Ita.
Samotne potapanie bolo zaujimave, viditelnost dobra a okrem samotneho vraku mnozstvo ryb a inych morskych tvorov plavalo spolu s potapacmi. Najpamatnejsi bol morsky had tri metre vzdialeny. Morske hady su vraj velmi jedovate, ale na cloveka nikdy nezautocia. Prudy oslabli po 4 metroch, no hladina bola pekne burliva, vo bolo poznat hlavne pocas prestavky medzi dvoma ponormi. Markovi bolo doporucene si vziat ‘kinedryl’, ktory asi pomohol, ale ho takmer uspal. Vlastne fotky z potapania nemame, ale nejaku sme si pre predstavu pozicali.