Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Day 27-30
At Paronella Park we met a couple who said to skip Mission Beach as it wasn’t very nice. Regardless of this, we thought we should at least drop in for lunch and were we glad we did. Within minutes of arriving in the “village green” we all fell in love with this piece of paradise. We spent many hours on the beach in various activities ranging from playing in the waves, to building sandcastles, spotting whales and watching the skydivers land on the beach. In between this we enjoyed the great facilities of the park including swimming pool, table tennins, playground and pool table. This was punctuated with ice creams and lazy lunches. If it sounds too good to be true, then come and see for yourself. We even found a fantastic weekend market where we browsed and bought a few bits and pieces. So as you can tell, the planned stop for lunch turned into four great days of R & R ( Just ask Harry, Lucy and Bella and they will tell you they want to live at Mission)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Days 27-30 continued - One other important factor that added tremendously to our time at Mission Beach was meeting the Hollands. I mentioned earlier in the blog from Wanga beach that their was a large van in a photo that was destined to play a greater part in our trip and this was the Holland family van. On the second day of our stay, I wandered down to the tourist info centre to get some maps. While I was their, I heard a couple asking about the best van park. Well as we had been having such a great time, I couldn’t help myself and started to sing the praises of Hideaway (our park). They seemed like nice people and they were most grateful. Well by the time I walked back to the park, they were setting up in the site behind us. We all introduced ourselves and it was obvious we were going to get on well. Chris and Kelly were farmers and it was interesting to learn about the modern world of farming (very different from what I had seen as a child). They ran a not so small business and had all of the business planning and goals of a top flight company, but more importantly, they and their children were genuine people and great fun to spend time with. We spent many hours of an evening after the kids were in bed discussing everything from business, sport and the plight of the Grey Nomads ( by the way the impressive van turns out to be Chris fathers). Their delightful children Broden, Taylar and Maddie enjoyed joining in any activities and a quick game of “World Series Beach Cricket” was a great laugh. Broden who is 14 was very patient with Harry who enjoyed having an older boy to “hang” with and I’m sure Harry will always remember this time fondly. Most of all it was great to see this family who really enjoyed spending time together and I will never forget leaving the beach one day when one of the family member said “Hey lets build a sand sculpture” and to a resounding chorus of “Yeah” they all started building a Crocodile (creative talent seemed to come from Dad). It was great to spend time with another family who enjoyed spending time with each other and us. Our only regret is that we were having so much fun, we didn’t take any photos (but we do have some first rate video footage of the cricket match thanks to Kelly). I’m sure we will stay in touch with the Hollands and hope we can perhaps have a cricket rematch one day.

Days 27-30 continued - The Hideaway Fishing Fleet – When we first arrived in our site and saw a sign referring to the Hideaway Fishing fleet. We looked around and to our horror I could see boats and rods and all manner of device designed to increase ones chance of catching fish. I thought we would be in big trouble as my fishing prowess is minimal and despite three attempts by Harry and I to catch fish we had no luck. The first of this group we met was Judy (later we learnt she was the wife of the Commodore). She was immediately welcoming and friendly and it was obvious to all of us that we had found a good neighbour in this paradise. I then plucked u the courage to ask the men with the boat some advice about local fishing. Not only did we get advice but also bait and the loan of a very nice rod and reel already rigged for the local conditions. Of course despite this good help Harry and I had no luck but not to be deterred the Hideaway Fishing fleet offered us some of their freshly caught mackerel for dinner. A very generous offer, but when Donna asked for a recommendation on how best to cook it, they insisted on cooking it for us. Well the fish arrived lightly seasoned and better than anything I have had a Doyles, Sails or Nic’s Seafood at Darling Harbour. After dinner we went over with the girls to thank them for their generous culinary gift only to find these charming seniors having ice cream cones for dessert, and in their continued generosity insisted that they make one each for our three children. As our stayed continued we learnt more about this fun loving group who had established this tongue in cheek fishing fleet some five years earlier and have continued to enjoy the comradery of a like minded group that come together each year to enjoy their common love of fun fishing and frivolity. We learnt that each year they have a theme night dinner complete with fancy dress and awards for all manner of things. Their days are peppered with fishing, lunches, more fishing, shopping expeditions, more fishing, practical jokes and of course eating the fish. It was a privilege to be accepted into this glorious group of individuals. I was immediately reminded of the film Cocoon where a group of seniors discover the fountain of youth. I’m not sure wether it is the location of Mission beach, the mix of alcohol and omega three oils from the fish or the energy they receive from each other as they share this common interest but I can only hope that I too will find this fountain of youth in my senior years. So in conclusion to the Hideaway fishing Fleet (especially Ian, Judy, Boyd and Barbarra). Happy fishing, continued fun and thank you for your friendship and acceptance of our family in your paradise

