1. Seeing my first wild kangaroos at Cape Hillsborough. I had seen some kangaroos at Singapore Zoo a few years back and I saw hundreds of them on this road trip, but seeing a real, wild kangaroo for the first time was very memorable for me. I wasn’t ashamed at all while trying to pet them excitedly with the other kids on the beach. If our Aussie friends get excited about the Philippines’ “exotic” carabao, stopping on the highway to take pictures and all, then I’m sure they would understand if I get overly thrilled with their own unusual creatures.
2. Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef – In addition to the colorful and teeming underwater life, I was amazed by the sheer vastness of the reef. According to our guide, the reef is as big as the state of Texas and it is the only living thing visible from outer space. If that’s the case, then I guess I only got to snorkel inside Texas Stadium. I saw “Nemo” here – both orange and red, a black tipped reef shark lying on the ocean floor (thanks goodness it was too lazy to bother anyone), a humungous moray eel that made me disappear in a split second, schools of fish swirling around in a unified motion and various species of sea grass, seaweeds and corals. Just standing on our boat and looking at the spectacular vista of colorful soft and hard corals forming odd and interesting shapes is already an experience itself. This is what I would do if I only had one day in North Queensland.
3. Crocodile Encounter on the Daintree River – We had visited the Crocodile Park in Davao City a month before our road trip and had seen crocodiles up close at the Billabong Sanctuary in Townsville. But the chance of seeing one in the wild was just too good to pass up. This is Australia, the land of kangaroos and crocs so we might as well see some wild ones in their natural habitat. For 25 bucks, we got to join a croc and wildlife spotting tour along the Daintree River with complimentary snacks. From this tour, I learned many things about salt water and fresh water crocodile and which ones should be avoided. But if I see one in the wild, I certainly won’t bother to try and identify it – I’ll be running a mile on the opposite direction!
4. Canoeing at Lawn Hill National Park – Flat tire in the middle of nowhere, driving all day under the scorching heat of the sun and getting engulfed in a cloud of dust by road trains as we traced the unsealed and corrugated road towards Boodjamulla (its aboriginal name) – these trials weren’t in vain after reaching one of the most scenic national parks of Queensland. Canoeing along its serene waters revealed to us a spectacular gorge with its red rock gleaming radiantly in the early morning light. It had diverse flora and fauna with new and interesting species of birds to tick off in our bird book. Another highlight of this leg was the scenic walk along the rim of the gorge that rewarded us with amazing view of beautiful sandstones ranges. The camping ground by the creek was also awesome, with picturesque swimming holes where you’re likely to share your swim with the local fresh water crocodiles (the gray nomads in our camping ground assured me that they are harmless – so far I’m still in one piece!)
The calm water beautifully reflects the stunning landscape.
5. The Undara Lava Tubes Experience– This was memorable for me because it was the first place where I experienced the real Outback. The journey towards Undara, which is located in the ruggedly charming Gulf of Savannah, is an interesting experience as well. I had never seen so many roadkill carcasses in a day of driving, as well as countless termite mounds (some as big as an adult person) that looked rather spooky. The notorious flies relentlessly buzzing in my ears welcomed us – I am in the Outback at last! Learning about the Undara Lava Tubes and its geological history and walking inside the longest lava flow from a single volcanic crater is the main attraction of this tour, but for me, watching the Outback sunset, joining the campfire talk, and finding a clearing with hundreds of kangaroos of different shapes and sizes during one of our wildlife spotting walks were unforgettable as well.
Waiting for my first sunset in the Outback.
6. Ocean Rafting to the WhitSunday Islands – Hill Inlet in the Whitsundays is beyond beautiful. It is amazingly gorgeous! From Airlie Beach, we joined the Ocean Rafting Tour making sure a visit to Hill Inlet was part of the itinerary. After the boat ride, we followed a short easy trail that meanders to the lookout where you get a breathtaking view of the shifting white sands of Hill Inlet, which are made of 93% pure silica and varying shades of blue waters. Another highlight of this trip was the sightings of hump-back whales and dolphins on the way to the inlet and swimming with some giant trevally, an oversized (and rather aggressive!) fish.
As the tide shifts, the fine white sand and and different hues of blue blend harmoniously into a breathtaking mosaic.
7. Cruising to Hinchinbrook Island – This place is deserted, remote, uninhabited and is Australia’s largest island national park. We almost passed this up because it was bit expensive to join a half-day tour to the island, no wonder we were in the company of gray nomads and there wasn’t a single backpacker in our tour group. But, we figured we may never come back on this side of Queensland and it is one of the very few remaining pristine wilderness in the world (it is world heritage listed) so we went for it. A half day- isn’t enough though to appreciate its pristine tropical rainforest, long stretches of deserted white sand beach and blue waters – keen bushwalkers spend a week or more hiking the famous Thorsborne Trail which spans the length of the island.
