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Published: September 5th 2009
SunriseHaving weighed up all the possible options, it was decided that the best way to traverse the Aussie East Coast was in true sufer style - by Campervan!
Tropical North Queensland
After arriving in Cairns we collected our three berth campervan on Sat 27th June. This would be our home for the next six weeks and after filling it with groceries we headed North. North may seem an odd choice when our final destination was Sydney but in Aussie terms Cairns to Sydney is a relatively short trip.
Our first night found us in Port Douglas, a small but bustling harbour town with a laid back atmosphere. After exploring the centre of town we found ourselves a quiet parking spot and pulled up for the night. We awoke the next morning to find our quiet parking spot was in fact right next to Port Douglas' famous Sunday market which had literally been set up as we slept!
Continuing our journey North we followed the Captain Cook highway as far as it is possible before in becomes an unsealed road only passable by 4x4. The place where the tarmac runs out is Cape Tribulation, a stunning National Park where the
rain forest quite literally meets the sea and The Great Barrier Reef. The beaches there are some of the best we have seen on our trip so far. They are almost paradisic* strips of perfect white sand lined with dense forest. Two days were lost in Cape Tribulation exploring the rainforest's boardwalks or soaking up the sun on one of the many beaches but finally the time came to turn around and begin our long road trip south! Only a short hop south of Cape Tribulation is the vast Daintree river where we took the opportunity to jump on a flat bottomed boat and go to see wild fresh water crocodiles in their natural habitat. We declined the offer of a swim. *Paradisic is not a real word but one that was gifted to us along our travels!
Townsville And Magnetic Island
Having already spent some time in Cairns before we collected the camper, our second visit was only a brief stop on the way through to make use of the beautiful open air public pool right on the water front, grab a shower and buy a guitar. Heading out of Cairns on the Bruce highway it is
not long before the road is flanked on both sides by mile after mile of sugar plantations. The next two days saw us hopping from beach to beach until we reached Townsville. Unfortunately for us we rolled into town around the same time as the V8 Supercars. The Townsville 400 as it turns out is one of Australia's biggest motor racing events and we had arrived slap bang in the middle of all the madness. Fortunately for us just off the Townsville's coast lies Magnetic Island, something of an outdoor playground. So we quickly booked our van on the ferry and escaped the mainland for a few days.
Magnetic Island is only a few miles in diameter and lies a mere thirty five mins by ferry off the mainland. There is a tiny road network that criss crosses the Island and links several of the various coves and beaches. The majority of Magnetic is covered in forest and on it's highest peak is an old WWII gun emplacement that is now a national park. The only campsite on the island also happens to be home to a wildlife sanctuary where native wildlife is housed, cared for and often released
into the surrounding forest. As a result it was not uncommon to see wallabies roaming freely around the campground and come nightfall we were often joined for dinner by families of Bushtailed Possums who would happily eat from your hand whilst sitting on your lap. One morning we took a tour of the enclosures with one of the parks keepers and were able to meet and hold a number of animals ranging from Parrots, Lizards and Echidnas to Snakes, koalas and even a Crocodile (at least a baby one!) A five min walk from away was Horseshoe bay, a beautiful coastline offering a wide range of beach activities. From here we took a two hour Jet Ski tour of the island's northern coves and bays, following what can only be described as the world's fastest moving tour guide. Even with our 150hp jet ski it was hard to keep up! On another occasion May took up the chance to go on a two hour bush and beach horse trek and after a gallop on the beach itself she was even allowed to venture into the sea with her horse Popeye!
One day was spent exploring the island on foot as
Euengella National Park
this is the only way to get to many of the more secluded beaches . After an afternoon of sun worship we made our way up to the WWII fort to see the sunset and look out for wild Koalas in the trees.
Before we knew it four days had passed and it was time to leave Magnetic Island and return to a much calmer, V8 free Townsville on the mainland.
