16 November 2012

Eclipse Journey - homeward bound

No alarms were set. It was a case of wake up whenever and go. We woke to bright clear skies and decided before heading off that it would be nice to start the day with a walk on the jetty.

The jetty is still in use as part of the Abbott Point facility but it is showing its age.
Rusty rails
Along one branch of the jetty four tugs were moored waiting for the next ship to arrive.  Access to the tugs' branch was authorised access only.

It was back down the highway to Sarina.  Our preference was to travel the old "Marlborough stretch". Rather than suffer the road works again, we took the old Marlborough-Sarina Road.  It was rough but the car handled it well.  We virtually had the road to ourselves.  We only saw about six other vehicles for the couple of hours that it took us to rejoin the Bruce Highway north of Rockhampton.

We stopped for a break in North Rockhampton.  From Rockhampton we turned inland to Mount Morgan.  The road climbed over the range.  The speed limit had been dropped to 40kph to allow for the steepness and the roughness of the road.  Nearing the top there was a pull-in where we stopped for our last look back to the coast.
Our destination for the night was Biloela.  We knew from previous trips that it's an easy run to Brisbane from there.

We found our usual motel and set ourselves up for the night.  Again, no alarms were set.

This morning we didn't wake until almost 7 am - very unusual for us.  The car packed, farewells to the motel staff and we were on our way home.  Monto was our next stop for breakfast and coffee.  It took a little while to find a cafe as the first one which looked really inviting but their coffee machine had malfunctioned. So we took the opportunity to walk up the main street and found a little place where they downsized their big breakfast for us.  Good thing the meals were downsized as when they came out, there was more than enough on the plate.

Back on the road, podcasts keeping us company, the kilometres rolled by.  We stopped for a coffee in Blackbutt after avoiding a couple of impatient drivers.  They were being obstructed by a camper van arrangement.  One car pulled out to overtake as did the one behind it.  They hadn't seen us coming in the opposite direction.  Good thing we had space to pull way over to the left to let them by.

The Blackbutt Range cutting is still one way traffic controlled on the half hour.  The signs advise that the works are scheduled to be finished in early 2013.  From what we're seeing now it will be worth the wait.  The earth walls of the cutting are being reinforced with concrete to save them from erosion.  The road has been widened and straightened.  Not so much fun for the motorcycles, but it should be better for the trucks.

The rest of the run was uneventful.  It was interesting that our speed was checked five times at various locations throughout the day.  Maybe the police had given up on the Bruce Highway and its road works, too.

We're home now, partially unpacked and sorting through photographs.  It was a good road trip in the car with the highlight of seeing what we had set out to see - the moon's total eclipse of the sun.

14 November 2012

Eclipse Journey 3

After having a wonderful seafood feast last night, we turned in relatively early as the alarm was set for 4 am. The day we had been waiting for had arrived. We woke early, before the alarm. A sneak peak out the bathroom window revealed a cloudless sky in the westerly direction. Hmmmm could be a good sign, maybe.

We loaded up the car with all our gear even though we had agreed to Linda's request to return for breakfast at the house. After all, she had bought a mango for us. As we walked to the car we looked skyward to see light cloud and some stars shining through. Maybe, we'll be ok.

It was a short drive to our preferred location which was beside a canefield, below the level of the road. Another check of the skies showed a large cloud to the south - over Cairns city and further. Uh oh. The cloud wasn't moving very fast but it was moving up the coast. Trying really hard to remain positive now.

The sun rises in a cloudy morning sky
Soon after our arrival, a small car pulled up on the roadside. The driver started setting up a framework at the front of his car. Slowly more gear came out and he was building something. We walked over to have a chat with our fellow shadow chaser. Turns out he was an amateur astronomer who had built a twin lens/telescope recording device. His intent was to video record the eclipse.

As the time got closer, more vehicles and more vehicles were filing past on their way to Yorkeys Knob beach. Some were pulling up to our little area. There was no control over where people parked in their cars. It was becoming dangerous as one driver barely pulled the tail of their car off the roadway. Another, in a train of traffic headed for the beach slowed to a stop to ask if this is was the place to watch the eclipse. There was a shower of rain that chased us into our car. All the while we watched the cloud cover the area where we expected the eclipse to be.

We decided to walk a short distance into the cane farm. There was some scrubby swamp to the left and we could hear quite a bit of bird activity in that general area. There had been reports from other eclipses that the birds go quiet with the darkness, so we were keen to be where we could listen for this ourselves.

Is it going to happen?

Again another rain shower, this time we sheltered under a sparse tree. Still the cloud covered the skies. We resigned ourselves to not seeing any of the eclipse, just experiencing the darkness, all the while willing the cloud to move on.

