Mount Arapiles
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After we finished the Great Ocean Road we spent one more night on the Southern coast at a free campsite near Portland. We were cooking dinner when this little guy showed up.

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Skippy showed up for dinner

In the morning we headed to just West of the Grampian Mountains, to a place called Mount Arapiles. Home to some of the best trad climbing in Australia. We arrived in the early afternoon, and headed up to the nearest crag to give Cathy a sampling of the rock. We climbed 2 routes called Hornpiece and The Dirge.

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Just arriving at Mount Arapiles

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Some of the cliff line of Mount Arapiles

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Cathy on Hornpiece

We ended up spending that first night at the caravan park in Natimuk to charge up the van and fill it with water. We were lucky to get a great sunset over the lake we could see from our van while having dinner.

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Chilling at our campsite in Natimuk

The next morning we moved over to the Pines campground which is at the base of Mount Arapiles. It is a great spot where most climbers camp and hang out. You can park you car, leave it, and easily walk to all the climbs. We hiked to an area called the Pharos and jumped on the classic climb called Lamplighter. The climb was really good with a bunch of exposure, at an easy grade. The final pitch is a bit crazy with this tight squeeze through this chimney. Here are some pics from the climb.

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Cathy heading up pitch 2 of Lamplighter

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Hanging out on Lamplighter

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About to climb the crazy crux of the third pitch

In the afternoon we headed over to another wall to run up an easy climb called Arachnus Variant. A really fun and easy climb that runs up the Watchtower face. At the summit we were lucky to get some good shots.

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Summit of Arachnus

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Another cool pic from the summit

The next day we headed over to Tiger Cliff to do the longest route at Mount Arapiles called Syrinx. It is a really cruisy climb, and a lot of fun. We were moving pretty fast on the climb, so we didn’t take too many pictures, but here is one from the summit of Tiger Wall.

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Top of Tiger Wall

After finally finding the descent and getting down from Syrinx we moved left on the wall for one last climb called Kaiser. A great climb with some really interesting moves, and a great way to finish up the day.

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Heading up the 2nd pitch of Kaiser

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Final moves on the last pitch of Kaiser

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Last picture before heading out

We spent the night at the Pines Campground. The next morning we hit the road for the 5 hour drive to Adelaide. We are currently staying with my Uncle and having a great time catching up, doing laundry, replenishing supplies, and obviously blogging! We head out tomorrow for the big push up the center of the country. We are leaving the lush green views of the tropics we started with in the Northeast, and green hillsides of the South coast we just came through to head north into the red desert of the outback.

 

Great Ocean Road……And News! :-)
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The last few days have been driving days in trying to make our way from the Blue Mountains to the south of Australia. 
We had a couple of options in making our way through the southern coast. We could drive through the city of Melbourne or stay on the coast line and drive the Mornington Peninsula then cross by ferry.  We chose the scenic route.
We stopped off in Sorrento, a beautiful beach side town where our friends Ben and Jacinta were married.  Jamie was here last year for the wedding so he showed me all around town and this is also where we would catch the ferry.  It would be 3 hours before we could get on the next boat because there was a huge cycling event going on, the 20th year of the “Bike Around The Bay” fundraiser.

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The Ferry Full of Cyclists

There were 10′s of thousands of riders riding the 250K ride around the bay of Melbourne. Many of these riders were using the ferry to cross so it was a busy day. We went on a hike to kill some time.

 

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Sorrento Hike

 

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Views From Sorrento

We finally arrived at the Great Ocean Road

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Probably the most beautiful coastal drive on the planet. We would take 2 days to drive it, stopping off at all the scenic lookouts and phenomenal rock structures. Our first night we spent free camping at Johanna Beach, one of the best free spots we’ve found.

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Johanna Beach

All the stops were awesome, the views and rock formations along the southern ocean coastline are unbelievable.
Here are some of the amazing views along the Great Ocean Road

 

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One of the many Great Ocean Road Scenic Lookouts

 

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Twelve Apostles at Port Campbell National Park

 

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The Arch

 

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London Bridge

 

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Grotto Lookout

My favorite stop was Apollo Bay.  Despite all the great pictures above with the sun shining, we had actually just drove through a bit of a rain and wind storm.  When we arrived at Apollo Bay the sky cleared up again and it was a gorgeous day so we walked to the beach……Where, to my surprise Jamie pulled from his pocket a shiny rock. He said he had something to give me, and proposed! After a lot of excitement, of course I said yes……we are now engaged!

