Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Rainbow Beach: Queensland's best kept secret

Rainbow Beach is a small beach-side town 239 km north of Brisbane that is located so far out of the way that many choose to cross on the barge from Noosa North Shore, and 4WD along the beachfront around Double Island Point to get there. Being the gateway to the World Heritage listed Fraser Island, the only way to get to Rainbow Beach by conventional car is to head north along the Bruce Highway and turn off at Gympie for the hour long drive through miles of nothing before reaching the beach side town of just over 1,000.

The Carlo Sandblow is a 10 minute walk from the heart of Rainbow Beach. Photo February 2016.

Due to its relative isolation, Rainbow Beach is not the usual beach side holiday town that visitors to South East Queensland might be accustomed to. There are no McDonald's, no KFC's or drive-thru's of any kind. Not only is the town devoid of traffic lights, but on my visit I couldn't even find a pedestrian crossing. What Rainbow does offer however, is the opportunity to get away from it all and explore some of the best natural attractions that South East Queensland has to offer. From the stunning views across to Fraser Island and Double Island Point, to the hidden beauty of the Carlo Sandblow and the Rainbow Sands that form a stunning cliff face along the ocean front, Rainbow Beach has somehow remained one of Queensland's best kept secrets.

Our first destination each morning was the Cafe Jilarty, across the road from the Rainbow Beach Hotel.

There's not much to the township of Rainbow Beach, which is exactly how visitors and locals alike like it. There is a small strip of local touristy gift shops, a handful of cafes and the unmissable Rainbow Beach Hotel. As far as pubs go, this is a slice of North Queensland located only 3 hours north of Brisbane. On the night we visited, live local band The Whiskey Mountain Boys were playing, and accompanied by some great food at reasonable prices, the pub at Rainbow makes for a must-do if visiting the area. And for breakfast each day, I'd recommend a pot of tea from directly across the road at the Cafe Jilarty at Rainbow.

The Cherry Venture sunk nearby at Teewah Beach in 1973. The propeller now rests in the park at Rainbow Beach.

The beach itself is located at the end of Rainbow Beach Road. Here the propeller off the shipwrecked Cherry Venture looks out over the sea, while below a patrolled surf beach marks the end of the 4WD beach access for those who have driven along the beach from Noosa North Shore.

Water seeping from a natural spring beneath the Carlo Sandblow. Photo February 2016.

The beach itself isn't just all for 4WDriving however, and if you keep an eye out for approaching cars, a walk south towards the coloured sand cliffs will take you past natural fresh water springs that somehow seep out from beneath the Carlo Sandblow. While the sandblow may have claimed the surrounding vegetation as the sand tries to force its way inland, somehow the water still manages to find its way to the sea.

A little imaginative sand carving from some visitors has resulted in this Rainbow Monster.

Rainbow Beach is incredibly popular with backpackers and grey nomads alike. During our camping stay in town at the Rainbow Beach Holiday Village, the local cafes were full with the sound of foreign accents and the sight of retirees wandering the streets. While nearby Fraser Island is what draws most visitors like moths to the proverbial flame, the fishing and camping in and around Rainbow Beach is reason enough to make the trek north for a long weekend. 4WD tours of Fraser Island and Double Island Point depart daily from the tourist centre in town for those with only a conventional vehicle like myself. Or like we did, you can just as easily come away refreshed from a few days of fishing, swimming and beach-combing around town.

My wife Denise and myself on our trek back from the coloured sands. February 2016.

My Score:  (a great escape from everything)

What I liked: While Rainbow Beach offered the best views, it was nearby Inskip Point where the barge leaves to Fraser Island that offered the best fishing. Just ask my son. The Rainbow Beach Hotel and the short hike to the top of the Carlo Sandblow are must-do's.

What I didn't like: The sand flies and mosquito's were a problem, and spending all day fishing calls for a choice between the Bug-Off and the sunscreen. Together they didn't work. I came home in a patchwork of sunburn and bites!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

St James: Sydney's abandoned underground Matrix

St James Station lies beneath Sydney's leafy Hyde Park, close to the centre of the city. Opened in 1926, the underground railway station was based closely on London's underground, and almost a century later the green and cream tiles still line the walls on this City Circle Line station. However, St James Station was originally opened as an end terminus station with 4 underground platforms for arriving and departing trains. When the City Circle Line was completed in 1956, the two middle platforms were no longer needed and were simply boarded up, leaving behind ghostly tales of what became of Sydney's abandoned underground tunnels.

The original 1926 ornate wrought iron staircase leads down to St James' platforms. Photo 2015.

The main entrance to St James Station is off Elizabeth Street in the city, where an ornate Art Deco sandstone and iron subway entrance leads beneath the grassy lawns of Hyde Park. The original 1926 wrought iron stair case still leads passengers down from the ticket gates on the mezzanine floor to what appears to be an extremely wide expanse of platform. The truth is, the two middle platform were filled in during the 1990's.

The former edge of the middle platforms is still visible through the pavement. Photo taken 2015.