And then it happened! Joy! The cloud moved away and we watched through our glasses as the moon slowly covered the sun. Just before the full covering, the glasses came off and we watched the last spark of light known as the diamond ring effect. Spectacular! Tears of happiness, hugs of joy and sheer relief. Glasses stayed off while the sun was totally covered, the wisps of the corona visible to the naked eye. The light had been slowly diminishing and it was now dark. Interestingly, it mustn't have been dark enough long enough for the birds to become still and silent. There was a few flying while we stood in awe.

Attempt to photograph The Diamond Ring effect


Planets visible in the sky. This was Saturn

Second Diamond Ring

All too soon the next diamond ring effect appeared and it was time to put the glasses back on to watch the sun slowly reappear. We did it! We have seen a total eclipse. We were buzzing with excitement as we made our way back to the fellow with the recording device and another enthusiast who had stayed for the whole show. Many people left as soon as the total eclipse had finished. We excitedly discussed what each had seen and we saw the video. That in itself was special as it had captured the flare of the sun through the valleys of the moon.

Time to head back for breakfast to see what Linda and Steve had thought of the event. Linda told us that people lined the beach for as far as the eye could see. In a police report later it was estimated that 500 people were on the little beach. A quick bite to eat and it was time for us to make our way south. Our farewells made and into the nose to tail line of traffic for about an hour.

Once clear and onto the highway, we finalised our arrangements to meet our friends in Townsville. It was great to catch up even if it was only a short visit. We still had some distance to cover before pulling up for the night.

Bowen is our base for the night. We have a room that looks out over the bay.


The "Diamond Ring" Effect.

It happens twice during a total eclipse of the Sun.
Cameras can take photos and video but the results pale compared to what the eye sees.

The first occurrence is in the last moment as the moon almost completely covers the disc of the sun. Surprisingly, everything is still pretty bright around. The sky is still blue, the landscape green. Maybe a little darker than normal, but still light enough.

We are watching the disappearing sliver of sun through our approved eclipse glasses. We see a bright orange crescent getting smaller and smaller in a black background. As it completely disappeared I instinctively took off the glasses.

There, hanging in a dark sky, is the most beautiful sight. There was a distinct ring of light around a very black disc. A ring with a flaming aura. Alive it seemed. But in the lower right corner was a bright light shining on the edge of the ring like the most magnificent jewel. Our eyes, used to darkness from the glasses and seeing it against a dark sky were mesmerised to this sparkling jewel. From its initial dazzling brightness it slowly faded.

Then it was gone. Just the ring remained. Glowing. Shifting. Hanging in the sky.

Two minutes later the opposite side of the ring suddenly lit up. The bright jewel now reappearing and brightening every second. Time to put the glasses back on before it hurt.

The second ring effect was not as striking as the first. Probably because it was expected. Maybe because it brightened instead of fading.

Whatever, we will always remember that first sighting of The Diamond Ring and we will seek out again this most beautiful sight in our solar system.

Previously, we had wondered what all the fuss was about with total eclipses. Now we know.

13 November 2012

Eclipse Journey 2

Today we woke early, just before sunrise and decided to check out our options for experiencing the eclipse tomorrow. We drove to the beach and were there just after sun up. There was low cloud which kept pace with the sun, covering it as it rose. Doesn't bode well for tomorrow to see the eclipse. It will still go dark, just under overcast conditions if there is cloud.

Different Camera

We toured around the local streets and found a spot overlooking a cane field. We can't see the sun pop up over the sea but we will certainly be in a good spot to see the sun and moon line up with us and cast the shadow that's creating all the fuss.

Back to the house for breakfast and then up the highway still keeping a weather eye out for potential viewing spots. The really really good spots will either be closed off by police or have already been claimed by people living in their self contained vehicles.

We had been posed a challenge by our friend Jack who asked about a mountain stream and swimming hole just off the highway. The only place we could think of was Mossman Gorge. We drove down the main street of Mossman and pulled in for a coffee. While we were there, a couple of local fellows sat nearby. It was a bit of fun very discretely listening to them talk. They had the true North Queensland manner of speech - finishing off their sentences with "ay".

Next was a look at Mossman Gorge. We'd been here many years ago and remembered the bush walk through the rain forest to a swimming hole. What a surprise to be greeted with a fully developed tourist centre. Overcoming our initial hesitance, we ventured inside. We were greeted by a lovely lady from the local aboriginal community. She patiently answered our questions about the new centre. It turns out that the community have been waiting about 20 years to have something that they could call their own. The new centre is being staffed and run by the local people. It opened in June this year. All access to the gorge is by the centre's busses. A small fee of $4.80 per person gave unlimited access to the gorge by bus for the day.

Visitors Centre from the car park

We made use of the shuttle service to take us to the start of the walks. The walk is no longer along the forest floor, we were suspended above by walkways. It was enjoyable, this different perspective to view the forest. Following the path, we found ourselves at the swimming hole that we remembered from way back. The water was clear and we could see the Jungle Perch swimming in the shallows.

