A Pandemic in Paradise!

So it’s “Hello again”. After almost three months away from the blog we have decided it is the right time to write a new post. It’s a little bit longer than normal but after this we should be able to update again every 10 days or so.

The last three months have been absolutely fantastic. It was not at all what we expected or planned to do when we left the UK six months ago, and certainly not what the five year plan was supposed to entail.

The first thing that happened since the last post was that our flight home was cancelled! We had barely just unpacked our bags when we received an email from Qatar Airways informing us of the news. So that’s three flights out of Australia booked, and three flights out of Australia cancelled….. we really did try to make an effort to come back to the UK! The cancelled flight was yet another thing to add to the growing list of cancelled flights, trains, hotels and events. A total of 22 different bookings made from Sydney to Moscow which needed to be sorted out and which was getting to be more than a small task in itself.

Out on the bike again.

The next thing to happen was Mark and Lisa, the Dutch couple we met in Airlie Beach back in March, arrived on a campsite five miles away from where we were staying in Palm Cove, Far North Queensland. As the Covid-19 restrictions allowed you to exercise with one other person, Steve and Mark began cycling together a couple of times a week. They would cycle for anything up to five hours in the hills which surrounded the area. Steve found it a bit of a shock at first and, with Mark being a much better cyclist, it was a case of sink or swim. On one occasion Lisa drove them 35 miles to the start of a day’s cycle. This meant they could cycle an extra long hill and then follow a different route home …. the long way! After almost 100 hilly miles and nearly six hours later, they rolled back into town with Steve once again happy but looking the worse for wear!

Ready for a long day in the saddle.

The restrictions also allowed for a household to have two visitors, so we were able to have Lisa and Mark round to dinner and they also introduced us to a Dutch card game which soon became quite competitive. After a couple of weeks Mark and Lisa had to give up their campervan, and having no immediate urgency to return to The Netherlands, they decided to rent an apartment for themselves and promptly moved in four doors away, in the same block. They were happy, we were happy, and the Manager of the apartments (John) was certainly happy with two semi long-term residents in an otherwise disasterous tourist season. It was a real bonus for him. We had negotiated a good rate for our rent and the situation suited everyone so much that 14 weeks later we are all still here!!

So how have we passed the time?  “Quite easily”, is the answer. In fact, too easily, which is probably why we are still here.

We have been following the news quite closely regarding the pandemic both in the UK and in the rest of the World and, although we haven’t been in the UK to judge it first hand, it does come across that the UK maybe hasn’t handled the situation as well as the Australians. Well at least so far anyway! There are, of course, several factors which have influenced this which could include early border closures, climate, population density and people’s attitudes. But with only 8,000 cases and just over 100 deaths, out of a population of over 25 million, it’s hardly surprising the restrictions have been less invasive and in place for a shorter period of time than most other countries. In fact, as we write this post, we feel very safe as there is only one active case in the whole of Queensland (which is seven times the size of the UK) and that case is over 1000 miles away.

We really have ended up in a great location.

We feel that with the lifestyle we have and location we are in we have been very, very lucky that the virus has not affected us anywhere near as much as most people and we are thankful for that. We are fully aware that many people have lost their lives and that it has had a major impact on others.

In Australia, one major restriction has been that the borders between all but one of the States have remained closed, which has effectively left us stuck in Queensland. However, we are regularly reminded by the locals that there are worse places in The World to be stuck, after all, we are stuck in Paradise. We are aware that everybody’s idea of paradise is different, but we also think that where we are right now would fit most people’s idea pretty closely.

Breakfast with a view!

So what has day to day life been like? Each morning we enjoy breakfast on our balcony. Our apartment is on the second floor and all that separates us from the ocean is a small road and a row of palm trees, so we have a lovely view to start the day. Then, on most mornings, Steve heads off for a bike ride either with Mark or on his own. Sarah passes the mornings with a variety of different activities, sometimes it’s a cycle around the local area, sometimes a walk into Palm Cove which is over five miles there and back, and sometimes she relaxes with her book and a coffee. She has also started walking Rosie, John’s seven month old golden retriever. Steve feels he will never get her away from here now! On Saturday mornings Steve and Mark do their long, hilly ride so Lisa joins Sarah for the walk into Palm Cove. Steve always says that Sarah is a fast walker but even she has to work to keep pace with Lisa! They stop and have a coffee on the beach before making their way back.

Lisa, Rosie and Sarah.

