After spending a glorious few days meeting up with friends and exploring the delights of Brisbane it was soon time to move on and catch a flight north to Hamilton Islands, the largest inhabited island of the Whitsunday Islands and a favourite tourist spot for visits to the Great Barrier Reef and a former home of the late George Harrison and his wife Olivia who had a compound built there in 1987 called ‘Letsbeavenue’.
|JJ’s on Tour - City of Brisbane and the Queensland Maritime Museum|
The Whitsunday Islands are a group of 74 islands of various sizes 560 miles north of Brisbane off the Queensland coast and were so named after Captain Cook sailed the HMB Endeavour, through what he called the Whitsundays Passage on Sunday 3rd June 1770, providing an unimpeded passage to the north through a group of islands that formed a chain along the coast, named by Cook as the Cumberland Islands, in honour of the Duke of Cumberland, the brother of King George III.
The modern day Hamilton Island serves as a gateway to the area with its airport receiving flights from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, with large resorts, camping and sailing facilities catering for several hundred thousand visitors each year.
For our few days staying on the island we based ourselves in a hotel overlooking Catseye Beach (2) after a nearly two hour flight to the nearby airport (1), whilst enjoying the restaurant facilities and the odd boat trip from the nearby marina (3) and later exploring the northern heights overlooking Hamilton Island Reef (4).
The ‘odd boat trip’ referred to saw us taking a boat to Whitehaven Beach, a very popular bathing area and exploring the Solway Circuit, a walking track that allows visitors to explore the local woodland and hills above the beach.
This few days was very much about enjoying this very beautiful part of the world, the cuisine and of course the wildlife, in and out of the water, as the change from a temperate to a more tropical climate became even more noticeable to that experienced in Brisbane.
Our hotel was a perfect location in terms of setting the agenda for the next few days with the local ‘Roos’ illustrating the tempo of life to be adopted, whilst soaking up the stunning views of sun, sea and palm trees, as well as the wonderful examples of the bird life to be seen in this part of Australia.
|‘I’m gone man, solid gone!’|
I know some of my Aussie friends would consider the Sulphur Crested Cockatoos as a bit of a pest and we saw for ourselves the damage they could do to wooden buildings during out stay at the Carrington Hotel in the Blue Mountains, but Carolyn and I loved seeing these wonderful birds, with the occasional visit to our balcony just adding to the magic of where we were staying.
The views out from the hotel over the beach were a real treat, and I kept imagining Cook’s Endeavour gliding down the passage in front, with Whitsunday Island beyond.
This was our first experience of really lush tropical plants and woodland since our visit to Hawaii and the hotel had signs around warning ‘newbies’ like us of the potential hazards of wondering too far off the beaten path with lurid descriptions of the horror of having a close encounter with a gympie gympie tree, Dendrocnide moroides, also referred to as the suicide plant, no doubt referring to the unfortunate folks who took the ultimate relief solution after having said close encounter.
I think I even read that the British researchers at the Biological Warfare facility at Porton Down arranged for deliveries of these nasty plants during the Cold War as part of their research into new biological weapons.
|As well as the Cokatoo’s the nearby palms were festooned with these stunning Rainbow Lorikeets, Trichoglossus moloccanus, and the flash of colour moving above never failed to grab my eye.|
The marina area is the hub of the island with plenty of places to eat, a local supermarket and opportunities to organise boat trips, and we spent every evening during our stay enjoying the outdoor night life that characterises part of holidaying in Hamilton Island.
As mentioned, we were keen to explore the area by boat and arranged to catch a regular service that travels out to Whitehaven Beach to allow for a bit of swimming, picnicking and walking if the fancy takes you.
Carolyn and I weren’t that enthused about donning the obligatory ‘stinger suit’ in waters where Box Jellyfish and the more worrisome Irukandji Jellyfish abound, but those more inclined were quickly clad in their less than comely outfits and can be seen in the picture below next to those folks taking their chances with bare leg paddling.
We instead decided to grab our hats and water bottles and head up and inland from the beach to explore the Solway Circuit and to imbibe more views of this beautiful area.
The first thing I noticed was that the spiders were getting bigger the further north we headed and following our adventures in the Lamington Park was already very aware to keep a wary eye on the nearby undergrowth that lined the path.
However the rustling among the leaves turned out not to be caused by snakes but what looked to be another variety of skink of which there were a lot, and great fun to watch as they scurried about the path.
The views from the high ground were well worth the effort of our walk on a very hot day with a lush forest landscape bordered by azure blue skies and seas.