Platypus And Polocrosse
Broken River in the Euengela National Park (as we are sure your aware!) is said to be one of the best places in the world to spot the elusive Duck Billed Platypus and as it was only a 'little' way off our route south we made a point to go and have a look. The journey took us two days inland, including some pretty steep climbs and descents but eventually we found the wooden viewing platform overlooking Broken River deep within the National Park. Having expected a long wait we were gob-smacked to see one of the strange fury creatures emerge within fifteen mins. Although smaller than we had expected we were spellbound and watched the Platypus swimming and diving for nearly an hour. On
return to the Bruce Highway we spent our first night back on the coast in a rest area within the tiny town of St Lawrence. The rest area in St Lawrence was bigger than most of the rest area's we had seen until this point and stood alongside what we thought was a Rodeo arena. We parked up, sat with a beer and watched as a family turned out some horses for the night. We thought little more of it and continued to enjoy the sunset. It was later that evening when we read a poster on a noticeboard that we realised we had arrived in St Lawrence the night before it was due to hold it's annual Polocrosse carnival. Sure enough we awoke the next morning to find numerous polocrosse teams and literally hundreds of horses gearing up for the weekend long event. We spent the day watching the action and getting right behind our favourite teams (who were chosen mainly because of the colour of their shirts rather than their ability on the field) before finally hitting the road once again.
Hervey Bay And Fraser Island
The next few days were lost exploring more beaches or visiting
The coast off Hervey Bay
local attractions such as Bundaberg's famous rum distillery and before we knew it we had arrived in Hervey Bay. The majority of travelers on Australia's east coast head to Hervey Bay for two reasons. One is that just off the coast lies Fraser Island (the world's largest sand island.) The second is that it is one of the best places in the world to see Humpback Whales during their annual migration. Although we had arrived just a little early in the season for Whales and could not be guaranteed to see any we booked ourselves on a spotting boat to see what we could see at sea. In short we were not disappointed as within ninety minutes we found two young humpbacks playing together and were able to watch them for the best part of an hour.
The next morning we were up bright and early to catch the ferry to Fraser Island. There are no sealed roads on Fraser and as the whole island is made of sand it is only passable by 4x4. It was for this reason our van stayed on the mainland and we opted for a day tour on a massive off road bus.
Fraser is now a world heritage site and home to a large number of fresh water lakes, Dingos, dense jungle, an old disused logging station and even a ship wreck of an old hospital ship sits on the island's seven mile beach. Although a little whistle stop the tour was great and to be fair you can't go far wrong with an off road bus can you?
Diving The Sunshine Coast
When we reached The Sunshine Coast we decided to do our first dive since arriving in Australia. A mile or so off shore of Mooloolaba lies the wreck of the EX HMAS Brisbane. A relatively modern navel destroyer she was decommissioned in the early nineties and deliberately sunk to form an artificial reef. She was made a little more diver friendly (an extra hole here and there) but mostly left as she was in service. As a result is fast becoming one of the countries most popular dive sites. We made two fascinating dives there, one of the exterior to explore the massive guns and other weapon systems. The second was a penetration dive of the interior where we were able to take in the galley, forward engine
room. living quarters and weapon control rooms. Both dives were amazing the water however was bloody freezing and even the large Anzac cookies distributed by our guide were of little help!
Brisbane And The Gold Coast
By the time we hit Brisbane our Toyota Hi-ace had truly become our best friend. Although we had to drive a certain daily mileage to keep our fridge alive, (essential in Aus if you want to keep your milk past breakfast) she had given us the freedom and ease of travel that we had hoped for. However driving your house into a major city is far from ideal and due to this Brisbane appeared and disappeared pretty quickly on our radar. We spent a few hours exploring the busy city centre and enjoying the beautifully kept south bank. The later of which reminded us strongly of London's own south bank though perhaps with a little more greenery! But eventually we admitted our defeat as our van was simply to tall for Brisbane (well the car parks at least) and headed out of town. It was strange driving on the motorways around the area as we had become accustomed to The Bruce as a
Ready for lift off
The Gold Coast
one lane highway surrounded by a vast bush landscape or acres of sugar cane. The large blue signs were also different, as further north we had become used to the only signs telling you the individual names of the hundreds of creeks that you have to cross!
The day after Brisbane City Centre we rocked up to Dreamworld, one of The Gold Coast's favourite theme parks. Having both been roller-coaster junkies as kids we entered the park buzzing with excitement while devouring the descriptions of the various rides on offer. However after a full day of being spun, accelerated, twisted, soaked, hung upside down and dropped we emerged back through the gated feeling bruised, sick and exhausted!
