A Whale of a Tale

Hi guys, Andy again. So Emma left you as we departed Airlie beach and the stunning Whitsundays. I’ll continue the story as we awoke the next morning beside the Bruce Highway on the forecourt of a BP petrol station, our best spot of illegal camping to date. A group of huge Harley Davidson bikers had pulled up and were sat revving their engines, there was no way we could sleep anymore so we watched their convoy head off and hit the road ourselves. By 6.30am we were 20kms down the road cooking our breakfast in a very wet and windy Clairview. Moving on again, as the weather was so bad we drove straight through a lot of places that were probably nice spots, just not very pleasant in the strong winds and rain.

That evening we were parked by a causeway trying to do justice to the fish I’d caught two days ago at Airlie beach. Just as we’d started cooking the rain picked up again, sending us running to the shelter of a nearby woman’s toilet with our hob and camping table. The blokes was unfit for the purpose. Cooking in a shitter does little to whet the appetite. I was preparing excuses in my head in case a lady came in and found me sat there sweating off my onions, luckily no one came in. When it was ready, we sat like two drowned rats in the front of the van devouring the fish curry. We’ve clearly lowered our standards since we came travelling 🙂

The following few days we passed through Yeppoon and Tannum Sands before taking a gamble and driving 30kms or so out of our way to a town called 1770. Strange name eh? Back to Captain Cook again, it was his first stop in Queensland and so named after the date of his passing through. We weren’t expecting a lot but were actually quite impressed by this well-kept and classy little holiday town. You could tell there was some money in the area. All of the roads were named after crew members or the boat itself, even Tupia the Tahitian guy who left his home and people to join the ship got a mention (this guy’s life is a very interesting story if you’ve any interest). We camped that night on the Joseph Banks national park, a very secluded headland with no artificial light in sight. Banks was the biologist onboard the Endeavour, the Banksia trees found all over Australia bear his name. We had an incredible show of the stars all on our own with the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks below. Definitely one of the highlights of my time in Australia, and free too. We explored the park the next day and the monument to Cook just along the coast, marking the spot where he’d landed.

We spent our time here chilling in the sun, the weather was now perfect, and walking along the lovely coastline, a bit of fishing too of course. We made the mistake of trying to recreate the night before’s perfect camping experience. After an hour of sleep, at midnight a jeep full of Australian teenagers arrived parking right next to us. The headland was huge and empty but no, they had to be right next to us. The stereo was on full blast and the beers and joints were flowing, time for us to leave. We dressed and got in the front of the van and drove off. As we were leaving one of the guys asked if his music was too loud! So we parked up a few kilometres down the road and could still hear the douchebags. Reading this back I realise how old I sound, damn, we should have joined them 🙂

Moving on again, we spent a couple of nights just outside of Bundaberg, where the famous rum hails from, at a small place called Burnett Heads (we had to call in Pete). We enjoyed a few days off from driving and Emma gave me a much needed haircut, not easy when there’s a fair breeze blowing, I think most of the trimmings ended up in our neighbour’s caravan! Here we saw some Kangaroos up close when walking by the beach, they can get pretty big! These just stared at us with an expression like they’d kick our faces off if we got any closer, pretty mean looking dudes.

After leaving Burnett Heads we paid a visit to a very special town called Mons Repos, where every year hundreds of baby turtles emerge from the sand. It’s a very important breeding ground for the turtles and the staff track and monitor the returning females when they lay their eggs. It wasn’t sexy time for turtles when we were there, but still the big visitor centre made for an interesting visit.

That night we camped at Wallum Park, one of the few 100% legally free camps in Australia. Surrounded by lovely forest, we sat drinking a can of beer and eating beans on bread, we had no way of making toast! I can confirm as I’m sure you’re already thinking that beans should only ever come on toast. Some grey nomads (oldies who’ve sold their homes to travel around Australia in motorhomes) invited us over to their campfire. They were burning the cones from the Bansia trees I mentioned earlier, giving off an amazing aroma. They told us they were all from Perth, that’s a crazy distance away, if you haven’t been to Australia this sort of drive would be very difficult to get your head around, it’s pretty much the width of the place. One of the couple’s nephews was in the band Pendulum it turned out!

We then arrived in the Hervey Bay area, famous for whale watching trips and Fraser Island. It was here that we discovered our first McCafe, McDonald’s swanky coffee shops. They sell pretty good coffee, with a muffin usually, for a reasonable price when compared to most other places in Aus. It became a treat for us now and then to pay one a visit. We booked ourselves onto a trip aboard the Spirit of Hervey Bay for a spot of whale watching the next day. That night we had another unsuccessful street camping experience. We’d found the perfect spot, no signs telling us we couldn’t be there, right next to the sea and there was water and toilets nearby. Conditions were perfect. An hour after getting into bed some kids started to hit and rock the van, we shouted out at them and they sped off on their bikes. I’m sure I’d have probably done the same thing if I was 15 and saw a purple flowery van parked up with people sleeping in it. We ended up driving to a campsite as Em wasn’t too keen to stay where we were, I don’t think the receptionist was especially pleased to see us at that time of night.

The next day, despite the dodgy nights sleep, we were up and out early for our whale watching trip. We knew we were going to have an awesome day when we found the perfect parking spot, it would be in shade all day long, any Australian would have been jealous of it. Taking this good omen with us, we boarded our lovely boat which luckily for us was pretty empty and set off out to sea. We followed close to the coast of Fraser Island into Platypus Bay, where the Humpback whale mothers give birth and nurse their calves. We soon saw our first whales in the distance ahead, the characteristic plume of steam into the air as the whale exhales is what the captain was looking out for. He took us right up to the whales, a mother and her calf that was less than a week old. They’d dive for a few minutes at a time so the mother could feed her baby, apparently she squirts a ball of thick yoghurt-like milk into the water which the calf then swallows. After the mother leaves the Antarctic to give birth here she no longer feeds until she’s had her baby and returned, quite a journey. It was only when you got right next to the mum that you realised how big these whales were, as most of their body was under the water. They didn’t seem too concerned with us being there at all. We visited many more pods of whales, all just mothers and babies, but one pod had a big male ‘escort’. He was hanging around to mate with the mother as soon as he could get his fins on her. The captain estimated that the baby in this group had been born that day, we couldn’t believe how lucky we were to see one so young, a magical experience.

The crew were brilliant, the captain gave an interesting commentary the whole time at sea managing to make you believe it was the first time he’d said it. The lunch was excellent, we were having a brilliant day. In the afternoon the whales stopped their feeding and it was now school time for the calves. The mothers all over the bay were now breaching, leaping clear of the water and crashing back down. The calves were doing their best to copy their mums but still had some work to do from what I could see. They were also being taught to slap the water with their pectoral fins, these aggressive behaviors are their only defense against sharks and Orcas, apparently the sea around Fraser Island was now teeming with them 😮 The defenseless babies are their target and there was plenty of them about. We were lucky enough to have some bottle nose dolphins cruise next to our boat too that day. One of them was missing its dorsal fin, apparently he’d been victim to one of the sharks too.

We returned to Hervey Bay with big smiles on our faces, it had been an amazing day and I’d lost count of how many whales we’d seen. We didn’t realise that today wouldn’t be the last we’d see of them either, luckily for us, we and the whales had one thing in common, we were both heading south. So over the next few weeks we’d be seeing them fairly regularly as they passed us by on their journey back to the Antarctic.

Bye for now dudes.



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