If you’ve ever ventured a short drive from Surfer’s Paradise’s bright lights and city high-rises, you’ll find yourself on what feels like another planet. Think of switching Miami beaches to Jurassic Park jungle in a matter of an hour. On our recent trip to the Queensland/ New South Whales border coastline, shooting a summer camper film for THL, a local tip lead us inland, away from the well-known backpacker trail.
What we encountered exceeded all expectations. Queensland’s second highest waterfall, Purling Brook Falls, thunders over the edge of a 100m vertical cliff into ancient rainforest below, creating a huge rainbow in the process. Antarctic Beech trees have been growing on this land since before the ancient supercontinent Gondwana broke up into Antarctica, South America, Madagascar, Africa and Australia, making some individuals over 10000 years old. Yep, that’s a ridiculously old living tree you can go and get a selfie in front of.
Purling Brook Falls is only one of many waterfalls that are accessible by relatively easy (but sometimes deceptively lengthy) bush walks. Twin Falls and the Canyons lookout are a quick 15 minute walk, the Natural Bridge is even easier to get to and is home to glowworms who light up the beautiful cave structure at night, and you can see all the way to Stradbroke and Moreton Islands on a clear day from the Goomoolahra Falls viewing platform on a good day.
The aptly named “Best of All Lookout” though allows an awesome view over the entire 23 million year old, 100km wide crater, that also happens to be the largest in the Southern hemisphere. You can clearly make out the edges, all the way to Mount Burell on the other side of the crater. Beyond, views down the coast to Byron Bay let you see the lighthouse compete with the Gold Coast’s skyscrapers to the north. And in the middle loom the jagged edges of Mount Warning, the central volcano vent.
Lieutenant James Cook seemed to be a fan of drama when he named Mount Warning and Point Danger as landmarks for future sailors in 1770. You can actually climb the ancient volcanic plug, which will take you about 5 hours for 8.8km. Our shooting schedule didn’t allow us to do so this time, but the estimated 60000 people who climb each year say it’s pretty good. No wonder the area is UNESCO World Heritage listed.
Bring a fleece though as the temperate in the cool, humid, temperate rainforest get significantly colder at night than the beachy coastline. By chance, whilst finding a place to camp legally (important in a frequently patrolled national park!), we stumbled upon the somewhat hidden daytime parking area for Purling Brook Falls, which was not only accessible by vehicle, but also open and flat enough to film sunset. As we wrapped up for the day in the van and darkness fell around us, two locals pulled up beside us and started unpacking a huge, motorized telescope. It turned out that not only had we parked on the edge of a 100km wide volcano, but also in one of the best locations to see the stars, the Milky Way and distant constellations.
For the next two hours, thanks to clear skies and the lack of light pollution, we marvelled at spectacular nebulae, constellations and Saturn’s rings. As the clearly visible Milky Way slowly rotated right above our van, we felt so lucky that we’d decided to go explore off the usual tourist route, to find something so special and utterly unexpected.
We’ve had a lot of lucky run-ins with whales whilst filming projects on the East Coast recently. It’s the middle of whale season, so anytime you find yourself our at sea on a boat, kayak or surfboard, chances are you’ll spot whales nearby. Make sure to not approach them closer than 100m or from the front, but if you get really lucky, they might swim over to see what you are up to.
We’ve had a few whales come over to check us out filming for THL and ocean kayaks this year, and it’s been incredible. Reading up on them afterwards blew our minds even more, so here are our favorite weird & wonderful whale facts:
1) The blue whale is the largest ever animal to have lived on planet earth. Yes, that’s larger than any dinosaur. Its newborn baby weighs as much as an adult Asian elephant. Interestingly, that’s about the same weight as a fully-grown adult blue whale’s tongue.
2) Sound travels roughly 4x faster in water as it does in air, so on a good day, blue whales can communicate over thousands of kilometres creating low frequency pulses. The sounds are well off the human hearing spectrum, which is probably a very good thing as the chatterbox pulses make them one of the loudest animals on earth.
3) Humpback whale songs have striking similarity with human musical tradition. Unlike linear bird song, humpbacks will sing notes in a distinct hierarchical structure, creating sub-phrases that group into phrases, which are repeated over and over for 2-4 minutes. This theme is then combined with other themes to create a song, which can last around half an hour. The whale hums this song to itself and others over the course of hours or even days. Other whales in the area will join in or create their own variations.
