Tuesday, February 27, 2018

February 25th – A Taste of the Reef in Townsville

The north Queensland town of Townsville sits within the wonderful Great Barrier Reef, but crucially, the reef is just too far offshore to get to on a day trip from the mainland. So, the city has decided that if we can't get to the Reef, then the Reef must come to us – by building the excellent Reef HQ Aquarium.

Admittedly, this aquarium isn't on the same scale as the ones you'll see in Singapore, Dubai or Sydney, but for a town of this size (less than 200,000 people) it's an excellent attraction. In fact, it's one of the few tourist attractions in Townsville, so if you're staying in town then it's become a Townsville must see.

Reef HQ claims to be the largest living coral reef of any aquarium in the world, and it does a good job of introducing us to the colourful sealife that inhabits the Great Barrier Reef (useful for all the passengers who will be seeing the real thing, tomorrow from Cairns). The large main tank has an underwater viewing tunnel which enables you to get the experience of being circled by a shark, or get up close to colourful fish nibbling away on the live coral.

Most of all, the aquarium is great at educating you on the wonderful variety of nature – fish in all kinds of weird and wonderful shapes, vibrant colours and fascinating life-cycles. We heard how some species all start off as females, then a few of them will turn into men when there's a requirement for males, while others don't even require males at all to reproduce – is this the future for mankind too?

In a town(sville) of few attractions, Reef HQ is a great place to spend a couple of hours – sheltering from the intense heat at this time of year, or from the rainstorm which was blowing towards us in the afternoon.

PS. Tracy had a great time at the Billabong Sanctuary, so here's a couple of her animal shots too.

Monday, February 26, 2018

February 24th – Saturday on Whitsunday

The beautiful Whitsunday Islands in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, are world renowned for their turquoise seas, blue skies and gorgeous vistas. However, on a dull day of brooding grey skies, I have to admit that they weren't looking their best.

We were coming into the main tourist island – Hamilton Island – which has several large resort hotels with accommodation for 2,000 plus, so it was hardly an unspoilt paradise that we were coming into. In fact, it felt like we were coming into a bit of a twilight zone, like we'd actually left Australia and ended up in an internationalised holiday zone. With its mainly Chinese and Japanese clientele, its fairly mass market restaurants, and its holiday resort feel, we could have been in Thailand, in Spain, or Hawaii.

Of course, what makes the Whitsundays so special is the magnificent scenery – but, unfortunately, nature wasn't playing ball today. When we got to the beach, the tide was out a long way, and those golden sands were looking a muddy grey; while the normally azure seas were also looking fairly dull, as they reflected the heavy clouds up above us.

We didn't have long here, so we did a nice walk along the beach, before joining the ship's catamaran tour. Sadly, the winds weren't very strong, so we didn't get too far into this stunning archipelago of islands, but it was a wonderfully relaxing way to travel as we chatted our way around the seas off Hamilton.

This was only a taster of the Whitsundays - to get to appreciate them fully, you need more time, better weather, and stronger winds. There's always a next time…

Friday, February 23, 2018

February 22nd – Exploring Brisbane’s Arty Side

For once, the skies in Brisbane were grey rather than blue, and this sun-kissed state capital wasn't looking quite as jolly as we've enjoyed in the past. But, a cloudy day in Brisbane is still as warm as a sunny day in London, and at least we didn't get the feeling of being roasted alive as we have on previous visits.

We had a fun time exploring its busy streets, a mixture of Victorian heritage and shiny new developments. In its size, in its layout, and in its relaxed atmosphere Brisbane feels more accessible than either Melbourne or Sydney.

But, it has to be said, that relaxed Brisbane doesn't have the same array of must-see sights as those two cities, which means that if you've been there a few times before (as we have), then it's worth paying a visit to its excellent array of museums and art galleries on the South Bank, to keep you occupied. We visited the Gallery of Modern Art, which had some thought-provoking contemporary art and installations. I certainly didn't get as much out of it as our Art Historian Tracy got (about 50% of the exhibits left me fairly non-plussed); but, the bits that I did "get" were very good, particularly its displays from the Torres Straits Islands.

We finished our visit with a long walk along the attractive South Bank parkway, and then through the lush Botanical Gardens – all proof that Brisbane enjoys a really lovely urban setting.

Brisbane might not yet be world class, but I don't think that it's far off it.