Day 26
A family we had met earlier in the trip had told us about a castle built by a Spaniard in the Queensland canefields. This was told to us early in the morning and free of alcohol so their must have been something in it, despite the story sounding bazaar. So we left Cairns and headed south on an incredibly picturesque drive known as the cane cutter way. We rolled past rainforest, mountains ,sugar can fields and banana plantations (and stopped at a drive through for a bottle of wine - the guy was most amused to see the Jayco). It was truly beautiful countryside aided by the fact that the weather was now fine. Our destination was Paronella Park and when we rang we were told that the entry fee included our first nights accommodation and so we booked in. We arrived around lunch time and set up our van. It looked very interesting with the castle ruins looking like remnants of temple built by the Inca’s. We decided to take our lunch down to the picnic area by the riverside that was built in the 1920’s. This was an amazing location. Built at the foot of the Moona Creek falls, the picnic area looked like something from a lost city. We assembled for our afternoon tour and met our guide Karen who had a great style.

Day 26 Continued - Paronella was a great exerience and even included an aboriginal tour of rainforest food and aboriginal life. This included a demo of fire lighting but despite our best attempts we could only manage smoke. Paronella Park was the dream of a spaniard named Jose Paronella. He came to Nth Queensland in the early 1900's and decided he would build a castle based on the images created in his mind from his Grandmothers bed time stories. Jose was a real do it yourselfer and I'm sure would have been an avid ebayer if available at the time. He created this amazing complex whivh included his castle like home, pinic area, team rooms, swimming pool and grand balroom complete with movie projector (in order to get electricity he had to install a hydro electric station - the first in Aus). The story is amazing and his vison inspirational. If you are ever in this part of Queensland, make sure you take a look as my wprds and pictures do not do justice to the park.

Day 25 - Last night it poured all night, no leaks or any problems just not much sleep as we try to plan our “coastal holiday” around the rain. The plan was to pack up the van early, get Greased Lightning (Prado’s ne name) serviced and then onto Mission Beach. After waking at 4.30 am and checking the weather, it was clear the rain was here for a few days and nowhere else looked any drier (what a difference having wireless internet connection makes being able to constantly check weather, complete banking and look for information). So we decided to stay another night in Cairns rather than pack up the camper in the rain, move 150km’s and set up again in the rain. After the car was serviced we went to Cairns central shopping centre for lunch (bit like Southland/Macquarie). Interesting people watching (I have never seen thongs dressed up and down so much??). Harry and I then went to se KungFu Panda at the movies while the girls were keen to swim in the pool on the esplanade despite the light rain. Harry and I enjoyed the movie and it was great to see a kids movie with a strong message (believe in yourself grasshopper and everything will work out). The girls enjoyed the chilly swim and we joined them after the movie. By this stage the rain had stopped and I must admit the Cairns esplanade is very nice despite being set on the harbour mud flats. We then went for a play at Muddies playground which is also on the esplanade and would have to be one of the best set ups for playground/cafe we have seen. It was then my turn to cook and I needed to compete with the previous evenings masterpiece of 2 minute noodles and cheese. Fortunately my culinary skills were up to the task and we dined and went to bed.