 

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Newly Engaged at Apollo Bay!

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We will look forward to celebrating with family and friends when we return to the States this spring. For now, our only plans are to continue enjoying Australia and this great adventure of ours.  

Blue Mountains
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We headed into the Blue Mountains with a leg up on the other climbing areas we had been to so far, the big difference….we actually had a guide book for the area! This makes all the difference in the world when you are climbing in areas you don’t know for the first time. On the way into the mountains we stopped off at Wentworth Falls to give Cathy her first look at the Blue Mountains.

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Cathy's first glimpse of the Blue Mountains

The book gave us exact directions to the parking area, and a map to the first crag we wanted to try out, called the Grey Slab. The rock is sandstone with a lot of texture in it, and wears on the pads of your fingers pretty quickly. We spent the afternoon basically climbing all the routes on the wall from right to left, and left the wall feeling really good…..tired, but good to be cranking on some quality routes. I could easily spend a couple of weeks in these mountains…….there is so much to climb! Here are some pics from our afternoon.

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Hiking in to the crag

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Enjoying the rock at the Grey Slab

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Looking down from above

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Hiking out

We then referred to the guidebook on where we should camp for the night. It said one of the best free spots to crash for the night is a place called Perrys Lookdown. It is a bit rough getting there, since it is about a 5km drive on a dirt road, but you are truly rewarded when you reach the end. Once we parked we walked about 100 yards down to the lookout, and this was our view ;-)

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Perrys Lookdown camp spot

Another bonus, we only had to share the area with two other guys who were camping down there as well, pretty cool! The next morning we headed off to try some of the multi-pitch climbing at an area called James Bond crag. The approach was a little scary, because you had to scramble through some serious bush to get to the crag, and even though Cathy and I never mentioned it out loud, we were both thinking it….SNAKES!!!!! Thankfully we didn’t see any. The climbing was really good, and we had a great day. Some pics from the day.

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Cathy making her way up Mr. Big

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Chilling at the second belay ledge of a climb called Mr Big

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Having fun with the view

Our last day in the Blue Mountains we ended up climbing one of the true multi-pitch classic climbs there call Sweet Dreams. The climb was the biggest climb Cathy has ever climbed and she did really well at handling the exposure. Below are some pics from the climb.

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To get to the climb you had to scramble through the magic hole

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Cathy hanging out at the second belay

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Cathy making her way across the giant traverse of pitch 3

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Top of the forth pitch with the Three Sisters in the background

We then headed back to Penrith to spend the evening with my uncle’s wife Nuhy, and her kids Tony, and Kym-Ahn. We had a great dinner with the family, and both Cathy and I would like to pass on our appreciation to them for putting us up as we passed through more than once, thanks for everything!

The next morning we headed off from Penrith making our way further down the coast. We ended up stopping in a town called Nowra which is suppose to be the sport climbing meca of Australia, so we thought we would check it out. We hiked in to see what it was all about and the first climb we came to was a grade 12 route (5.4 in US ratings) and I was surprised to hear from Cathy “I want to lead this!” She has been learning a lot over the past few months, and after I checked out a couple of things, I thought it was a good route for her first lead climb. I am proud to say she rocked it! Some pics from her big day.

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About to launch off...with her draws racked the proper way! ;-)

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Made it!

We ended up crashing for the night at one of the local rest areas just south of Nowra….which was great because it was free! We woke up this morning and hit the road to see where we would end up. We ended up stopping in a town called Narooma, and came across this cool rock formation on the coast.

