Australia, summary

With global warming, the world’s coral reefs are threatened. I wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef while it was still in reasonably good shape. After visiting Sydney and (somewhat) recovering from jetlag, we flew to Cairns and then drove to Port Douglas. From there, we accessed the Reef in three places. We also went to the end of the road to the north and visited the Daintree Tropical Forest.

Then we started driving south, ultimately driving over 1,000 miles to Brisbane (about the distance from Seattle to Los Angeles or New York City to Orlando). We stopped in Townsville and spent a week on Magnetic Island, snorkeling, hiking and enjoying the exotic, tropical birds. From there we went to Airlie Beach and another cruise to the outer Barrier Reef. Then, the long drive to Gladstone and a return to the outer Barrier Reef, this time to Heron Island. We spent a couple of days in Noosa and then on to Brisbane and returned through Sydney.

The two island stays were the highlights of our visit to the Reef. Magnetic has a wonderful, relaxed, laid-back feeling. It is easy to visit a dozen beaches, snorkel reefs, and hike to panoramic views. The small island of Heron is surrounded by the reef and offers spectacular snorkeling.

Below are all the posts and photos for the five week trip.

Australia, photos

Here are some of my favorite photos from my trip to Australia, including Sydney, Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef. The travelogue contains many more photos.

Next stop, Australia

Tomorrow, Dawn and I fly to Sydney, Australia. It’s a long flight; we start on Monday and arrive on Wednesday. The flight from San Francisco is actually fourteen hours, but we lose a day when we go over the international dateline. Where does the day go? After recovering from jet lag and seeing some city sites, we fly north to Cairns.

Going to Queensland

Queensland is in northeast Australia. We will spend most of our time visiting the Great Barrier Reef. This photo composite shows me with the Queen as pictured on the Australian twenty-dollar bill .

Map, Australia

20120813-170442.jpgThis satellite map of Australia shows Sydney in the southeast and Queensland to the North. The Great Barrier Reef runs the length of the mainland where we plan to visit. The Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2,600 kilometres (1,600 miles) over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres (133,000 sq mi). From Sydney to Cairns is 2,400 km (1,491 miles). Port Douglas (just north of Cairns) to Brisbane is 1,770 km (1,099 miles).Brisbane to Sydney is 919 km (571 miles).

First Morning

First MorningAfter traveling 7,214 miles at an altitude of 40,000 feet, I could see the dawn catching up with us. Our flight left about 10:30 p.m. in the dark from San Francisco; we traveled through the night for almost 15 hours. In another 219 miles, we would arrive in Sydney, but for now I could see the last of the crescent moon and a planet receding into the first light. To the north, I could see the lights of a city and below, ocean waves lapping against a small island. We left on Monday, but we were landing on Wednesday. Tuesday disappeared from our lives as we crossed the international dateline.


This is a different kind of trip for us. Rather than our usual itinerary that says, fly to Cairns, travel to Brisbane and then fly home, we actually have reservations for almost every night. We flew to Cairns, stayed at Port Douglas and went as far north as Cape Tribulation. Then we drove south to Townsville and took the ferry to Magnetic Island. Then we drove south to Arlie Beach where we are snorkeling to the Great Barrier Reef. Then, south to Gladstone and a boat ride to Heron Island. From there, to Noosa on the Gold Coast and then on to Brisbane.

My bags weighed in at 44 lbs. for the suitcase and 19 for the knapsack, about 63 lbs. total, way above normal. I’m carrying snorkel gear and lots of photographic equipment. Most of the time, we will be traveling by rental car instead of chicken buses and trains. Normally, we figure out where we are going to stay around 3 p.m. when we arrive in town. This trip, we have only several nights without reservations.


Sydney was a lot of fun. We stayed at a hotel in The Rocks neighborhood. The Rocks is the place where Europeans first settled. From out hotel, we could walk around the harbour. The “ground” floor of our hotel was actually water because the hotel was built on a wharf. On our walks, we visited the Harbour Bridge (and walked across it), the Sydney Opera House, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Aquarium, Chinatown and the Botanical Gardens. The central ferry Quay was nearby, so we took multiple ferry rides.

Spring Tulips

Spring TulipsIt is winter in Australia and the first flowers are blooming in Sydney. The afternoons are sunny and warm; the nights are cool. By the water, there is a stiff breeze.

