Location: Bundaberg, QLD, Australia
We really should stop choosing campsites in the dark. This one was very 'Bates Motel' and was next to a highway, a river and a train track. We quickly got ready and left. First stop of the day was the Bundaberg rum distillery, home of the nations favourite rum but virtually unknown anywhere else in the world as they only export 3% of production. We were shown round by yet another tour guide who had spent too long in his cage and learnt a lot about the rum making process. We had our free taste and left with a couple of bits of merchandise. Then we drove. And drove. And drove. Well, Kieron drove and Rachel was bored. We arrived at Rockhampton, beef capital of the country, with the plan of a bite to eat and then more driving but we got distracted by a super pub. We made a quick decision to find a campsite and then get installed in the pub which we did with great speed. As we were in beef country it was only right and prpoer that we sample the goods so we sat down to beef. Kieron had a large rump steak and Rachel (who's not overly keen on beef) had beef chilli nachos. Both meals were delicious especially when washed down with a bucket of wine. Reports of the camper van spinning were heard when we finally made it to bed.
Location: Fraser Island, QLD, Australia
Another early start and we found ourselves walking in a landscape that resembled a desert. Fraser Island has been said to have more sand than the Sahara Desert and it's easy to believe when you see the miles of rolling dunes. We drank water from a creek and the boys scaled a massive dune only to race each other back down! We continued up the beach to see the Pinnacles, s section of coloured sand cliffs. There are said to be 23 different shades of sand in these cliffs and Jason gave us various scientific reasons for the colour variations in the sand. Next stop was the Maheno shipwreck, a luxury Australian cruise liner that served time in both World Wars before being bought by the Japanese for scrap. They were towing it from Melbourne back to Japan in 1935 when the anchor chain they were using as a tow rope snapped. After numerous futile attempts to re-float the boat they gave up and left her there. She's nothing but a rusty carcass now but the size of her is still impressive. Our last stop on the island was Indian Heads (named by Captain Cook) and we climbed the rocks to the highest point on the island. While we were up there we spotted some whales diving about in the water. They were amazing to watch and seemed to be enjoying themselves. We also had our eyes peeled for dolphins and tiger sharks but weren't lucky enough to see any. Back to the bus and Jason had created a lunch of sausages (snags) and fried onions - yummy! We drove all the way back down to the ferry and only just made it through some parts of the highway as the tide was coming in pretty quickly and Jason didn't want to naigate the smaller east/west roads. The journey was pretty uneventful until we spotted a dingo in the sand dunes. One of the Spanish boys on our tour was obsessed with seeing a dingo and the cry of 'dingo! dingo!' went up as he had his first sighting. We had a fantastic time on Fraser Island, met some really nice people and learnt a lot about how parts of this amazing country was founded. We set straight off for Bundaberg and arrived at our campsite in the dead of night.
Location: Fraser Island, QLD, Australia
We were collected bright and early by our Fraser Island guide, Jason, who had been brought out of retirement for our trip. With 11 of us in total we set off on our 4wd bus for 2 days on the worlds largest sand island. We will mention at this point that Rachel doesn't like sand. We took a ferry across to Fraser Island and started our drive up the main highway - 75 mile beach. It is recognised as a public highway despite the fact that it consists entirely of sand and looks just like a beach. We were soon to discover that there isn't any tarmac on the island and that we were to get everywhere on sand. The state of the roads varies depending on the weather and the tides but Jason informed us that we had good driving conditions as we set off bumping up the beach. Our first stop was Lake Wabby - a beautiful spot which is surrounded on 3 sides by eucalyptus forest and on the 4th by a massive sandblow. The sand is encroaching on the lake at a rate of about 3m a year and in about 20 years the lake will no longer exist. We saw some massive catfish swimmin in the beautiful blue water and dipped our toes in but it was a bit chilly for a swim. We returned to the bus to be met with a lovely lunch prepared by Jason who is a bit of a good cook on the side. He is also very eccentric and regaled us with loads of tales of the island in his own, unique style. Our next stop was Lake McKenzie which was even more picturesque than Lake Wabby. The Lake is surrounded by white sillicone sand which is 98% pure and was recommended as a great exfoliator. Kieron braved the water and had a good swim about in it. Rachel preferred to lay on her towel but did go in up to her knees inorder to benefit from the exfoliating qualities of the sand. A short drive from Lake McKenzie and we arrived at Central Station, the location of the old timber cutters camp in years gone by. We had a lovely walk through the rainforest and marvelled at the crystal clear waters of the creek. We were met by Jason who had boiled the billys for a cup of tea then it was on to our accommodation for the night. The Eurong beach resort offered a mexican buffet for dinner and real beds which, after 2 weeks in the back of a camper van is a luxury!