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Cool formation.....we just couldn't figure what it reminded us of ? ;-)

We are currently just north of a town called Genoa, and for the first time we have started to make the turn from heading south to heading west along the bottom of the coast line. Hopefully, within the next few days we will be hitting the Great Ocean Road, and then on to some more climbing at the Arapiles Mountains. :-)

Australia’s East Coast, from Sunshine to Central
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Brooyar turned out to be pretty good climbing, it was our first time on rock in over a month so it would be good no matter what.  The rock was the sharpest I ever experienced, sandstone, which left our tips raw but well worth it.  The overnight camping was scary as hell for me.  Jamie loves the isolation but for me, I spent the night listening to all the footsteps in the woods that surrounded us.  Was it a kangaroo, a dingo, or a rhinoceros lizard?? I held my bladder that night and woke up safe and sound!

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Skippy

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Dingo

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Rhinoceros Lizard!

Noosa would be our next stop and this place was everything a gorgeous coastal town could be.  We found a really good caravan park to spend the night, went into town for a walk on the beach and some cocktails then woke up to a beautiful day so we hiked the 10K coastal track.

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Noosa Heads Coastal View

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Coastal Hike, Noosa

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Coastal Hike, Noosa

We left Noosa to continue south and feed my urge to see more Koala bears and went to Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo.  This is a conservation zoo so they are mostly rescuing the animals to rehabilitate them and send some back into the wild, at least that’s what they advertise.  We did enjoy it and found the crocodile feeding to be the highlight.

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Koala Bear

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Bosco getting fed fish

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Feeding the Kangaroos

The Glass House Mountains offered us our next opportunity to climb and it was not too far from the Zoo.  Jamie picked out a climb called Troposphere which is a 5 pitch sport route.  We had no guidebook and relied once again on the internet for beta so it took us a while to find the start.

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Pitch 2 of Troposphere

Unfortunately after only two pitches of climbing, bad weather rolled in and within minutes it started to rain down on us.  We repelled down and got out before it got worse, which it did.  It was such a bummer because it was a real fun climb and the view from the top of the Glass House mountain range is probably awesome.

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Stuck at the 2nd pitch belay to see what the weather would do

We moved on down the Pacific Highway and after enough driving for one day we settled in at Coffs Harbor for the night.  It was time for a free night so we pulled into a truck stop for the night and we were woken at 5am to the natural alarm of the area……

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5AM Rooster Call Outside Our Window : (

Port Macquarie would be our next stop and if we were to move to Australia I would consider moving here.  A real cool beach town that’s not too busy with loads of parks, good restaurants, a lot of surfing (would have to learn) and a vibe we had not felt yet in the other towns.  We talked to a local about free camping in the area and she pointed out some great spots for us where we could shower, access a toilet all night and have great views.

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Nobby Beach at Port Macquarie, our dinner spot

With 24 hours of free parking at nearly every park in Port Macquarie we were set on a free night with great views.  We chose the one with the toilets at Sea Acres Reserve.

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Our Overnight Spot

We woke up to a gorgeous day with an awesome view from the bedroom…..

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Jamie enjoying his breakfast at the beach

There was another coastal track just off this parking lot so we headed out for a workout

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Shelly Beach Coastal Track, Port Macquarie

After our workout we started moving further down the coast, minding our own business when Jamie noticed a sign that said “Seal Rocks”, it was the next left and we had no other plans for the day so he asked if I wanted to go check it out. I said yes of course and 20 minutes later we are on a dirt road leading to who knows where.  Turns out there is one gas station/convenience store and that’s it for miles.  We continued down this road that came to a dead end at a beach and sight that just blew us away.

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Seal Rocks

Australian Fur Seals used to gather here in huge numbers years ago which is how this place got its name.  We were told there were no more seals here but a few months back a few were spotted in the distance.  There is also an historic lighthouse on the cliffs, with the lighthouse keeper cottage available for holiday use at $4700/week!

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Seal Rocks Lighthouse

This place was so unexpected and too awesome to just pass through so we stayed a couple hours and had lunch, what a view….

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Lunch at Seal Rocks

As we’re eating our lunch we notice something peculiar floating around in the shallows. Shortly after, a young boy heads out with his surf board to investigate.  We got out of the van to check it out and as we got closer we realized what it was. A baby seal!! It was so close to the shore line, just playing around flapping his fin.  A few locals were around so we got to talking to them and the one man said he’d been living there 26 years and had never seen a seal, he said we should feel privileged!

