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1. Airlie Beach to Townsville

Along the coastal drive, verdant hinterland rainforests contrasts with the blue of the Coral Sea.

As towns become more sparse, it feels like we’re getting further away from civilisation!

We see an increasing number of signs warning, ‘beware of crocodiles’ and ‘hazardous marine stingers can be found here’ at creeks and beaches alike.

Further along, the land becomes more arid and deserted, where it’s clear massive farms and cattle grazing sustain the economy. It begins to feel a little like we’re on a scary movie set! It’s almost as though Queenslanders recognise this, because roadside signs, such as: ‘Are we there yet Mum?’ and ‘Survive this drive’, as well as quiz questions ensure you smile along the way!

In fact, the town of Bowen, which we stopped at en route, was once the movie set for Baz Luhrmann’s blockbuster film ‘Australia’, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. It’s fascinating how they turned the whole town into a set, and enrolled cast members from the community.

The town’s also well-known for mangoes and likes to show this off!

Providing a safety blanket around our croc fears (!), the thriving city of Townsville embraced us. It’s a cool town, with an endless foreshore – The Strand – that stretches from one end t’other with awesome views across to Magnetic Island (or Maggie as the locals call her). Here, we kept the tent in the car because thunderstorms threatened, and enjoyed our first Aussie motel stay. We loved it so much that we ended up being cocooned for 3 nights instead of our intended 2!

The city has a huge ocean pool (the only one we found in Queensland) with stinger nets, so it’s safe to swim there.

There are also lifeguarded, stinger-netted zones on the beaches. Regardless, it’s odd not being able to swim at any beach you come across up here, especially when it’s so hot you just want to jump in!

On the fishing jetty, that proudly juts out to sea, a fisherman let Lola and Albie cast out. With the potential of big fish and crocs out there, we were a little nervous they’d get pulled in rather than reel anything in!!

Driving up Castle Hill, a giant pink granite monolith in the middle of town, the 360-degree vista across town, to the sea and islands beyond give you a great impression of the size of the town and it’s surroundjng landscape; it’s pretty special.

At one end of town, a walk uphill took us to the ruins of the Kissing Point fort and Jezzing barracks, built in the 1800s, and we also found quirky artwork along the river.

One rainy afternoon was spent at the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium in the centre of town. It’s also the government’s national education centre for the Great Barrier Reef. It gave us a taster for our upcoming trip to the Reef!

2. Townsville to Mission Beach

In the pouring rain, we began our trip through some of the Earth’s oldest living rainforests, glimpsing mountains through the mist and peering down jungle-clad rivers. If we’d felt like we were in a Wild West movie set in Bowen, we felt like we were in Jurassic Park here!

Mission Beach stretches up to Bingal Bay and Kurrimine Beach, where you can see the forest meet the reef at the shore.

With the wild weather upon us, there was no way our little tent would survive a night. We checked into an eco lodge hidden, slightly eerily under these conditions, in the middle of nature’s garden.

The highlight of our visit was sighting a cassowary, apparently the world’s most dangerous and the largest flightless bird, with its chick, walking roadside. Needless to say, we didn’t venture out of the car!

Hoping the rain lessens over the coming days, or we may have to sacrifice our Great Barrier Reef boat trip, we head on to Cairns…

Next post: Tropical North Queensland