4) Whales can hear you above water, and if it they feel comfortable will respond positively to humans cheering, gently waving and making whale-like singing sounds. No joke, we’ve seen it happen. A beluga in captivity called NOC has been recorded mimicking human speech.
5) Beluga whales have been documented to be very curious about human music in particular, showing great interest in underwater mics, people playing instruments near where they are swimming and even bobbing their heads to the rhythm.
6) Whales are split into two groups. One group has teeth (sperm whales, belugas, orcas etc.), the other has brush like keratinous plates called baleen (humpbacks, right whales and blue whales), that are used to sift through water for tiny plankton. Interestingly, the toothed whale species are able to echolocate using sonar, but baleen whales generally can’t.
7) Whales have small ears, but use their large, hollow, fat filled lower jawbones to pick up sound waves that get transmitted straight to the brain. So it’s like having an ear for a chin.
8) Whales get sunburn. Blue whales are most susceptible and dark skinned fin whales the least.
9) The East Coast of Australia is on of the best places to spot whales, as migrating adults travelling north stay within 10km of the coast to avoid the southbound 7km/h pull of the East Australian Current (EAC), made famous by Crush and his family of turtles in Finding Nemo.
10) Sperm Whales sleep standing up, and only between 6pm and midnight. Check it out!
You’ve just parked up, the sun sparkling through the gently waving palm leaves above. You’re so excited of what lies ahead that you nearly forget your towel. Swing it over your shoulder as you manoeuvre around the pandanus trees, over a small dune and into the flat, bright space ahead. The sand beneath your feet is warm, and you have a little competition with your mates to see who can make it squeak louder as you walk down the beach to set up your spot for the day.
It’s finally here, the start of the glorious Australian summer. Sunnies, check. Hat & sunscreen, check. Some good mates, tunes, sandy toes, mangoes, cherries, a sweet wave down at the point, and there’s even a dude playing beach cricket with his three overenthusiastic kids. Think this couldn’t get more stereotypical? Well, do you know what? This is actually happening.
There’s something about a road trip that brings you so close to the essence of summer, and on out latest project for THL, we set out to capture exactly that. We packed all your favourite looking props, summery lighting kit, stocked our fridge with colourful, camera friendly treats and even dusted off our dragon’s old red & yellow ding-magnet of a surfboard. We drove from Brisbane to Byron and everywhere in between, in search of that perfect spot for our summer mood. We found our party squad on the Gold Coast and the next day shot on one of the Tweed Coast’s many untouched beaches, giving the viewer the feeling of being the only person on the planet. Apart from a couple of curlews, some whales, a water dragon, our camper Sunny and our newest team member Ben the helicopter engineer and drone pilot supreme, we had the whole beach to ourselves.
To add something totally unexpected, we checked out the huge shield volcano and its cliffs, waterfalls and ancient rainforest in the Hinterland. Who would have thought all these things are just a short drive from each other? The beauty of a summer road trip is to have it all at your fingertips. In the middle of Springbrook national park, we folded down the double bed and got the best view of the stars we’ve ever seen. So good in fact that hardly had we set up our time-lapse in an empty field, that a car rocked up beside us, and two locals started unpacking a huge telescope to check out distant galaxies.
If that doesn’t sound like nostalgia, then remember the simple days when you were a kid & little rocks were just as beautiful as that expensive toy someone got you for Christmas. Lensflare galore met the little things that make summer summer. Like forgetting how hot the asphalt gets in the sun and burning your bare feet when you first get out of the car.
There’s something about the golden sunshine that makes the colours around you pop. A warm breeze tickles your toes and you relax reading a good book with the back of your van open, feel the rush of cool air as you get drinks out of the fridge, see the tiny salt crystals shine on your skin and cool down in the blue ocean. Roam around or stay in one spot forever, for this is your summer, and it is glorious.
Imagine yourself surrounded by shimmering blue. Hovering in space, holding onto a rope made out of what looks like red velvet. You see a silver flash out of the corner of your eye, but by the time you’ve spun your head around, whatever it was has vanished into the background. You’re not alone, but feel like you’re in some sort of parallel universe, where your movements and intentions mean nothing. Then your companion looks at you with eyes framed in thick black rubber and motions you to move. The way you’re heading, despite the energy trying to pull you sideways off course, is down into the blackness below.