In July Australia is in the middle of winter and therefore our plan had always been to keep north for as long as we could in order to enjoy Queensland's tropical winter. However with only a week left before returning the van and the temperature dropping we had to get a move on. We decided to see The Gold Coast as a day trip with ourselves as the tour guides, (oh dear!) After exploring Surfers Paradise at night time we started
the next morning up at the Q1 deck just a block from the city centre. From the 77 storey vantage point we were able to see the beautiful beaches and unusual waterways of the area, stretch out for miles around us. In the distance we could just make out Point Danger which was our destination goal for sunset that evening. After a cup of coffee with the best view around we shot back down the fastest elevator in the world (77 floors in just 42.7 seconds) and into our camper. The day was spent exploring the incredible surf beaches, watching the surfers and eating ice cream! By the time that we reached the more southern points of the coastline the road had started to bend back on itself and we were able to look back at the metropolis skyline of Surfers Paradise (and in fact the Q1 deck as well) appearing as though it was floating in the sea. Point Danger was the final piece of headland that we investigated on our Gold Coast day trip and it marks the dividing line between Queensland and New South Wales. We were somewhat stunned by the huge, ugly, concrete arch that commemorates
the divide but the incredible views out to sea more than made up for it.
Byron Bay And The Last Few Days
The following morning we headed to Byron Bay which was literally teaming with people and traffic. A quick look at our calendar told us that it was Sunday and after a little investigation we realised that we had stumbled into town on market day. Byron being somewhat of an alternative/hippie hang out meant that the market was a large, technicolour experience full of live music and food of every description (as long as it contained tofu!) There were hundreds of stalls selling everything that you can imagine and far more that you can't. We had a great morning buying trinkets and enjoying the atmosphere before heading to the infamous Byron Bay itself for some final Aussie sun worship.
With only a few days remaining before returning our van we set our sights on Sydney. The city itself would be explored from a hostel in town so we spent the days on several scenic tourist drives to get there. We cruised along enjoying the stunning national parks, lakes and coastlines, stopping occasionally to take look at pelicans
roosting on lampposts or to share a spot of lunch with a Kookaburra. For our final night on wheels we booked ourselves into a holiday camp in the Lane Cove national park, just a stones throw from Sydney. Here we repacked our rucksacks (which had completely exploded during our six weeks!) scrubbed out the van and hung out with the possums for the last time. It was surprisingly sad to say goodbye to our little house on wheels but we were both excited to be headed for some city life again. Therefore the next morning we said goodbye, jumped into a cab and headed into Sydney.
We arrived in downtown Sydney and for the first time since Indonesia found ourselves in a backpackers' hostel. With our kit stashed in our room we hit the street late in the afternoon for our first exploration of the city. Stepping out of our accomodation we need simply turn right and it was possible to follow the road through the cities' main shopping and business districts all the way to Sydney's famous harbour. With the light beginning to fade we wandered down to the bay just in time to see the sun
go down over the harbour bridge and with the city scape lit behind us we strolled around the Sydney Opera House before venturing back down to China Town for dinner. The morning of day two found us heading to Paddy's Markets, Sydney's undercover marketplace. We wandered through the hundreds of stalls searching for various bargains and by the time we emerged, morning had drifted into early afternoon. A short walk away is Darling Harbour, once the cities busiest port it is now home to the Maritime Museum and Imax Cinema as well as all the usual bars and restaurants that spring up when such an area has been re-developed. We wandered the harbour taking in the atmosphere of our surroundings and getting used to the idea of no longer having a house on wheels. The afternoon slipped into evening over coffee and as the wind became bitter we hoped on the monorail and headed for home.
The next couple of days were spent in a similar way, either exploring the cities various cultural areas such as The Rocks, taking the ferry over to Manly beach or just picking up essentials we would need in New Zealand. Day five in
the city was the first day we made a conscious effort to visit some actual tourist attractions and a couple of hours were spent in the Maritime Museum learning about Australia's sea faring history. Moving on to the aquarium here we saw rare Du gongs swimming amongst enormous Turtles, Sharks and Rays. We finished by seeing the new Transformers movie on the worlds largest Imax screen - simply astonishing!
The following days itinerary was equally as heavy, kicking off with a tour inside the world famous opera house. We were guided around the grand foyers and Opera theatre before being fortunate to see a symphony being rehearsed in the concert hall. It was truly amazing to be inside such an iconic building. The afternoon was spent exploring Sydney's beautiful botanic gardens that begin at the edge of the harbour and stretch nearly all the way back to our hostel on the edge of the city centre. Later that day we hooked up with Luke, a friend of May's sister who took us to his apartment on Bondi beach where he and his wife cooked us dinner before the four of us headed out to a couple of Bondi's trendy
bars. More time was spent just pottering around the cities shopping areas on our final day in Sydney, although we did manage to make it up the Sky Tower to see the breath taking 360 degree view before the sun once again set on another amazing city.
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