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Baby Seal!

We are now headed into the Blue Mountains for a few days of climbing, to the shock of many Australians, a few days ago the Blue Mts just got a lot of snow and some roads were even closed.  We are hoping its all melted by the time we get there tomorrow : )

 

 

Catching up with Friends and Family
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We got on the road from the Whitsundays and moved further down the coast. We stopped one night at Clariview to break up the drive to Gladstone. The next morning we made our way to Gladstone, well, really Tanum Sands (just South of Gladstone), where our friends Ben and Jacinta now live. Ben and I use to be dive instructors together way back in the day, and it was their wedding I attended last year. They have also had a new addition to their family, young Ethan. Cathy and I agreed we don’t think we have ever seen such a happy baby! All the kid does is smile ;-) It was great seeing them, catching up, meeting Ethan, and seeing where they have settled down. We ended up taking a bunch of baby pics, so we are not going to post them, but here is a shot from a walk we took from their place down to the beach, we’re checking out all the kite surfers. They just moved into this new place and it is only a 5 minute walk to the beach from the front door, pretty sweet! It was awesome hanging out and Ben and Jacinta were nothing but great hosts……thanks guys, hopefully we will see you in the states soon!

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Taking Ethan for a walk down to the beach

After a couple of days, we unfortunately had to move on and head inland for the first time, toward the town of Gayndah. My uncle Kym moved up to Gayndah a few years ago to start his own quarry business. It had been a few years since I had seen him and his wife Nhuy, and I was looking forward to catching up and having them meet Cathy. Gayndah is a sleepy town, and you might say it is out in the middle of nowhere, but it definitely has the appeal of a slow quiet town. Cathy and I really enjoyed our time there, and it was great catching up with my family, and meeting Nhuy’s sister Lena. Thanks Kym and Nhuy for your hospitality, the pic below is after a BBQ they put on for us….. a lot of laughs and good times!

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BBQing with my Uncle Kym, his wife Nhuy, and her sister Lena

We moved on from Gayndah and headed back to the coast with our sights set on Hervey Bay. We set up shop at the YHA caravan park. We got in around 10am, and by 1pm had booked a trip to board the Tasman Adventure boat to see humpback whales. Hervey Bay is known as the only place in the world where humpback whales hang out at from June – Nov, before migrating to the arctic. It was really cool to see them in their natural habitat doing what they do. Here are some of the pics from the trip.

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This baby and her momma came right up to the boat

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Momma!

Check out the gallery page for more whale shots.

The next day we were picked up early and headed out for a one day tour of Fraser Island. The island is what makes up one side of Hervey Bay and is really neat from a ecological perspective. The island is the largest sand island in the world, and you have to get around the island in a four wheel drive vehicle, or you aren’t going anywhere. This was our tour bus. It was a pretty sweet ride!

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Mega bus!!!

One of the highlights we got to see was spending the morning at Lake Mckenzie. The lake only contains rainwater, and is not fed by anything else, it took over 7000 years to get to the size it is today. The sand and plant life on the bottom of the lake along with organic matter keep the water in the lake from seeping into the ground. The water is so clear and the ph value is just right that you can put your hair in it and it will condition your hair……..not that I really cared ;-) but Cathy really enjoyed it!

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Lake Mckenzie

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Cathy about to condition her hair

The interior of the island is basically rainforest, but as you move outwards towards the coast the vegetation changes until you reach the beach. There are 5 different types of forests on the island.  We drove up the beach about 50km until we came to the wreck of the Maheno. This 5 story ship was being towed to Japan in 1935 when during a cyclone it came loose and washed up on shore where it sits today, slowly burying itself into the soft sand.  It was an impressive sight to see on the beach.

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Wreck of the Maheno

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Another view of the Maheno

We left Hervey Bay yesterday morning in the hunt for some real rock! I was able to track down some climbing in the area. It has been tough, there is not a lot of info on climbing in this part of Australia, but I was able to find a web site, www.thecrag.com

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, and find a crag called Brooyar. It took a little bit to get there, but we were able to get some sport climbing in this afternoon. The climbing is on some pretty rough/sharp rock, but it was good to be cranking after not climbing on real rock in over a month!