Day 24- By now my opinion of the Grey Nomads (GN’s) is well known but alas today my view was well and truly disproved. We had four days sharing a beautiful part of Wanga Beach with Robyn and Ivan Wahronga (names changed to protect the innocent). During our stay, these two charming retirees became substitute grandparents as our children continually visted them in their brand new Winebago. They even gave the girls a tour and answered all their questions with concern and consideration. This has led me to now come up with a new segmentation system for the GNs
S&L’s (Sour and loaded)
These sad individuals have worked all their lives hoarding their money and now plan to spend it on a magnificent machine that may even handle re entry better than the Space Shuttle. You can tell these people as they spend a fortune on every perceivable piece of equipment and can be seen every day cleaning machine and accessories. Yes they have a toilet, shower etc but they have never been used “Nice to have them just in case”
These are the “been their done that” brigade. Never try to recommend or suggest anything to these people cause they will always have a better suggestion. On closer examination, you realise they are really destination seekers whose aim is to tick off a list of venues but rarely see anything outside the van park. These individuals can be seen arriving at the park before lunch, spending the afternoon setting up camp (including the satellite dish to receive 1,452 channels). Heading off to the camp kitchen to practice some one upmanship and then in bed by nine. The next morning they will be up early packing up in time to head off to the next park to get the pick of the sites.
“Ive bloody worked hard and I deserve this” Oh I am so sick of hearing this. These sorry group of individuals don’t believe anyone under the age of 70 deserves to share any part of this planet with them. I think these people have been sent off by their children who are celebrating everytime the van goes away from their home state. One family told us a story about the an IDT. They had been out trying to catch crabs for days and everyday they would see this male GN return with a boat full “Just a few for the Misus and me”. So after push from the father of this family, the man agreed to let them tag along and he would show them. They met the next morning and followed him to a fork in the river at which point he said you go that way and I’ll try this way. So the family went off and tried for a few hours with no luck. They then decided to see how he had got on, so they went back to the fork in the river where they saw him motoring along. As usual he had a boat full of at least 10 large crabs. Hen the family said they had no luck, he replied “not surprising, I’ve never caught anything down their” Do you think he offered them one lousy crab for their kids..... no way. As most of you know I’m not the most religious person but I hope God has a special place for these individuals and I hope it is hot uncomfortable and no seafood is on the menu. Sorry not very Christian of me.
But at last I can report there is one group to save the whole Grey Nomad group and these are simply “just nice people”. These people will lend a helping hand, laugh when your children throw a ball onto their awning and simply be there with a smile when things don’t go well. So thanks Robyn and Ivan for making this clearer to me.
Oh as for the day not much to report after farewelling Robyn and Ivan we travelled to Cairns with lousy weather, set the van up and made sure all was OK to have the mighty Prado serviced
Day 23 - We awoke to light but steady rain an decided that we would have an easy day. So after a leisurely breakfast we headed off to Port Douglas for a look see and lunch. The drive took us once again through sugar cane country with huge fields of 2.5 metre cane, ready to be harvestedDonna had not been to Port Douglas for many years and was surprised how it had really developed. The new block of apartments and shops on Macrossen Street when you turn onto it really looks like Noosa. We still had a very nice stroll through the shops and the quote of the days goes to Lucy who after a shopping expedition with Donna for a short while said “ Dad I really saw a pretty handbag, shoes and a very nice top I would like to get!” at age six thank you. How does that happen???? We had lunch at the recently renovated Central Hotel which was great and then had another stroll, coffee and ice creams. After a quick drive to the look out, marina, Mirage and new Sea Temple complex, we headed back to the van. At last Harry could complete his long held desire to crack open a coconut and inspect the contents while the girls enjoyed some local bannans (beutiful and sweet).

Day 23 continued - We then went for a walk on the beautiful Wanga beach and despite the over cast conditions, had a great time admiring the coconut lined beach, watching some fisherman net some live bait and building sand castles. We then got caught in a rain shower so all had early showers, dinner and then watched the DVD “RV” with popcorn. The kids had seen it before but we hadn’t. It was the perfect way to watch it, tucked up in our van having popcorn and relating to many of the funny parts of this movie (if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour and take a look).

Day 22 - Today we were up early as we were keen to make the most of another day at Cape Tribulation. We headed off to yet another rendition of High School Musical Two and I must admit by now we knew all of the words and enjoyed singing along with the kids. Once over the river on the ferry, we went straight to the rainforest discovery centre which includes boardwalks and a tower to view all levels of the rainforest including the top canopy about 23 metres above the ground. Once again the kids learnt a great deal as they supplied us with audio guides that explained everything. After this we went to the Cape Trib look out and headed down the 4wd bloomfield track and even though it was now fairly dry, we could see how slushy it could get.

Day 22 continued - After a quick lunch, we stopped at the Daintree Ice cream company and shared a four scoop bowl (very interesting .... 1 bowl, 5 spoons and great determination by all) after sharing a second bowl we headed off to Mosman Gorge and despite the water being freezing, the kids stripped off and went for a paddle. I think the pictures tell the full story and show the absolute joy children still have without a nintendo in sight.