Look Right

Look RightWhile this may look like an admonition related to proper grooming, it is actually a helpful reminder to pedestrians. Cars drive on the left in Australia. If you are not alert when you step from the curb, you may be clear looking to the left, but the cars will be coming from the right. I now feel relatively comfortable driving on the left (even when making turns), but I typically turn on the wipers before I turn and frequently get in the passenger’s seat when I want to drive.

Manly Beach

Manly BeachManly is a suburb of Sydney. You get there by ferry. The water is the Tasmanian Sea. For each person wearing a bathing suit, someone else was wearing a wool hat.

Sydney, photo album

The Sydney Album contains: View from Manly Ferry, Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge, and the Aquarium.


Almost finished me walk-about in Sydney. Glad I took my torch and jumper because it gets dark early and then chilly. I particularly enjoyed the Flat Whites. No worries.


Flying 3 hours 10 minutes, 1,200 miles north of Sydney to Cairns. Hope to leave winter (again) for the tropics. Spend tonight in Port Douglas.

Port Douglas

We stayed in Port Douglas for easy access to the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. The Reef was the highlight because of the many species of animals and coral. The Four Mile Beach was also wonderful.

Although the brochures said the Daintree was better than the Amazon, we did not find it so. Basically, there are a couple of boardwalks through the jungle, some nice beaches and a bunch of tourist services. Port Douglas has many restaurants, but is altogether too yuppy.

Also, the weather did not cooperate. For weeks, it had been sunny, clear and relatively still. The week we were there, it was cool, cloudy and windy. For the trip to the Reef, wind is not good because of the waves and more difficult dive conditions. Without the sun, the coral is relatively colorless.

Fish and Coral

Underwater photo showing colorful fish and coral on Great Barrier Reef.

Giant Clam

I could look inside this clam and see it pumping water. The width was about four feet.

Daintree Rainforest

North of Cairns is a giant, ancient rainforest. We walked on boardwalks through the wet jungle.

Daintree Fan Plants

In places, the giant fern plants are so thick, you can hardly see the sun.


This strangler vine surrounded the host tree, killed it and now lives on.

Great Barrier Reef

Went on a snorkel boat from Port Douglas to Great Barrier Reef. Took about 1.5 hours each way. Amazing number and diversity of animals covering a vast expanse. Made three dives at different locations.

Arrived Magnetic Island

Drove most of the day, 400 km from Port Douglas to Townsville. Then took the ferry to Magnetic Island. Staying in a duplex across from Geoffrey Bay.

Balding Beach

Balding BeachPanorama shows Balding Beach on the north end of Magnetic Island. It is a hike to the east of Horseshoe Bay.

Top of Magnetic

top of MagneticPanorama shows view from top of the “Fort.”

Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island is a short ferry ride east of Townsville, the capitol of Queensland. It is a wonderful tropical island with just enough. A bus runs from south to north and back again. The coast is dotted with bays and coves, most of them with fringe coral offshore. The base of the island is granite with large boulders strewn everywhere. Koalas and bush wallabies reside in considerable numbers and many strange birds fly everywhere. There are “hiking tracks” everywhere to get you away from the road.

I particularly enjoyed snorkeling at Florence Bay. We also snorkeled an underwater wreck at Geoffrey Bay, the rocks at Alma Bay and the left side of Arthur Bay. We hiked to the forts, Balding Bay and Radical Bay. I think Arthur is the prettiest and Radical the best for swimming.


So, what are swimmies? “Ay, that’s your swimming costume.” And what are “pokies?” That is electronic poker game for gambling.

Magnetic Photo Gallery

Contains underwater photos from various island bays, scenes of rocky coves and birds and an abstract of me in my wetsuit with my fins.


koalaTook a photo of this koala on our hike to the “Fort,” on Magnetic Island.

Reef Lagoon

Tomorrow, we take a 100 kilometer cruise to Hardy Reef for snorkeling on the outer reef. Takes three hours to get there in a high speed catamaran.

Welcome to Reef World

Reef WorldTook a snorkel boat from Shute Harbor to the Hardy Reef, over 100 kilometers from the mainland. After enjoying the underwater wonders , we had a good view of the cays draining with the low tide as we were leaving. We could see the top of the reef stretching for miles. A river of water gushed from the cay like a river as the lagoon drained.

snorkel boatTo get to the outer reef of the Great Barrier Reef is not easy. From Port Douglas, it takes about 1.5 hours to travel to the outer reef. Magnetic Island has wonderful snorkeling, but it is well inside the outer reef. From Airlie Beach, you can take a 37-meter, wave-piercing catamaran for three hours through the Whitsunday Islands all the way out, over 100 kilometers to the Hardy Reef. It is rather commercial with a pontoon playground, helicopter flights overhead, scuba divers below and lifeguards buzzing around in dinghy boats. But it is full of fish and coral. And the water is clear.reef world panorama

Hardy Reef, Photo Album

Photos show underwater scenes of fish and coral. Above water photos show the Great Barrier Reef at low tide, with coral sticking above the water surface and lagoons draining.