After lunch, if Sarah hasn’t walked in the morning, we regularly walk together. Our favourite walk is the well trodden route into Palm Cove. It’s really scenic as there is a path that runs alongside the beach which then passes through mangroves and has bridges to keep you above the really wet areas, which do quickly flood after it rains! The mangrove area is home to “Charlie” the resident saltwater crocodile. He has been sighted twice since we have been here (not by ourselves though). On one occasion he made the front page of the local paper when he snatched a small dog which ventured too close to the water’s edge. Luckily the dog escaped with a few cuts and grazes and extra “Warning” signs went up in the area!

“Watch out for Charlie”

We tend to walk back along the beach which, on a sunny day, is a fantastic walk.  We are spoilt with beautiful blue sky, golden sand, a thick green rainforest on the hills and virtually no-one around. Everytime we do this walk Sarah is guaranteed to say, “I love it here”.

“Where has everybody gone”?

Sometimes in the afternoons we lay by the pool which is a beautiful area in itself. It has massive palm trees and tropical plants surrounding the 20 metre lap pool. More often than not it’s just the two of us and Mark and Lisa, so we have the place to ourselves. A few hours easily pass by, reading, listening to music and cooling off in the pool. Steve also tries desperately to drag himself off the sun bed and swim a few lengths!

Sarah’s feet……..oh yeah…. and the pool area

On about half of the evenings Steve goes out for a run and Sarah joins him on her bike with plenty of drinks, then it’s back home for dinner. About every five or six nights we have dinner with Mark and Lisa. We take it in turns to cook and it’s always great food and plenty of laughs. We also have a card night about once a week which is getting quite competitive (well at least between Steve and Mark it is). Mark is currently leading but Steve hasn’t given up yet!

Time for an evening run.

We have been here for so long now that we feel a little bit like we are part of the community. We have got to know quite a few people who we stop and have a chat with either by the pool or on our walks and we are becoming regulars in a few cafés. We have also done a fair bit of people watching from the balcony and in order to identify regular passers by we have given them names. Bizarrely enough after a month or so this came up in conversation with Mark and Lisa and it transpired they were doing the same thing! It turned out we had a whole community of walkers, runners, cyclists, swimmers etc who pass us by who do not know they have an alias. The list includes; ‘No Shoes Nigel’, ‘Big Foot Brian’, ‘Morning Malcolm’, ‘Nice Hat Hattie’, ‘Covid Connie’ and our personal favourites ‘Miserable Mike’ and ‘Pissed Off Pam’.

We also make a few video calls and text messages back to the UK each week to keep in touch with family and friends and see how they are coping with the varying degrees of lockdown. It does seem to us that after speaking with our friends in Cardiff, Jamie and Lisa, that Wales has been particularly strict.

On the subject of Restrictions. As Australia seems to be doing quite well in keeping the figures down, the restrictions are being removed more rapidly than the UK. As Queensland is one of the least affected States at the current time, life is very much returning to something like normal, with only social distancing being in place. Because of this, many of the tours and tourist attractions have been open for some time and we have managed to take advantage of that. Steve and Mark did a bungy jump in the rainforest and whilst Sarah and Lisa went along they were both more than happy to bypass the jump and be official photographers instead!

“Why do I do these things”?

We have also had an absolutely fabulous day out snorkelling on The Great Barrier Reef. The reef is an amazing place and we did our PADI open water dive course there six years ago and had an excellent experience. However, this time we were treated to unbelievably clear water and, maybe, because there has been little or no tourism over the last three months there did seem to be an abundance of fish and the coral looked particularly colourful and healthy. The highlight was when Sarah spotted a green turtle sitting on the sandy bottom about five metres below us. Many people are fascinated by these creatures and we are no different. We stayed there watching it for a few minutes and were just about to move on when it started to move up towards us! We moved apart as it got closer and it just swam right up between us, only inches away. It continued up to the surface, stayed there for a while taking a breath and then swam back down to the bottom. It was a brilliant experience to be so close and eye to eye with one of our favourite creatures. For a moment there were ‘Three Travelling Turtles’.

Just a fabulous day on The Reef!

Our next departure from everyday life was to hire a car for a couple of days to get out and see some of the immediate area. Once again Mark and Lisa joined us and on the first day we headed to the Daintree rainforest. Daintree holds the title of the ‘Oldest Rainforest on Earth’ and has some incredibly old, tall trees with twisted and knotted roots which cover the area like a thick green carpet. It is home to zillions…..or at least some huge number that I can’t remember…. of species of birds….but the real attraction for many in Daintree is the big saltwater crocodiles that inhabit the river that flows through the rainforest.