Location: Rainbow Beach, QLD, Australia
We were sorry to be leaving our lovely campsite in Cotton Tree but adventures were calling so we set off for Noosa. We were really looking forward to visiting this little town after hearing lots of good reports but were a bit disappointed when we got there. The sea was brown, the beach was rocks and the locals were nowhere near as friendly as others we have met. Suffice to say we stayed for a coffee and left for Rainbow Beach. We arrived at our campsite to be met by the owner, Dallas - a man who was very serious about his moustache! We wandered across the campsite and found a lovely waterfront where we watched locals fishing as the sun set. We also found a Thai restaurant and decided to have dinner here. The food was fantastic and we had a lovely night. Early to bed in preparation for an early pick up in the morning.....
Location: Australia Zoo, QLD, Australia
Up bright and early for a day at the famous Australia Zoo. We were picked up by the courtesy bus outside the RSL club (everything revolves around this place!) and made our way to the zoo. We did wonder about whether we should visit a zoo on our tight shedule but it's the home of the crocodile hunter so we thought we probably should. As it turns out we were so glad that we did as it was unlike any other zoo we had visited. The animals were free to roam in semi-natural habitats and the wildlife warrior message was loud and clear. We felt like we'd been well educated by the time it came to leave. Particular highlights were feeding kangaroos, petting koalas and seeing a cheetah being walked round the park on a lead! We've recommended it to everyone who's asked and getting the chance to see such big crocs up close was something else! After the excitement of the previous night it was salad on the beach as the sun went down.
Location: Surfers Paradise, QLD, Australia
Drove up the famous Gold Coast Highway taking in all of the beaches on the way. Stopped off in Surfers for a look around and were bombarded by a Blackpool type resort. Got some special photos taken but you'll have to wait to see them! Carried on our way to stay the night in Mooloolaba but the caravan park was full. We moved on up the coast to several more parks which were also full. Evidently, the old folk from the south spend the winter up here and everywhere had been booked up for months. We were starting to feel like Mary and Joseph when we were finally taken in by a kind lady in Cotton Tree who rented us her last patch of grass. We really had struck gold as we found ourselves in the most beautiful little corner with the ocean lapping the sand just behind our pitch. On Pam and Graham's advice we decided to give the local RSL club a go for dinner and we were so glad we did. It was a huge place undergoing building work to become even huger and the opporrtunity to lose money was massive. There were more slot machines that you'd find in Las Vegas and pensioners were happily feeding them all they had. The dinner was fantastic, the beer was cheap and we had a great time.
Location: Byron Bay, NSW, Australia
Had a fantastic night out last night and can understand why some people come here to visit and never actually leave (don't panic Gazette and Heathfield colleagues...we did manage to drag ourselves away!) We had a mesmerising stare at the ocean and beach, a quick shop resulting in purchases for Rachel and a much needed coffee for Kieron. Our stay in Byron Bay has been one of the highlights so far. The short drive to Bangalow resulted in another purchase and we now have a lovely ceramic bird to adorn our home. Another lovely town with a more mature and affluent vibe than Byron but no less relaxed. After our short stop in Bangalow it was off to the Nightcap National Park to take in some of the far north coast hinterland. We parked Skippy up and set off on the 4km return trip to see the Minyon Falls. The walk through the rainforest was fantastic despite a few steep climbs and the sun shining through the lush green canopy above us was simply amazing. All was going well until the path stopped and the only option was to start climbing the large rocks ahead of us. Had we read the description of the walk properly before we set off we would have been prepared to 'scramble over well worn rocks for the final 200m to the base of Minyon Falls'. The scramble was well worth the effort as the falls were breathtaking. Water plunges over 100m into a rainforest gorge surrounded by a flora reserve. We had to put all of out best rock climbing skills to work to navigate the rocks and view the falls from every angle but felt that we had seen the best they had to offer and left smiling. We drove on to Mullumbimby where Kieron declared he needed a beer after too many miles of steep winding road so we called into the RSL (Returned Services League) club for refreshment. These clubs are in every town and are absolute gems. The dress code stated no work apparel, sports apparel or rollers in your hair so we entered the bar with confidence. The club was like nothing else we had ever seen and featured lots of old guys and gals sipping beer and feeding slot machines. There was also greyhound racing on screens, Benny Hill re-runs on TV and a raffle for a BBQ. After our experiences here we set off for Tweed Heads, crossing the border for our first night in Queensland.