Together with the gray nomads, we cruised along untouched mangrove forest towards one of the deserted beaches in the Hinchinbrook Island.
8. Attending my first Australian show in Tully – We were fortunate enough to be near Tully when they held their annual Tully Show. A “show” is the Australian version of a small town fair or carnival, and they are a highlight of the year in country towns throughout Australia. There were dance presentations, an equestrian competition, and exhibits of the local farmers’ biggest, smallest, and weirdest farm animals and fresh produce. There was greasy food, exciting rides and various booths and kiosks with food, souvenir items and even art works from the local students.
This small town in North Queensland has the reputation of being one of the wettest towns in Australia. The gum boot is apparently a fashion statement here.
9. White Water Rafting at the Tully River – If Philippines has CDO, Australia has Tully River regarded by many expert white water rafting enthusiasts as the best rafting river in Australia. The memory of the cold water, endless rapids, and the screaming Chinese tourist behind me are still fresh. It’s one exhilarating ride through thrashing waters and untouched rainforest. We tried the regular rafting trip but if you want a more challenging adventure, the Extreme Rafting package includes extra challenges like rock jumping, rapid swimming and raft surfing.
10. Trekking down to Wallaman Falls – Wallaman Falls is Australia’s largest single drop waterfall located at Girringun National Park. Our first visit to the waterfall was a big disappointment because we couldn’t see a single thing when we stopped by at the lookout before camping for the night. We could hear the raging falls but the vast ravine was shrouded by thick fog, obscuring the view. The next day was no different so we decided to trek down to the bottom of the falls in the hope that we would at least see something from down there. After about an hour’s walk, we finally got a glimpse of 305 meters of surging water through rainbow-fringed clouds. It’s awesome! Now it’s time to huff and puff back to the top
11. Taking the Kuranda Scenic Railway Train and Cable Car- As touristy as it may seem, this scenic train journey will take you through the spectacular World Heritage listed tropical rainforest and Barron Gorge. It terminates at the eclectic rainforest village of Kuranda, which is a mine for unique souvenirs and pasalubong. I enjoyed the independent bohemian shops in one of its markets as well as meeting a global gypsy who is planning to make a movie about kidnapping former president Bush – a brilliant idea! If you haven’t had enough, the cable car on the way back will give you a bird’s eye view of the lush tropical rainforest canopy, steep ravines, cascading waterfalls and a guided rainforest walk when you disembarked in the designated cable car stations.
12. Trekking down to Porcupine Gorge National Park – After spending some time in the quaint towns of the outback and driving through the arid and flat surroundings, camping at Porcupine National Park was a welcome retreat. From the lookout, we saw a picturesque view of towering sandstone cliffs bordering the Porcupine Creek. We trekked down to the base of the gorge where we got to see closely layers of colored sedimentary rocks spanning millions of years. Another highlight of this leg was seeing wild emus running alongside our car as we drove along the dusty road to the gorge.
This impressive canyon reveals layers of sediments spanning millions of years.
13. Exploring the Dinosaur Trail in the Outback – I was never a big fan of dinosaurs but visiting the Dinosaur Trail in the Outback revealed some pretty interesting facts about the secrets of the Prehistoric Age. Apparently, there was a time when a large portion of the Queensland Outback was part of a vast inland sea, and gigantic marine reptiles reigned supreme. Now you can see the fossils of these leviathans in museums in each of the 3 towns of the “Dinosaur Trail”.
14. Visiting the Reef HQ – Reef HQ is the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium and Queensland’s version of seeing the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet. It boasts thousands of interesting species of fish and reef creatures and two and a half million liters of coral exhibits. There was a diving and predator show where you can see various species of shark, but just seeing “Nemo” and his friends was enough to make my day.
Reef HQ is the only coral reef aquarium on the Queensland coast for visitors to experience the reef from a fish-eye-view.
15. Seeing the Cassowary at Cape Tribulation – After driving for 4 weeks and seeing so many signs along the way warning us to slow down because of cassowary crossing; and after walking through the forest of the cassowary conservation area at Mission Beach… we were just about to give up on actually seeing one, when, on our last day at Cape Tribulation… the elusive cassowary finally revealed itself! It popped out in middle of the road causing quite a stir, not to mention a traffic jam, as everyone who was lucky enough to be there, stopped their car to take pictures. I saw my first ever cassowary in Davao Crocodile Park and I even thought they were cousins of ostrich. Now, I understand why Charles was so surprised to see them there. Apparently they are endemic to Australia and they are on the brink of extinction now.
The Cassowary is a large, flightless bird from Australia and New Guinea. It is the second biggest bird in Australia and the third -biggest bird in the world.