October 15 - October 21, 2001
We (Tony and I) are out of Townsville at a fairly early hour and on our way north to Cairns. Since I've been unable to get an extension due to a number of Qantas flight cancellations, I'm going to pass on working my way out to the tip of Cape York (I had been advised by Brett not to drive it solo, and so had planned to fly out there, but will put that down for another day!), and instead try to get at least two things accomplished in Cairns: 1) get on one of Cape York Air's mail runs; and 2) get on one of the Quicksilver Outer Barrier Reef excursions. In any event, it is only a few kilometers outside of Townsville when it becomes apparent that we are in to the tropical north. Sugar Cane, at all levels of maturity, surrounds us. I stop briefly in Ingham, the first sizeable town (5000 pop.), and home to Victoria Mill, the largest sugar producing mill in Australia, and, in fact, the largest in the southern hemisphere. A typical small Australian town.
It's not long before Tony's not only surrounded by sugar cane, but by bananas and pines (pineapples) as well.
We are nearing Cairns, and the rainforests!
Arriving in Cairns, I'm fortunate to find a great room at The Heritage Motel. Fortunate, not only because it's a great property, but because within 20 minutes, the manager, Graeme, has me all set up for the mail run on Tuesday, and the Outer Reef excursion on Wednesday. He also points me to the Cock & Bull for a great pub meal! Clearly, I'm off to a great start in Cairns!
Cape York Air gives priority to the mail and freight of rural residents, but when space is available, visitors can make the trip. Stations in the Cape York peninsula receive a maximum of one delivery a week, and by the reaction, these flights are enthusiastically received. There is just no better way to learn how these folks live than to fly in to these immense properties, and see for yourself. During the "wet", there would be no room for passengers, because since these people are isolated by flooding, they receive their total needs, food, and other staples, by air. Each of these sizeable stations have their own airstrips -- not paved, but they work. (I found out 5 times today!) There IS a strip in there, somewhere!
A Stockman comes out to meet us on our first stop at The Robinhood Station -- he's a great sport, and poses for us!
We head out for our next stop. Our young bush pilot, Mark, gives us some specifics on the stations we will be visiting ---
-- and the next one, Abingdon Downs, is one of his favorites. This station has an area of 4824 square kilometers, or about 1600 square miles! They normally will support a herd of approximately 18,000 head of Brahman, and Brahman Cross cattle! It was recently acquired by a young (40's) couple, Campbell and Cherelle Keough, and two of their daughters, Taylor and Jordan formed our welcoming committee! (It was immediately clear why this would be any pilot's favorite stop!)
Follow us --- for coffee, tea and scones! (But Dad has set up a 8 kmph speed limit on us!)
--- and now meet Clancey (she's family, not our cook, but she'll take care of us very well today! Great pancakes!)
-- and Clancey is a kick! She's given "Uni" a try, and may again, but just decided to come home for a while -- she really missed working cattle! A nifty gal -- and if you're paying attention, Glen, I still think I'd take a shot at getting her back to Brisbane!
Here's a bit of the Abingdon spread, and while it's not fancy, it is probably one of the finest station layouts you'll see.
The main house, and their "dry" Billabong
-- and check out those mangos!
-- and as we head out, here's Abingdon by air!
Great place! Great folks!
By the way, I mentioned Glen (a young Kiwi who has spent the last couple of years in Brisbane working as a cabinet maker - and is a super guy), and we had two other flight companions today -- Sylvia, a professional photographer who lives just north of Brisbane, and Barbara, visiting from Iowa, and who, unfortunately suffered with the bumpy flight. (The hot weather thermals tossed us about a bit!) Really a nice group! Here's Mark, Glen, and Sylvia (the smart one, who was able to find the shade of the empennage!)
More to follow - but I'm fading tonight, and have a big day on the reef tomorrow! CHEERS !
-- and Wednesday dawns, and I'm off for the Great Barrier Reef with the highly touted Quicksilver folks. A pretty nice service where they pick you up at the hotel, whisk you to the dock, where you board one of their "Wavepiercing Catamarans". These beauties are huge (can't seem to lay my hands on the specs, but from memory about 150' LOA, with about a 70' beam, while drawing only about 6', and less than 4' when underway!). They cruise at about 40 knots, so it doesn't take us long to get up to Port Douglas, and then we go out another 45 KM to get to the outer portion of the reef (The Agincourt Reef). I am certified, and while it's been some time, was tempted to dive, but then would not have been able to do what I did on the return from the reef -- chartered a helicopter to fly the reef back to Cairns! So, I satisfied myself with a little snorkeling with the other old folks, and neophytes! It is pretty out there, and the clarity was good. However the best part was the flight back with a great young guy by the name of Darren O'Brien!
Our target - the dive platform
Coral Seas Blue Water
A little coral below
But -- better from above!
No way the pictures do justice to this spectacular country!
-- and here's Port Douglas from the air
-- we head for home, by way of the rainforests - for Cairns!
-- and into the waiting arms of Tracey. Not a bad business!!
I head out the next day for my visit with Des and Vi Charles at Hinze Dam, but not before stops in Mackay (That's McKuy as in GUY, right Vi??), and Bundaberg.
Lots still to cover, in this, Week 4, so if you're still with me, move right along by pressing the line below.