St James's platforms lie almost directly beneath Hyde Park's Archibald Fountain. The fountain was completed in Paris in 1926, the same year that St James Station was opened, but not unveiled in Sydney's Hyde Park until 1932. 1932 was also the year that the Sydney Harbour Bridge and a second underground railway line with stations at Town Hall and Wynyard was opened a few blocks to the west of Hyde Park. The opening of the North Shore Line across the Harbour Bridge brought to an end plans to use the two middle platforms at St James Station for an underground railway line to the west of the city. Tunnels had also been pre-constructed at St James for a planned Eastern Suburbs Line. When St James Station was connected to Wynyard via Circular Quay to complete the City Circle Line in 1956, the two middle platforms and tunnels were no longer used for regular services. In 1979 the Eastern Suburbs Line was constructed from Town Hall Station instead of following the original 1926 planned route from St James, and the former middle platforms became nothing more than a cavernous pit separating platforms 1 and 2.

The tunnel portals are now bricked up beyond the columns that once stood between the centre tracks. Photo 2015.

Even before the tunnels were boarded up, the two middle platforms filled-in and then finally bricked off from the general public in the early 1990's, the legend of Sydney's lost underground tunnels remained a bit of a mystery. The tunnels for the two former middle platforms extended roughly 250 north and south of St James Station, while another section of tunnels originally built for the Eastern Suburbs Line extended 1.5 kilometres long beneath The Domain. When this tunnel flooded, it formed a 5 metre deep underground lake that measures 10 metres wide and 1 kilometre long. Currently there are plans to use this tunnel as an underground water storage facility for recycled rainwater to irrigate the parklands in Sydney's Domain.

Standing on St James platform is like stepping onto the set of The Matrix. Photo 2015.

But whether you've heard ghostly stories of underground explorers setting off in the darkness to explore St James's abandoned tunnels, or war-time stories from the days when the incomplete tunnels were used as air-raid shelters and radio bunkers for war-time operations in the Pacific. The history of this underground London-esque railway station remains on display for any passenger boarding or alighting from a train at St James. And if you think the green and cream tiled station platform looks familiar, you're right. It was used for filming in the 2003 movie Matrix Revolutions starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Australian actor Hugo Weaving.

Sydney's modern double-deck trains only just squeeze through the tunnels at St James Station. Photo 2015.

Oh, and one other thing that might sound familiar if you've ever caught a train at St James, hold onto your hats in the few moments before the train is due to arrive. With Sydney's fleet of large double-decker trains only narrowly fitting into the underground City Circle tunnels, a strong accompanying rush of wind may be felt ahead of the headlights appearing at the end of the platform. For Sydneysiders its just an everyday part of commuting to and from work. But for a railway adventurer like me, I think its more likely caused by a rush of exhilaration before the train arrives.

St James Station was just one of the many railway stations I visited when writing my Train Tripping Around Sydney eBook. From Kiama to Katoomba and Circular Quay, my 592 km 3 day window-seat adventure is perhaps the cheapest way to experience all the fantastic places that Sydney Trains travel to.

Available from only $0.99 through the following retailers


See also; Central: Sydney's Hallowed Railway Station

Saturday, January 2, 2016

New Year's writing resolutions

The start of a new year always seems to be the springboard needed to dive into another year of writing. So after giving myself a twelve month break from writing in 2015, yet still managing to release two new Train Tripping eBooks, I'm excited at the thought of what 2016 may bring with my New Year's resolution to complete another novel. Add to that my plans to release a colour print edition of my railway adventures along the Australian east coast, and 2016 has all the hallmarks of being a great year for writing.


Writing anything from a commercial view requires two things, the time to write it and the money to make it happen. Writing about travel however also requires a great deal of research, just as much time to write it, copious amounts of money to afford the travel and even more money still to make it happen. When it came to travelling Australia by train for my Train Tripping series, there was only so much train travel that I could afford to undertake on my own budget, which is why I had to draw the line at travelling across Australia from Sydney to Perth aboard the Indian-Pacific. With no offer of assistance forthcoming from Great Southern Rail after numerous proposals, the cost of the whole exercise for my wife Denise and I to make the trip on our own, including around Perth and Bunbury by train, came in at almost six-and-a-half-thousand dollars! In return, I would have been able to release just two more Train Tripping eBooks. I decided it was by far cheaper to spend 2016 writing a new novel before taking a break in Port Douglas at the end of the year. I guess the moral of the story is; if you are planning on writing, be sure that you can afford to reach the ending first.

So my New Year's writing resolution is this.... To finish the novel I first started writing back in 2013. Then if successful, complete the novel I first started developing back in 2007. Both works are around 20,000 words in progress. With Denise and I now successfully running our own small business, for the first time in almost a decade I have the pieces in place to fully support whatever future writing project I care to throw myself into. There is no pressure of having to get things finished by a certain date, or trying to write what is the next 'hot ticket item' that publishers are looking for. I can finally just write what I want to write, whenever I want to write it. To be honest, the thought is as exciting as a blank page, a fresh cup of coffee and a room full of silence.

Whatever interest you have as a writer, take a moment to think of what the new year has to offer you. Even if your stars haven't all aligned for you to take a year off from your job to pen that epic novel you always said you would, take the time to start somewhere. A short story for a writing competition, some poetry or even a blog like I did, outlining my railway adventures in Australia and New Zealand, are all ways to not only keep your writing sharp, but your skills continually developing. Who knows? You may even surprise yourself like I did, by receiving a nomination in the Global eBook Awards for Train Tripping Coastal Queensland. A fiction novelist receiving a nomination in a non-fiction category for travel. All in what was supposed to be a year spent taking a break from writing. So whatever it is you enjoy writing, may 2016 bring you an enormous feeling of satisfaction, and let success worry about itself.