W1702 – Townsville tour

In my last post, W1702 – Great Barrier Grief, I described my very much curtailed visit to Hamilton Island, where sadly I was unable to go and swim and snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef due to my ongoing battle with a cold/flu like illness. We then sailed overnight to our next port of call, Townsville, on the north-eastern coast of Queensland.

In Townsville I was originally booked on a full day tour exploring the rainforest, but it had been clear to me for several days that this would be a non-starter for me, being a very arduous tour in the high heat and humidity of the forest, so I had cancelled off it. My girlfriend Carol was booked on a half day tour accompanying her Aunt, Annie, to a wildlife sanctuary. At this stage Carol’s health was worse than mine, so we decided to get her ticket transferred to my name so that I would accompany Annie instead. Annie was very keen to see various “cute and cuddly” Australian animals, and my going with her meant she could have the bonus of me taking pictures of her holding them or being near to them.

Once again I was up on deck bright and early to catch the dawn, but this time there was a lot of cloud around, so after taking a few snaps I retired back to my bed to rest some more. By the time I got up for the second time we were almost in port, very much dominated by the craggy hill behind it, Castle Hill:

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I did spot some canoeists out for an early morning paddle slipping past the harbour wall:

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After breakfast Annie and I checked in for our tour to the wildlife sanctuary. Before heading there, our coach took us first up to the top of Castle Hill so that we could enjoy and photograph the extensive views to be had from the top. On the way up our local guide pointed out the figure of “The Saint” from the hit TV series in the 1960s painted on the face of the hill. He told us that some student contemporaries of his at the time took a land-rover up to the top of the hill, tied a rope to it and lowered one of them over the edge to paint the figure as a prank. He also told us that in recent years it had become defaced, and the local council asked the residents whether it should all be removed, or the figure of “The Saint” restored, and perhaps surprisingly the overwhelming vote was for the latter! Incidentally the local guide explained that there wasn’t a castle, it was just that the appearance of the hill from the sea made early explorers think that there might be one there.

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The views from the top of hill were wonderful and wide-ranging, including of the docks and our ship:

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The native-style artwork on the stone wall of the toilets caught my eye:

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We then headed out of the city heading south along the coast towards the wildlife sanctuary:

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Arriving at the wildlife sanctuary, the Billabong Sanctuary, we were met by several keepers who guided us around. We were first led to an outdoor seated area, where we were shown close up a baby crocodile, snake and wombat, and one of the keepers explained all about them. We could also hold the snake, and touch the crocodile and wombat:

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One thing that I learned about the wombat that was new and interesting to me is that it has a very hard plate of cartilage on it’s lower back. If a wombat is chased by say a dingo, it will go down it’s burrow, and use the hard plate as a ‘front door’ to protect the rest of it’s body. Should the dingo get past the plate, then the wombat has the body strength to push upwards, pressing the head of the dingo against the roof of the burrow with the plate, and actually crush the dingo’s skull!

Close by we could see and photograph koalas and several different birds:

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We were then led to a fenced off lake, where a huge adult hungry crocodile was fed in front of us. Just swimming along it’s pool it looked huge and menacing, but when it leapt out of the water to try and reach the food dangled by it’s keeper it was really scary!

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We were then given around half an hour of free time, during which we could go and have our picture taken with a koala (for a fee of course), explore the remainder of the sanctuary on our own, or visit the café or shop. I elected to carry on exploring, and came across many more animals and birds:

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All too soon it was time to re-board our coach, but the air conditioning on board was bliss after the high heat and humidity throughout the sanctuary. We were then given a tour around the city on our way back to the ship. Much of the city I found very uninspiring – loads of shopping malls looking very much like the U.S.A., but the drive along the seafront was more interesting. There was a lovely sandy beach, but as the local guide pointed out, for most of the year it is not safe to swim there except in a tiny fenced off area due to the poisonous jellyfish in the water:

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I also snapped several older buildings from the coach, including a couple with the traditional balconies:

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Returning to our ship, an abstract pattern of light playing on the bows of the ship caught my eye. Looking more carefully, I could also see the outline of part of the ship’s former name, Royal Viking Star:

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Following a very restful afternoon in the cool of the ship, we went up on deck late in the afternoon to watch us set sail for our third port in as many days, Cairns:

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As we sailed out we noticed a stowaway on one of the deck seats:

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I very much enjoyed my day in Townsville, and it was a great relief that despite my ongoing health problems I was able to get ashore and actually see some more of Australia and also see some of it’s wildlife. My visit to Cairns the next day, once again significantly affected by my illness, will be the subject of my next post.

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