We left Cairns on the morning of the 21st and stopped a couple of places on our way to Townsville: Etty Bay, in search of the elusive Southern Cassowary, which we luckily spotted; Wallaman Falls, the tallest waterfall in Australia, dropping 268 meters; and Big Crystal Creek, just to get out of the car. We got to Townsville late, so I didn’t have time to explore my old haunts (I did my Independent Study Project on sea turtles in Townsville when I was a student with SIT), but we did have dinner with Russell, the Aboriginal elder who I went camping with as an SIT student.
The next morning, we woke up early to drive to Airlie Beach, gateway to the Whitsundays, and took a ferry to Daydream Island, which really was like a daydream. At first I thought the $72 ferry ticket was a bit outrageous, but included with the ticket was full access to the resort on the island. I am typically not the “resort” type, but this place was beautiful, and we spent the day lounging on the beach and exploring the island. At Mermaid Beach, I swam with a green sea turtle, and at Lover’s Cove, the snorkeling was incredible and made up for what I missed in Cairns. There were kangaroos and curlews and the water was the bluest aquamarine. We accidentally, but somewhat luckily, got on the wrong ferry to return to the mainland, which simply meant that we got to cruise the Whitsundays for longer as we transferred to the proper ferry (and I didn’t get sick!).
The following day was simply a day to get a chunk of the drive out of the way; we stayed in Rockhampton for the night, which didn’t have much to offer, but we did check out the free zoo. As we walked around the enclosures of the Australian animals—koalas, kangaroos, cassowaries, emus, dingoes—I realized that the wombat was the only animal I had not yet seen in the wild (and as I write this, it is no longer true; I spotted a wombat in Cradle Mountain National Park in Tasmania!). But we left Rockhampton on the morning of Christmas Eve to spend a few days in Agnes Water, a nice break from driving and some beautiful weather on a quiet, relaxing beach. It certainly wasn’t a normal Christmas, but the place was wonderful.
When we left Agnes Water, we stopped along the drive at the Bundaberg Rum Distillery, where we did a tour and tasting, and spent the night of the 26th in Maryborough, which was really just another stopover point along the drive. We walked along the river and had dinner in a typical Australian pub and prepared to leave the coast to head inland for the remainder of our journey.