Along the path were interesting signs informing the less informed exactly what one was seeing and in addition signs from the original inhabitants who marked the route in their own inimitable way with this curiously shaped tree twisted into the unmissable shape caused by human interference to the young sapling to leave the natural sculpture to be seen today.
Our walk around the island and our boat trip combined to make for a lovely day’s adventure and we were starving by the time we got back to our hotel and headed back out for dinner.
On our last day we finally managed to secure ourselves some wheels, not quite the four litre convertible I was driving in Hawaii, but none the less welcome, as getting about this very hilly island in very hot weather is not that comfortable, especially carrying groceries, and we found the local busses crowded and not ideal for getting about.
So we managed to book one of the many hire golf carts that are the principle private transport in the island and given the queues of expectant and often disappointed visitors trying to get one at short notice are well worth booking ahead to avoid disappointment.
With our new set of wheels and the wide open road ahead we set off to explore the north of the island and the fun of just going somewhere different.
On our way we came across what I think must be one of the most beautiful churches in the world, All Saints Church, with heavenly views from its manicured grass and with a very moving tribute from parents to a son lost in war.
The tribute to Flying Officer Keith MacDonald refers to his taking part in the operation to bomb Berlin on the night of 2nd/3rd January 1944 as part of a force of 362 Lancasters in a total force of 383 aircraft that included 12 Mosquitoes and 9 Halifaxes.
No. 619 Squadron was part of No.5 Group, Bomber Command, and were flying Lancaster BIII’s from Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire.
|Lancaster PG-D of 619 Squadron with her crew pictured. This might be another aircraft with the same squadron code and unfortunately the serial number is not visible|
On the night of the attack Pilot Officer, not Flying Officer as shown, MacDonald was flying Lancaster PG-D serial number JB123 and the aircraft was one of 27 other Lancasters lost that night, with aircrew losses of 168 killed and 31 made prisoner of war and with the Bomber Command War Diary recording the majority of losses in and around Berlin once the 150 to 200 nightfighters, originally directed towards Hannover and Bremen, caught up with the bomber stream.
|Map from ‘The Berlin Raids’ - Martin Middlebrook|
Bomber crews that took part expressed their dismay at seeing the route planned above, with a straight in and straight out course, with a slight dog-leg after Berlin to allow the bombers to take advantage of a strong following wind from that direction, but a route that was being used for the eighth time in the previous ten raids, with no diversionary raids and despite the evidence that the bomber stream was being engaged more often using this route to Berlin.
The grief of his parents can only be imagined and, as the father of two sons and spared the horrors of modern war, I spent a few moments in grateful meditation whilst appreciating this paradisiacal location.
As an island paradise, Hamilton Island ticks a lot of the boxes, and with my bird spotting predilection, that enjoyment was only enhanced.
|We first caught sight of this quintessential Australian bird, the Kookaburra in Sydney, this being the laughing variety, Dacelo novaeguineae.|
You can see why George Harrison was drawn to a place like this.
As we explored the island roads and parked up now and again to enjoy the views I caught site of something moving in one of the nearby verges among the ground vegetation.
The Pheasant Coucal, Centropus phasianinus, is the only Australian cuckoo that builds its own nest and raises its own young, this being the male of the species.
|The Pheasant Coucal, Centropus phasianinus. I’ve never seen anything quite like this crossing the road at home!|
|Rainbow Lorikeet, Trichoglossus moloccanus|
|Torresian Crow, Corvus orru|
|Pied Currawong, Strepera graculina, so named for its distinctive rollicking call, ‘curra-wong curra-wong’|
One abiding memory of our stay in Hamilton Island were the evening sunsets, and we both enjoyed just sitting and watching the horizon change colour as the sun slowly lowered in the evening sky.
In seemingly no time our stay in paradise was over and we were back on the plane back to Brisbane to catch another onward flight north to the next stage in our adventure, but I couldn’t help smiling at the sweets on offer on the flight and wondered if they’d seen the forgettable ‘Snakes on a Plane’.
Whilst parking up at Brisbane, I noticed this extraordinary plane parked up at arrivals, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the first flight from home, way back in 1919.
So the adventure continues in the next post as we fly further up the coast to Port Douglas and get to explore the Daintree Rainforest before moving on to Palm Cove, yet another beach side paradise in northern Queensland.
Next up: I’m off to Clotted Lard this weekend to play the Bantry Bay Scenario, plus I have an adventure on Dartmoor to report and a new fleet build project has started with the first models nearing completion.