Fig tree which grows fruit from the trunk

A tiny spider we saved. It got tangled in Clint's beard.

There's a fair crowd around at the moment. It's pretty obvious that there are a lot of people here for the eclipse. Normally it wouldn't be long before the crowd moved on and the surroundings would only resonate with the sounds of the forest. Not so today, we tried to move between groups as best we could so that we could take in the beauty of the place.

Jungle Perch in the clear water

The Mossman Gorge Swimming Hole

Brush Turkey struttin'

Fungi and mosses on the Forest Floor

Someone done some gardening?

The walkway construction had raised our curiosity. We could see that there was water piped along the structure with taps every so often. The surface we walked on squeaked under foot and wasn't slippery. All was revealed at one of the signs. The surface we were walking on was recycled plastic. It's resistant to rot and termites. The taps would have been access for cleaning the surface with water blaster to clear away mold and mud.

Time to head back to the centre. Our driver was a local fellow who was happy to talk about how the new centre is changing things for them. Their children are learning about tourism, they have a tourism school for other aboriginal youngsters to come and learn. The standard Toyota coasters are being replaced by electric busses. When the fleet is in place, all visitors regardless of which tour operator will be required to use the electric bus. This is seen as a further step toward reducing emissions and giving their rainforest a chance to survive. He also told of us of how after cyclone Yasi, a cassowary had hatched a clutch of chicks nearby. One of the chicks had been separated from the brood. Our driver has a photo of him holding the chick in his hands, not realising it was a cassowary chick. A very special experience for him.

Back at the centre, we had a look at the souvenirs, decided not to buy anything as I had my trinket from yesterday. We instead had a coffee and shared a sandwich from the cafe. Again the cafe was staffed by people from the local community. Everyone we encountered was helpful and seemed happy.

The new centre looks to be a great boon for Mossman and the future of its indigenous population. It might have been 20 years in the making, but the timing now seems right.

Time to turn back south. We could have taken a circuit through to Mareeba, but decided to check out the availability of the roadside pull-ins. Sure enough, more campervans were setting themselves up in the vantage points. This was only early in the afternoon, hate to think what it will be like later tonight.

This wouldn't be bad as a vantage point.

Back to our accommodation and we've set our plan for tomorrow. Pack the car tonight with as much as we can, then set ourselves up early at our vantage point. We’ll just have to take our chances with the weather. BOM reports are not encouraging. From here we will head south hopefully in front of the majority of the crowd.

12 November 2012

Eclipse Journey

The alarm sounded early Saturday morning - very early - 3 am early. The car was packed the night before. There were a few bits and pieces, gadgets really to gather into the car. After a heart starter coffee, we were underway. Our target destination Bowen, NQ.

We had decided on travelling the Bruce Highway. The last few times we have ridden to Townsville or Eungella via the back roads through Gayndah and the like. The Bruce isn't a favourite road, but it is the shorter of the two routes.

Its light early these days, the night driving got us past the Sunshine Coast. It was relatively easy travel through to Childers with only one person who wanted to have more than his share of the road. In Childers we stopped for fuel for the car and breakfast for us. It was still early and the only place open was the bakery.

We were making good time using the GPSes to monitor our speed. Yes, plural. Clint is beta testing a GPS. That means we are running two - our old faithful and the test unit. They have different characteristics and the new one needed to be reset a couple of times to get it to behave. We were on an A to B run up the highway. The new device was set to take all the good motorcycling roads, a sweet feature but not what we wanted this time.

After the events of 2010 cyclones and flooding the Bruce Highway has been in a state of repair. Our timing was being eaten into by the constant drop from 100 or 110 in some case to 80 then 60 then 40. Some were controlled by traffic lights, others by people. Some stops were long, others we managed to be the last car through. The interruptions to the flow of travel was wearing, we were losing our rhythm.

The car when it's running on the highway, has a range around 900km per tank. It's us who require the stops for refreshment. Rockhampton was our next stop.

Social media (Facebook) can be useful at times. On checking the Qld Police postings, we found out about the devastating fire at North Mackay. The highway was closed and the only way around was the back way. We know the back way and it would have been very unpleasant sharing the tight winding minor roads with trucks, vans and others who would have been in a hurry.

We'd been travelling for over twelve hours and the thought of a back roads run wasn't appealing. We were at Sarina when we made the decision to pull up for the night. Sarina Beach is somewhere we have wanted to visit. This was our opportunity. Pull up early and relax ready for another early start in the morning.

Accommodation on the beach front, a walk along the beach and dinner at the local restaurant. A very relaxing way to end the day.

Another early alarm, a quick cuppa and we're on our way again. Daylight by the time we were through Mackay, past the site of the fire. It looked really bad. No wonder the highway was closed the afternoon before.