Long Drive

Tree in outbackLong drive, Airlie to Gladstone. Drove a long way. Left early in the morning, arrived at night. Not much along the way. Had lunch at a gas station. Some trees. Waysides to stop for awhile. Hills. Warning signs not to fall asleep at the wheel.panorama

Highway Signs

They have some different highway signs in the Daintree area, north of Cairns. Kangaroo and cassowary.

Flat White vs. Latte

Baristas tell me that a Flat White is like a latte but has less foam. A latte has less foam than a cappuccino and a Flat White has less than either. This photo shows the Flat White on the left and the latte on the right. I think you can tell from the photo that the Flat White is clearly superior. First of all, it is more fun to say and secondly, it comes in a nicer cup.

Arrived Gladstone

Drove about 350 miles for Airlie Beach to Gladstone. Took all day. The main highway is a bumpy, two-lane road. Not much too see, a few towns, some trees, some distant hills. Eucalyptus trees. We went over the Tropic of Capricorn, so we are no longer in the tropics. Tomorrow we take a boat to Heron Island and return to the tropics and our last few days of Great Barrier Reef snorkeling.

Heron Island, location

Heron IslandHeron Island is unique because it is a small patch of sand sitting atop a coral cay. It is part of the outer Great Barrier Reef. This satellite map shows how small the island is compared
Heron Island mapto its larger eco-system. It takes about an hour to circumnavigate the island. It is located about 75 km from the mainland near Gladstone, Queensland.

the Edge

the EdgeIn the morning, we snorkeled from Heron Island to the edge of the reef. We passed schools of large parrot and trigger fish on the way. The cay was like a large bowl that got shallower as we reached the edge. We lifted our heads out of the water and looked through our masks to see the waves from the open Pacific crashing on the edge.
In the late afternoon, an hour before low tide, we walked back out to the edge of the reef. We used walking staffs to avoid stepping on animals and new coral. Sometimes the water reached the middle of our thighs, but usually the middle of our calves. We again reached the edge and again watched the breaking waves, this time from above the water. The sun was starting to set. It felt like we were standing on the edge of the world. above photo courtesy of DawnHeron Island panorama

Sunset at Heron

sunset at HeronPhoto shows the old boat hoist at sunset on Heron Island. Taken in low light conditions at the end if the day.

the turtle and the shipwreck

the turtleWe snorkeled out to the shipwreck. As I was swimming a large turtle came up to greet me. I was frightened because its shell was considerably large than I.Dawn snorkeling at shipwreck

Arrived Noosa

Left Heron Island yesterday afternoon. Took the boat to Gladstone and then drove south. Spent the night in Childers and arrived in Noosa by noon. Spent time at the beach and hiked along the coast at Noosa Head National Park. Still sad to have left Heron Island, a very special place.

No worries

“No worries, mate. It’s all good.”

Can’t tell you how many times I have heard this in Australia. I think it is a wonderful expression.

Arrived Brisbane

Drove from Noosa to Brisbane. Went on river ferry and walked around downtown.

Arrived Sydney

Arrived back to Sydney. Only a couple of days left before the long flight home. Staying in Chinatown; had a good dinner.

48 Hour Tuesday

On “relaxed check-out.” Leave by train to airport in an hour. Leave Sydney airport Tuesday afternoon at 2:45. According to schedule we arrive home Tuesday afternoon about 2:30 (!!). I will be singing the old Beatles song, “Eight Days a Week.”

Arrived Home

Arrived home. Long flight, slight delay, but overall smooth. Home feels good.

wrinkles in the sand

wallows from raysWhen the high tide recedes, it leaves wonderful wrinkles in the sand. This one shows the wallows created by large rays. The lines from the circles are from their long, whip-like with tripod

another wrinkle

wrinkles in sand at first lightPhoto shows wrinkles in sand at first light on Heron Island.

Heron Island Underwater Gallery

Gallery contains photos taken underwater at Heron Island, including various fish and coral.

Epaulette Shark

epaulette sharkI took this photo of an Epaulet Shark during low tide at Heron Island.

Next Stop, Australia

On Friday, we fly to Sydney for the start