Day 21 – At last we had some time to catch up on the kids school work and journals. Although the journals are a great idea and I’m sure they will enjoy looking back on them, they are a pain for the whole family. I can only relate it to completing my expenses at work. You know you should do it and you know you need to do it but you keep putting it off. After that was done the kids had another swim and then we went to the Daintree river for a Crocodile spotting cruise. The guy we went with was great as he had an electric boat that was super quiet, a camera and TV screen on board to help the kids see the wildlife and he was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic. It is always great dealing with people who have such passion about what they do as it is certainly infectious. On our trip so far it had been fairly quiet and the cruise was no exception as it was less than half full (about 15 people). We set out on the boat and immediately we began learning a great deal about the river ecosystem. The kids were enthralled as he told us about frogs, birds and insects and then zoomed in on them on his screen to help us locate them. He told us about the dominant male crocodile who was affectionately known as scarface. He was a 4 metre long and about 70 years old. It sounded like we would see him for sure as it was low tide and he was sunning himself on the bank. When we arrived at the spot he had gone and left a 2 metre female named Lizzy alone on the bank. It was great to see a wild Crocodile so close but I must admit to being disappointed to not see scarface. Suddenly the guide shouted “their he is!”. Well I couldn’t see him but when he zoomed in we could all see a small snout and two nostrils protruding from the water. This looked like any stone or protruding log and most of us would have walked past without noticing. As if Scarface sensed he had a captive audience he began to drag his huge prehistoric body onto the bank. It was both awesome and frightening to think one moment their was what appeared to be a small rock and now we were watching this huge body emerge from the water. It was a truly amazing sight and something we will never forget. We returned to shore and all felt we had experienced something very special however on the return trip, the guide played us some footage of scarface tearing a dead pig apart that he had taken. The power was amazing as he smashed the large pig from side to side as he tore it apart. Needless to say we certainly stayed well clear of all the waterways in the area from that moment on.

Day 20 - People kept asking us “what was the best part of the trip?” For me, being so caught up in a busy corporate life, the answer was very simple. It was spending so much time with my wonderful family. One of the great joys of this adventure was watching our children wake up at eye level every morning. As I was the first one up each day, I would usually turn on the lap top (old habit) and try to capture the essence of our trip in this blog so the kids could have this record for ever. As I did this every morning, I saw the following wonderful procession daily. Firstly Harry would wake up ( just like me), open his eyes and greet the day with a comment such “mmm not so cool this morning” or “good morning for crumpets”. After which he would bounce out of bed with purpose and enthusiasm to greet the challenge of a new day. Next was Lucy. She would always take her time to wake up and slowly adjust to the temperature, sunlight and humidity of each day. I have learnt it is best to leave her to her own time and watch what happens. After a while she will slowly move and then suddenly like the sun exploding over the landscape, she will burst into the biggest smile and give you a cuddle just like she has not seen you for ten years. It would be worth staying up all night to wait for one of these. Bella like her Mum, loves her bed and would happily sleep all day. She takes an effort to rouse and usually pretends to be asleep and then you peel back the covers to see this beaming face. This ritual is something I never see at home but now have had the joy of watching it for weeks on end. It is something i will never tire of although, like many special things with our children, it will be gone before we know it.
This particular day the waking up cycle was much later than normal for the girls due to our very late night at the jungle bar. Harry and I together with the other children and dads took advantage of the late sleep in and went fishing for elusive Barra. Again no sight of fish but plenty of concern from me as we were fishing at the mouth of a creek, the place most likely to see a saltwater croc. Rest assured the reccomended 3 metre clearance from the waters edge was at least double for the Cook family. When we finally packed up we headed off to Wonga beach for a few days. When we arrived at the park we had been allocated the most amazing site under a huge curtain fig tree and the home to a multitude of peacocks. The kids immediately headed to the pool with Donna and then onto the beach while I was put in charge of the shopping. The kids and I unanimously agree that this was the best shopping ever done (as you would expect very little health food). The shopping bags were dominated by a combination of holiday treats and good value specials (great pasta sauce on special for only $1.69 vs the $3.89 we usually buy and it tasted better). That night we had a BBQ under the curtain fig tree complete with peacocks at our feet, very special. The photo below shows a very nice Grand Cruiser van parked on the opposite side of the fig tree, which un be known to us at the time, was destined to play a much greater part in our adventure further down the track