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Cathy trying to figure out this 19 (5.10 in the states)

We ended up setting up camp just at the top of the mountain. There was no one around and it didn’t say we couldn’t camp there, so what the hey! ;-) Another bonus….only a 5 minute hike to the crag.

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Our Campsite...no one around, pretty cool!

While setting up camp, Cathy had her first close encounter with one of these.

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Skippy!

 

On The Road….
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After our dive trip in Cairns, we checked out of our hotel and picked up our new home, the camper van, a one bedroom/kitchen/dining room Toyota Hiace and started our journey of touring Australia.  First I needed to brush up on my stick shift skills as well as getting accustomed to driving on the other side of the car and on the other side of the road. After a few miles it’s like riding a bike.  So far, Jamie is doing most of the driving which is fine by me.

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The Mobile Home

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The interior, and some toast for breakfast!

We’ve been on the road a few days and our first stop was Port Douglas which is just about an hour north from Cairns.  We drove the Captain Cook Highway up which offered some great ocean views.

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Scenic Overlook

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Port Douglas is a really nice beach town with a load of great restaurants and shops on the Esplanade.  We hung out for only a few hours so we could unpack our bags and get settled into the van.  Then we started to cruise around the area and check out the local scene.

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Four Mile Beach at Port Douglas

This would be our first night sleeping in the van and while its nice to be self-contained you still need to park somewhere legally for the overnights.  After chatting with some locals we learned that the pull offs on the highway were fair game for an overnight park.  Our first night was on the beach, a great spot, and free.

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Overnight Camping Spot

The next day we made our way to the Daintree National Park.  We chose to hike the Mossman Gorge and into the rainforest.  Ultimate goal, find a wild Cassowary bird, a very large flightless bird native to north-east Australia.  Close in size to an Ostrich or Emu.  Unfortunately, I never found one but the hike was good and the trees in this rainforest are like nothing I’ve ever seen before…..

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A Very LARGE Fig Tree!

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Mossman Gorge Tree

After a brief visit to the north we turned around and started making our way south to officially start our journey of driving Australia.  Since we have nowhere to be at no certain time we took a turn to follow a sign that looked interesting, it said “Josephine Falls 2Km”.  Sounds like a nice place, we’ll go check it out. Turned out to be a good stop, it was a real short walk into the falls, to the overlook, and back out.

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Josephine Falls

We planned our next stop to be Townsville, because if you live in the state of Queensland and you’re a rock climber this is where you go to climb.  There is no guidebook unfortunately so we stopped off at the library to collect as much beta as we could about the crag, the access, the routes, and anything else we would need to know to climb the next day.  We set out to do some reconnaissance that evening and drove up the Mount Stuart and hiked into the top of the cliff

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Summit of Mount Stuart and top of cliff line for the main crag

We looked down and saw what looked like a great area, we found some bolts and anchors in the rock and made our descent to find the routes, a little practice for the next day and bam, we were shut down…..

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Shut down by the Department of Defence

This signs basically says, don’t climb here or you’ll be prosecuted.  We debated the gamble and decided it wasn’t worth it, especially since we did not know the area and had no other guidance. So we enjoyed the views and made our way back down the mountain.

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Mount Stuart, overlooking Townsville

There would be 2 more nights of camping before arriving in Airlie Beach to explore the Whitsunday Islands, home to one of the best beaches in the world, Whitehaven Beach.

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The Whitsunday Adventurer

We booked ourselves on a 3 day, 2 night sailing cruise with Whitsunday Catamarans.  This particular cruise would be with only 10 other people and 2 crew, and we got lucky because everyone was awesome and fun to hang around with.

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With the other 10 passengers

This cruise offered snorkeling, paddle boarding, and kayaking plus a 3 hour stop at the famous Whitehaven Beach, which was definitely the highlight of the cruise for Jamie and I.

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Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsunday Islands

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Sunset on the cruise

We are back on land now and making our way south to Gladstone.  Check out the extra photos from the trip on the Gallery page.