Just five minutes before, you were getting ready in the tropical Queensland sunshine, on a little speedboat filled with smiling, excited people and one trademark sarcastic captain. You checked your gear that was going to allow you to enter and survive in the alien environment below. Everyone’s chatting about the beauty of the day, the luck with the weather and footie scores last night. Again, you’re told you cannot possibly support Collingwood. You jump right in, water fills your suit, you duck your head under, give the OK and start your slow descent along the buoy line. How quickly the world changes, like you’ve stepped through some sort of Stargate to the other side of the universe. As you climb in reverse, one hand at a time, along the algae-covered rope, no one will hear you if you scream, you see only one colour and you hear only a faint hum over the sound your own breathing. But suddenly, you spot something. At first you think your eyes are trying to trick you, as you strain to make sense of the blue around you. But one handhold further and a shape starts to appear. It gets bigger and darker and you suddenly realise that what you’ve been staring at with your measly little human eyes is a real, living, pulsating structure hidden deep under the ocean surface high above. What you’re looking at is a gigantic shipwreck, a home to thousands upon thousands of ocean dwelling creatures, from the tiniest seahorse to the largest bull shark. And out of the blue, you feel incredibly small.
Our recent expedition to Far North Queensland brought us face to face with racehorses, cattle station owners, curious kangaroos and a croc or two. After spending 5 days in the dusty outback, we were ready to dive one of the world’s best wreck dives, the SS Yongala. The passenger ship was originally built in Newcastle, UK before starting service in April 1903 in Adelaide. It carried passengers and cargo around Australia and was the first ship to sail the 5000km direct route between Fremantle and Brisbane. Despite being inspected and ‘in excellent trim’ on its 99th voyage and Captain William Knight’s reputation as one of the company’s most capable men with 14 years of service without incident, the Yongala sank en route to Cairns in March 1911. All 122 aboard were killed, but the only body ever found was that of racehorse Moonshine, which washed up on a nearby beach. Due to there being no surviving witnesses, the cause of the tragedy was never fully determined, but it was likely that the ship either sank in a cyclone that other ships nearby managed to circumvent or hit a submerged rock.
Eerily, the wreck lay undiscovered for nearly 50 years. Shortly after its disappearance, stories of a ghost ship started circulating locally. Not being deterred (and maybe even encouraged by the possibility of loot), local fisherman Bill Kirkpatrick started investigating the obstacle he had encountered whilst fishing for shells in 1958. After several failed attempts involving one of his mates with a hard-hat diving suit, a professional diver was engaged in a salvage operation. Needing to formally identify the wreck before being able to claim salvage rights, the team brought up a safe, which contained only grey sludge, but the serial number of which was finally identified as belonging to the Yongala in 1961, finally sealing the fate of the doomed ship.
The ship was originally named Yongala in South Australia, after an aboriginal Nadjuri name of a small town, which translates as “good water”. Due to having sunk on a relatively shallow sandy ocean floor, with good access to sunlight and its lying undiscovered for decades, the Yongala has stayed true to its name by becoming a haven for ocean life. The top of the wreck lies at 16m below the surface and is grounded at 30m on the seabed. With a length of 109 meters and as one of the world’s largest, most intact historical shipwrecks, it has become a hugely diverse ecosystem, and thus a world class dive site within the protected Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
From enormous stingrays to guitar sharks, Giant Trevally, sea snakes, batfish, morays, huge turtles, barracuda, car-sized Queensland groper (see the image above of our rat next to one) and if you’re lucky bull sharks to manta rays, the marine life that calls the Yongala home is simply breathtaking. As the wreck is a marine grave (bones and all) and strict conservation practices are in place, this incredible dive site is being preserved carefully for future divers and its marine inhabitants. If you worry it’s spooky, the wreck is, but it’s also incredibly beautiful and awe-inspiring. 10,000 divers each year pop their heads above the ocean’s surface after exploring the Yongala and re-enter the universe that we know with a new sense of wonder. So the question is, when will you take the leap?
Australia has a reputation of being a continent of red dusty desert, fringed by tropical rainforest and stunning white sand beaches, vast open spaces speckled with kangaroos and the occasional pickup-truck driving, smiley, bush cowboy wishing you a G’Day. Stereotypes are of course never the whole picture, but on our recent trek up to Far North Queensland, it was all eerily accurate. Stretching from tourist hotspot Cairns, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, via the Savannah Way to the Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland’s far North is characterised by a similar climate to India, with dry savannah that floods in yearly monsoon rainy season that can easily cut off its rural population from the outside world. Mining and cattle farming are the main land uses, and our recent stay at Ellendale Cattle Station near Einasleigh in the heart of Far North Queensland gave us an incredible insight into the daily lives of rural Australians.