Location: Coffs Harbour, Australia
Sunshine! Hurray! After breakfast we wandered down to the marina and took in the glorious sight that Coffs had to offer. We kicked off our flip flops and had our first feel of sand and sea between our toes. We have never seen sea so blue and so clear. It really is amazing. The water was slightly warmer than Redcar (it is winter here) but it still wasn't warm enough for the triathletes to be swimmin about a mile off the shore. They didn't seem to mind but we left them to it and kept our speedo's under wraps for warmer climes. Nex stop was Grafton - a lovely little town with a street full of history and colonial buildings. We carried on to beautiful Ballina for an ice cream by the sea. Then it was up the Coastal Road through the amazing views at Lennox Head and on to Byron Bay. We got a campsite right by the ocean. It hasn't rained yet and we are chancing our arm for a night out. The relaxed hippy vibe here is nothing like anywhere else we have seen so we're off to enjoy it.
Location: Port Macquarie, Australia
With all signs of the previous nights storm vanished we enjoyed pottering around pretty Port Macquarie in the glorious sunshine. We visited the old courthouse which was built in the 1800's and was the last remaining historic building in the town. We enjoyed a lunch of freshly caught fish and chips (Hoki, not Cod) on a bench over looking the sea. It was our first real look at the South Pacific Ocean and we were mesmerised by the sunlight dancing off the waves. We loaded up Skippy and set off for Coffs Harbour in our t-shirts and shorts. We passed the famous Freddo's pies on our way up the Pacific Highway so we stopped off and purchased dinner. We booked into a fantastic campsite in Coffs and had a brisk hour and a half walk on the beach - heaven! Then came the rain. Luckily we were back in the van so we warmed our pies up and Rachel did her famous 'falling asleep mid sentance' trick.
Location: In the van, NSW, Australia
After a fantastic night of uninterrupted sleep and a lovely hot shower we got ready to set off again. Kieron had his first shave in a week and went from swarthy pirate to fresh faced youth in a matter of minutes! We headed to what the Lonely Planet guide described as a natural phenomenon. An underground coal seam that had been smoking for thousands of years and was set to smoke for thousands more. We were both intrigued and, despite Keith telling us it wasn't worth bothering with, we headed for it. All we can say is that Keith is a wise man. A candle could produce more smoke than Burning Mountain! We did enjoy the 5km walk to the mystical site and Kieron spotted his first kangaroo. A little deflated, we carried on our journey and decided to drive through the early evening to Port Macquarie. We expected the 200km drive to take about 2 1/2 hours but, yet again, the map didn't illustrate fully the horror that lay ahead. With Atko at the wheel and Goldberg sucking down Toohey's we navigated the Oxley Highway. I can only suggest you try and find it on Google Earth and observe the steepest inclines, declines and sharp corners first hand, through the thickest forest imagineable - then imagine it in the pitch black. Throughout the entire journey (4 1/2 hours) we could see lightening illuminating the width of the sky ahead and you can imagine our delight when we arrived in Port Macquarie, the epicentre of the storm. Thankfully the rain had stopped and we managed a take out lasagne before falling fast asleep.
Location: Hunter Valley, NSW, Australia
Woke up in Lithgow at about 3am to the sound of a freight train going past. In the cold light of day we discovered we had parked the van about 50m from the train track so it was harly surprising we heard it during the night. We set off on the long drive to the Hunter Valley over the Bells of Line Road which was spectacular. We passed through so many different kinds of country it was hard to keep track of where we were. We passed through a big fruit growing area and bought the biggest kiwi's in the world and a cracking apple pie. As the land flattened out we passed the beginnings of a bush fire which was right on the side of the road. We could feel the heat in the van as we passed by and wondered what we could do to alert somebody to the fire. The roads out here are pretty deserted so there was a good chance we were the only vehicle in a 10 mile radius. As luck would have it we drove past a fire station about a mile from the fire so we did our good deed for the day and reported the blaze to a somewhat unfazed fireman. He eventually stopped washing his fire truck and headed out to the fire. Before we knew it we were in wine country and the first stop was, rather surprisingly, the Blue Tongue lager brewery. Kieron ordered a paddle of 6 beers to taste and was soon in his element. Next stop was the Audrey Wilkinson vineyard which is possibly the most beautiful vista that either of us have ever seen. The rolling hill covered with vines were perfectly placed and sparkled under the afternoon sun. A good few wines later and a couple of purchases under our belt we set off for Peterson's Champagne House. We tasted lots of different kinds of fizz and bought a bottle of pink for a later date. The whole area is covered in vines at every turn and it's easy to see how so many great wines are produced here. Next stop was Rachel's mum's friends (Wendy and Keith) so we got underway. We eventually found their fantastic house and were welcomed in for drinks and dinner. Keith had prepared a lovely pea soup (which we eventually decided contained mint!) and Wendy had cooked up a cracking beef curry and delicious dessert. Just what the doctor ordered for a couple of weary travellers! We spent the night chatting and catching up in front of a cosy wood burner and had the luxury of a real bed for the night!