On the way to Daintree.

We drove up and found a dirt track which ran along the side of the river and started to follow it, stopping every so often to search for any crocs. With Steve driving and the rest looking out we felt we had a good chance (with three pairs of eyes) of seeing something. But after 45 minutes it seemed like our luck was out so we decided to retrace our route and then head out on a boat trip on the river. Just as we neared the end of the dirt road the car was filled with shouts of “CROC!!!”. We got out of the car and there on the opposite bank, laying on the sand very close to some cattle, was a crocodile. We estimated it to be maybe three metres in length. We watched it for a few minutes wondering if there would be any action between it and the cattle but it never moved and was probably just warming up in the sun.

We did continue on and took a boat trip. It was marketed as a ‘river trip’ mainly but with the chance of seeing crocs. Steve was not too optimistic about increasing our daily sightings above one. However, Sarah and the others were very optimistic and were guessing on the biggest they would see, with Mark’s four metres being the most outrageous. Over the next hour Steve was proven to be absolutely wrong!

Already better than Steve expected!

It was a fabulous trip. In total we saw six crocs ranging from a three month baby (half a metre in length) right up to the Granddaddy of the area, 60 year old ‘Scarface’, so called due to the battle scars he has picked up in fights over the years. We were lucky to find Scarface at low tide on the bank lounging in the sun. At almost five metres in length and over 600kg in weight he was certainly impressive. We got to within a few metres of him and observed him for quite a while before heading back for the end of the trip.

OK Mark your guess was closest!

Over the rest of the two days we had a walk around the headland of Port Douglas which has great views of ‘Four Mile Beach’ and beyond and we visited the craft and heritage market and a small but really entertaining zoo in Kurunda.  This is where we had to pull Mark back when he tried to climb into the Quokka enclosure to take a photo! and where Sarah almost got knocked over by a rampaging wallaby which escaped from its pen!

A close up of a Quokka.

We also drove inland for an hour to a beautiful little walk which led to a scenic waterfall and swimming hole where we lazed around on the rocks in the sun…a little bit like four crocodiles! All in all we had a really fabulous few days with good friends where we laughed until we cried:-). A couple of days that we will all remember!

Lazing around in the sun like crocs.

It has really started to feel like this part of the world is returning back to some sort of normality and after quite a few weeks of what has essentially just been living our everyday lives here, we are starting to feel confident enough to make a move and get back on the road and see some different places again. We constantly remind ourselves of how lucky we have been to ride out the pandemic so far, in such a beautiful place, in great weather and to meet such a brilliant couple. But it’s not the plan we had when we started this blog 18 months ago. What we have been doing here in Queensland is what we envisaged doing in a few years’ time when all the travelling about is finished. We have had a taste of it now and we have adapted to it pretty well. Staying in great locations for two or three months at a time seems like it will suit us in the future, but right now we both have itchy feet, the borders are opening and so we are moving on.

“We are going to have to move on eventually Sarah”

According to our initial plan for the year, right now we should have been camping around Scandinavia and The Baltic nations. Then in September we planned to be off to Africa for three months. But we are still in Australia and after much discussion both together and with family back home, Australia is where we are staying (visa authorization permitting). We have rented another campervan for nine weeks and we have an ambitious plan to travel 10,000km from the rainforests and beaches of Far North Queensland, through the hinterland and into the bush of the Northern Territories. We will visit ‘The Top End’ and its National Parks with gorges, rivers and saltwater crocodiles. Then we will head South through ‘The Red Centre’ to Alice Springs and Uluru (Ayers Rock). Then it’s back towards the coast where we plan to visit some of the places we completely missed when we rushed up the coast a few months ago in order to beat the border closures. There are also a few places where we visited but felt we could have stayed for longer. The trip should bring us right back to where we are now in the second half of September, when we will take stock, look at the state of play around Australia and the rest of The World and then decide our next move. Right now, our feeling is we will head back over to Western Australia, where we would like to fill in a few blanks there which will effectively complete the jigsaw and we will have seen pretty much all of mainland Australia (I’m sure we will get to Tasmania one day!). Then we would return home in early December in time to help put up the Christmas decorations and eat the turkey!

We would like to apologise for such a lengthy post. We didn’t realise fully what a fabulous time we have been having!