Queensland is home to nearly half of Australia’s beef cattle (as opposed to cattle reared for milk, leather etc.) and most of the animals are full or crossed with Brahman cattle. Think “cow you’d meet backpacking in India”, not “cow modelling for Milka chocolate on a pasture up a mountain in Switzerland”. Brahman are tolerant to heat, have thick skin that is good against mozzies and live longer than a lot of other breeds, still having babies at ages 15 and over. We also happen to think that Brahman breeds are especially pretty looking animals. And it was these dainty, deer like, ochre coloured, long eared hide-and-seekers we were trying out hardest to spot through the thick Australian bush on a Sunday afternoon.
Having grown up in a relatively built up area and lived in cities since, being in the middle of nowhere with your nearest neighbour a couple of hours away was a strangely nice feeling. It reminded us of that Simpson’s episode where Bart calls an Australia boy to ask what way the water turns when going down the toilet, and then asks him to check his neighbour’s. The little boy gets on his bicycle and starts riding towards the horizon. It took us 5 hours from Townsville across the Hervey Range that killed our phone signal and over around 250km of dusty unsealed roads to get to Einasleigh, where Ellendale’s Cranwell family picked us up so we could navigate the small winding roads past little waterholes and through dry bushland to the cattle station half an hour out of town.
Owners Terry Ann and Phillip run around 3000 cattle on their property that stretches as far as you can see from their main building’s roof and takes hours to drive around. In the wet season, the roads sometimes flood, cutting the station off from nearby town Einasleigh. “I leave a vehicle with friends on the other side of the Einasleigh River in Einasleigh for emergency purposes.” explains Terry Ann. “Phillip has an aircraft so he becomes our mailman and he flies into Einasleigh twice a week for our mail, and flies me in for my car to drive to Townsville if necessary.” Whilst on the station we donned cowboy hats and long-sleeved shirts (obligatory in the hot sun), moved young cattle from a nursery paddock to the stockyards for the night and rounded up adult cattle to later sort into different groups to keep, weigh or ship to other properties and markets. Terry Ann drives her own semi-trailer, transporting cattle to different locations around Far North Queensland. When you’re on the road and you get stuck, you can’t just call a mate to change your tire, so Terry Ann and Philip are incredibly resourceful as well as great mechanics. And we quickly realise that we’d be completely lost out in the bush if it weren’t for their expertise and navigation skills.
The isolation paradoxically means communities are a lot closer than if you live in the city. Where you might never meet your inner-city neighbours that live a couple of meters away from you in the apartment across the corridor, the Gulf Savannah’s residents all rely on each other to keep the cattle stations going. Terry Ann originally trained as a nurse and is still heavily involved as ground support staff for the Australian Royal Flying Doctor Service. When the area is flooded, or electricity cables are blown down in storms cutting off phone lines, or bush fires rage throughout the region, residents group together and pro-actively look at where help is needed. “Our airstrip and plane are a godsend”, Philip tells us, “and we always leave the paddock gates open when it’s hot so the local wildlife can come and cool off in our water sprinklers. We have had to shut off the gates to the hangar though, as a few years ago I got a phone call from the local emergency services asking if I had crashed my plane. ‘Well, no, ‘cause it’s in the hangar’, I explained. Turns out some emus had got in, opened the plane door, jumped up into the cabin and pecked at the EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon). We laugh about it now. And lock the hangar door.”
Living on a cattle station is hard work, but incredibly rewarding. You get to see kangaroos jumping and horses running through the golden morning sun rays spilling though the bush. You get to look after real live animals and make sure they’re happy and safe. You get to work on providing your fellow Australians with their daily food supply and to look after the environment so you can keep on doing so for years to come. After a couple of days we’re very sad to leave. Mustering and sorting the cattle was incredibly fun, as well as learning how Terry Ann and Philip manage to painstakingly maintain the property in the harsh North Queensland environment. If you do have a little bit of time left at the end of the day, fishing in nearby Einasleigh river as the sun sparkles off the pristine water is as stunning as it gets. And with so much care, attention and love invested into rearing what ends up vacuum packed and anonymous in our supermarkets, we’re never going to waste a single piece of steak again.