Braving the East Coast, with the Astra as our Ark
3/28/11 - 4/1/11
Well…where to begin…
After being settled in Cairns for 3 nights, we were ready to hit the road again. Seemed like perfect timing as some big clouds were rolling in and it began to drizzle. “What good luck! Rain on our driving day, not our beach day!” we sang to ourselves, not knowing it would be more than a week until we saw the sun or had a dry pair of socks/pants/shorts/underpants again.
John, our aforementioned Welch Crush, directed us on a scenic route south through the Atherton Tablelands, which is a huge rainforest area up in North Queensland. Turns out rainforest has that name for a reason – lots of forest, lots of rain. Though it was cloudy, and Marin was getting pouty (love that seasonal affective disorder)
there was still some cool stuff to see, like this wicked huge tree, called The Cathedral Fig (just to give an idea of scale, if 24 adults stretched out their arms and held hands it would almost complete the circumference of the base of the tree), and these waterfalls:
We kept on keeping on and headed south towards Mission Beach. Sounds nice, right? When we pulled into town at the end of a day of long and rainy driving, we started to get that creepy crawly feeling when you know something is just not right. We didn’t see any people anywhere…and the whole place just felt so…empty. We found our place, Scotty’s, but when we approached the doors, it appeared to be nothing more than an empty restaurant with shuttered windows and chairs stacked along on the walls. Very, very ghostowny. We soon realized that Mission Beach was hit incredibly hard by the cyclone back in February. They are just at the beginning of their recovery, still. Hence the miles and miles of uprooted trees along the beach, the shuttered homes, the lack of people, and the tumbleweed rolling by. The rain, now a full downpour that would continue for days, only added to this effect. We found our way out back behind the restaurant and discovered Scotty’s, our accommodation for the night. Though rated #1 on Trip Advisor and listed as “Our Pick” in Lonely Planet, this was a close to last pick in Marin and Nikki’s book. We knew we were in trouble when we were immediately invited to the evening’s “Bad Taste Dress Up Party!” (insert wet t-shirt here) by the throng of European teenagers in the pool. Scotty’s is actually probably a decent enough place, when it’s not pouring, not invaded by Euroteens, and not recovering from a major hurricane – meaning there is internet, the whole place is not under construction, and the electricity and water are not shut off without warning.
But the real fun began the next day, when we arrived in Airlie Beach. Again, rain rain rain. Again, another long, long drive. But, no worries, mate, we were going out for a boat cruise and snorkel on the amazing Whitsunday islands (another location on the Great Barrier Reef), right? Right?
What we thought we were getting, and what we thought we might do:
What we got and did instead:
View from our room we were soooo excited to arrive to (we booked a “resort” on discount! A resort! We couldn’t wait), and pool and spa area we were so excited about:
View from our room we got:
Sadly, due to the continued downpour, our boat trip was cancelled for two days in a row. Finally, we came to the conclusion that although the Whitsunday Islands are amazing, we could not wait around in Airlie any longer for the rain to stop. After all, we are only in Australia for so long and we have many, many beautiful places to experience. One can only drink wine and watch The Kardashians on loop on the hotel room for so many days. And these damn Australians are so friggin’ good-natured, it was hard to find anyone to even whine with. We’d try to start something up in a bar with a fellow traveler whose week had also been dashed only to get back a warm smile and a “Hey, what can you do, you can’t control the weather, it’s still a wonderful holiday though, isn’t it? Life is grand! Rain makes the flowers grow! I love to drink beers with my mates!” ARGH.
Another problem (a real one) was that due to the extreme weather, the Bruce “highway” (a two lane road which was our only route out of Airlie beach) was completely flooded and therefore closed in both directions. Even the airport was shut down for several days as no cars could access it. Marin however, thought it might be a good idea to go investigate the flooding ourselves (Marin has become a major risk taker since her extreme hang gliding adventure) and Nikki hesitantly agreed (Nikki has become a major scaredy cat since her last Australian excursion 10 years ago). If the roads were at all drivable, we needed to high tail it out of there. Marin was able to successfully navigate us around some initial flooding with her keen sense of direction via some back roads (note water levels):
Then, the real fun began…well not quite. (Moms and Dads, we apologize in advance for taking our lives in our hands, but keep in mind we are writing the blog right now and therefore we are alright)
After sitting parked for a couple of hours at the point of road closure in a one-horse town by the name of Proserpine, we made the daft decision to take our tiny Astra hatchback through the crock-infested flood waters following behind a line of 18 wheelers and some 4-wheel drive vehicles. Initially, the flood waters were seemingly not that bad – we both imagined them to be like a quaintly flooded back road in New England in springtime. But instead, the flooded roads just kept going and going for miles (or kilometers) and there were several points where the water level was up to our windows on both sides of the vehicle. Marin was at the wheel and managed to stay surprisingly calm (though she bruised her finger from biting on it so hard) with Nikki at her side, asking anxiously every 10 seconds or so, “Is it ok…does it feel ok…can you feel the road?” At the time Marin just kept saying, “It’s fine, It’s fine!” After making it through safely to the other side, Marin divulged that for most of the treacherous drive, she felt the car floating up off the road and being pulled to the side by the strong flood waters. We later found out that the road did not officially open to drivers until 2 days later (it turns out everyone we were following was just making an illegal break for it at low tide) and 2 cars had been washed off the road into the croc-infested waters. Needless to say, we were both extremely jolted by the experience and happy to be alive AND we were extremely proud of our little Astra! American made, baby!
We spent that evening in a little Motel in a town called Mackay eating take-out Chinese, drinking cheap wine in bed, and trying to stay dry. The following day, still downpouring, we would embark on an 8-hour drive to the amazing Fraser Island. Tune in next time for our 4x4 adventures in our Barbie Jeep, on the largest sand island in the world. We also found sunshine! Hooray! xoxo Marin and Nikki
P.S. We are a bit behind on our entries as we have most recently been doing things like camping in the Outback without Internet, so expect a few coming your way in the coming days.