Bowen was our breakfast stop. We decided to make it a highway stop rather than head into Bowen proper. We worked out that we could have spent a lot of time doing laps of the town known as Sleepy Hollow looking for somewhere to eat early as it was before 9am on Sunday morning. So a big plate of bacon and eggs and mugs of coffee later our bellies were feeling really full.

The sugar mills' stacks were billowing out plumes of steam. Cane trains were parked, full of the harvest. Cane was being burned off in the distance. We experienced a little Burdekin snow.

We opted to not follow the heavy vehicle bypass around Ayr as we were having a little trip down memory lane. We had worked out that around this time of year 30 years ago, we had our first holiday together and it was a road trip north to Port Douglas. Clint had worked in Ayr but was back in Brisbane by the time of our holiday.

Townsville was ahead, but rather than drive through, we used the ring road. The amount of development, the roofs of houses stretched for acres. We knew this was a growth area, but didn't realise the extent.

Next stop was Cardwell for fuel and a break to walk out onto the jetty. Cardwell was really given a beating by cyclone Yasi and the little town is still recovering.

The trees are coming back, but they looked like ones we are used to seeing after a hail storm. The leaves had been shredded, leaving the trees bare. Only now there was the soft green fuzz of new growth. Some trees had fallen to the pressures of the storm, others had limbs twisted and broken.

We started the count down to Cairns, not far now. The twin GPSes were issuing instructions, not always in harmony. It created some amusement for us while we negotiated the thickening traffic.

Finally, we arrived at our abode for the next three nights. This is the first time we are staying in a B&B. We were greeted at the gate by two beagles who were keen to make sure we knew who was boss. Soon we were welcomed by our hosts Steve and Linda. A quick tour of the facilities and a chat over a coffee was a convivial way of finding out about each other. Our ensuite room is very comfortable and relatively private.

After unpacking, we set about finding out what was in the local area. We're not too far from Smithfield for major shops and we're within walking distance of the local shops. The boat club is a bit far to walk in the steamy tropical heat.

We settled in back at the house on the back patio with our tech toys. We had writings to catch up with.

All too soon it was dark and we headed off to the local fish and chips takeaway for a light meal. MotoGP's final races for the season were on tonight so we had our fill, headed back to our room and settled in to watch some amazing racing in all three classes. All too soon it was midnight and we'd been awake for too long, our pillows were beckoning.

Even though we could have had a sleep in we were keen to work out where we would be setting ourselves up to watch the eclipse. After waking early, we decided that it wasn't really necessary to get out just yet. Not too long after that, a shower of rain reinforced our decision to stay in bed that little bit longer.

After a carb-loaded breakfast, we walked to through the little forest at the end of the street trying to work out how to access the beach. Our first attempt was blocked by a swampy remnant of a creek. Eventually we worked our way through, onto an adjoining street and out to the beach. The sand here is brown and so was the water. The small waves looked muddy and not at all inviting. The sun was obscured by cloud, there was light rain and thoughts from us that hopefully this will have all cleared by Wednesday morning. We checked our bearings to make sure we knew where to look East. A bit more of wandering around the parkland and we headed back to the house.

Today's drive was up into the Atherton Tableland. We took the road up to Kuranda in the rain. We were heading to Mareeba to experience their coffee. We called into Jacques Coffee. We were intrigued by the advertising that showed "coffee, tours and T.I Flights". Naturally, we had to sample their coffee. It's good! The flights were in ultralights. No thanks. We like a bit of adventure but this is one method of transport that doesn't sit well with us. There was quite a stiff breeze blowing so that was another reason for us not to be keen.

Next was a drive through Mareeba township. Here we found an oddity that made us stop for a picture. Whoever was in charge of the town design must have had strong female influence. Here was a public toilet that was signposted as the Women's Rest Rooms and the facilities for men were a small arrangement down the back of the building.

Our next target was a place we had seen signposted on the highway. It was Gallo's Chocolate and Cheese. Here they make their own cheeses and handmade chocolates. The Gallo family have diversified from just being a dairy farm to including the manufacture and sale of their own varieties of cheese. They have a factory display of the cheese making process. It wasn't working today. There is also an eatery which served a cheese platter of five of their cheeses. What a great way to experience the product. We also came away with a small block of 72% chocolate - yum :-)

Our final planned destination was The Gem Gallery in Yungaburra. This is a family run establishment that works in opals and fine gems. Here you can talk with the artisan about how best to display an opal or gem in a setting and have it created. We didn't follow that path, but found a cute little pendant that is a reminder of the eclipse.

No trip through here is complete without a visit to a curtain fig.

Rather than double back we headed down the Gillies Highway. What a cracker of a road! It's well known to the local motorcyclists and with good reason.

Back to base and it's time for a drink and catch up with our writings. Tonight we've planned to have dinner at the Boat Club and an early night.