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Published: December 25th 2017
Geo: -20.2679, 148.716
28th March - 21st April: New Zealand, en route to Sydney, and up the East Coast.
I have been too lazy to write a blog and feel ashamed! Perhaps the reason for the reluctance to write will become clearer: We moved so quickly I forgot where we were and where we had been. We drove up the East Coast quickly to escape the populated areas and without much of any real interest happening.
From Fiji we returned to New Zealand to be collected from the airport again by Richard. We were only staying long enough to go and see a film (Hampton Park on Hudson, might not have the title absolutely accurate), have lots of lovely meals sitting out on the patio late into the evening in the unseasonably warm weather, do the washing and pack to return to Oz. Richard and Beverley made our time in NZ very enjoyable and we just hope we did not leave them exhausted and thinking about where they could hide if we mentioned returning! We also had chance to see Chris and Geoff (our roomies from Napier) again and to say goodbye until next time.
In no time at all we were back
in Sydney Airport and then off to collect our van which turned out to be only perhaps a year younger than the last. As it was late, about 5pm when we drove out of Traveller's Autobarn, we decided to return to the same camp-site that we used previously, despite it being overpriced and of a poor standard. The reason was that it is only a few minutes drive away and there is a supermarket within walking distance so that we knew we could stock up in preparation for an early start.
The next day it took about 3 hours to drive through Sydney without using Toll roads. We chose not to as the payment system is complicated requiring that you to go online or call them within 3 days to pay. If you fail to do this Traveller's Autobarn then receive the bill and charge an extra $75. We thought it simpler to stay on ordinary roads but the route was very complicated, requiring constant lane changes etc. Although slow, we managed the route without one mistake.
When we went to Sydney from the Blue Mountains it is quick and easy to get to the centre of the city, leaving to
the north is neither quick or easy as the urban sprawl continues for miles (perhaps hundreds of miles) along the coast. There were numerous towns, all very pleasant but all very urban, including Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour and Maclean. Coffs harbour has a beautifully protected harbour and a walk out to Mutton Island (which is no longer an island but a promontory which is home to a colony of nesting Muttonbirds (Shearwaters). Maclean, I suppose in its desire to demonstrate it's Scottishness and individuality, has painted the lower part of telegraph poles with the tartans of all the Scottish clans. Would you believe we found a McSwan? - See picture. I would have taken a photograph of Jim beside it but it was raining and he refused to get out of the van. Partly because of the poor weather and because we prefer more rural, isolated areas we kept going until we reached Hawk's Nest Bay. At last, a peaceful, small town by the sea.
After 3 days we felt we were back in the Australia that we were looking for. We walked, watched birds and picnicked. After a couple of days we moved on to Moonie Beach, a beautiful area
with creeks and inlets meeting the sea. It was here we first encountered soldier crabs. I was walking along the sand banks at low tide when my eyes caught movements on the beach, making me think that the sand was moving. In fact it was huge groups of soldier crabs marching together. They look intimidating but they disappear into the sand if you go too close so they are not a problem. They are quite small but about one in a hundred is large, giving the appearance of being a General leading troops. They march across the beach, changing direction frequently, but apparently in a random fashion. Perhaps they know what they are doing but it was never clear to us.
From Hawk's Nest Bay onwards the real stars are the raptors (Birds of Prey) – Kites, (Brahminy, Whistling and Black Shouldered), Sea Eagles, Goshawks, Peregrines, to name a few. They are everywhere. We could guarantee that within a few minutes of being outside, a raptor would fly over, and on Moonie and Hawk's Nest beaches we were treated to pairs of birds gently gliding, swooping and soaring over us for 20 minutes to half an hour. Superb displays that we
were privileged to watch.
At Moonie Beach I returned to the van one evening to see Jim outside in the dark signalling to me. He had spotted a bandicoot, a small marsupial, like a naked hedgehog (no spines) and with a long pointed nose. We watched for a while and Jim took some photographs but, much to his disgust, they all came out totally black, so we are looking for another bandicoot to get a photograph for the blog.
We then decided to go inland to a National Park at Dorrigo. It was a very windy road up into the Great Dividing Range but well worth it for the scenery and views. Half way up we found a town called Bellingen which had very interesting old buildings including an old style small department store selling clothes. It was fascinating – out here in the middle of nowhere the clothes were not only really beautiful designer styles but ranged from day wear to numerous (seriously, large numbers into the hundreds) extremely glamorous and fantastically expensive ball gowns. I tried to imagine the lifestyle of the town's citizens that required these clothes but couldn't. It was as well that Bellingen was so
interesting as the birds were in hiding at Dorrigo and we saw nothing. As the weather became very threatening we decided to head back down to the coast before the storm came.
We were having a lot of rain at this point so Jim wanted to head north, hopefully to the sun. During some very heavy downpours we found we had a couple of leaks through perished window rubber. We managed to effect repairs before the bed became too wet. It is amazing what you can achieve with duct tape – never travel without it!
Eventually we approached the Gold Coast. From our last visit we knew we wanted to pass through the area as quickly as possible. It is south of Brisbane and the tourist centre of Oz with at least 5 theme parks, and surfing beaches stretching for miles. So we put our heads down and ran, or rather Jim drove, non-stop until we reached Brisbane.
When you pick up a van Traveller's Autobarn provide 2 special round clear 'plasters' to stick on any chips that might appear on the windscreen as the roads seem to throw up a lot of stones. As we were driving towards Brisbane we noticed
2 chips so used up both plasters. They have a depot in Brisbane just a few minutes off the road through the city so we decided to stop and collect another couple of stickers as I had not been able to purchase any. Would you believe, on the way into the city a large vehicle threw up another stone which hit us with a loud crack and produced not just a chip but a hole and crack. We stopped and they said we might have to have a new windscreen depending upon whether the crack spread. They gave us 4 'plasters', 2 as standbys and 2 to mark the bad crack to see if it was increasing. After a week it is still spreading, but now slowly, so we are hoping it will last a little longer before we replace it. With our full cover insurance we are allowed one windscreen replacement so we want to make this one last as long as possible.
North of Brisbane the urban sprawl continued and even as far up the coast as Caloundra and Alexandra Head the Sunshine Coast is built up (and it was still raining despite the name). It is very pleasant
Its a long way down, see tops of trees
A cliff of sand - thought I might have to sit for descent
but over populated for us so we continued on to Tin Can Bay.
Tin Can Bay is not a name chosen by failed marketing executives but the corruption of an Aboriginal word, Tuncunba, which means Dugong. We booked into the camp-site for a night and stayed a week. It is the size of a large village with all the basics (including a hairdresser thankfully) but in a beautiful setting, where a number of creeks lead out to the sea. All around the point are natural foreshores of grass and trees between the water's edge and the road, providing lovely walking areas, full of birds. There is a jetty where each morning (in theory at 8.00am but sometimes they are late), dolphins are fed. They have been coming in since the 50s (the grandparents of todays visitors) and some days there may only be one , other days there are 6 or 7. The feeding seems to be well managed, ensuring that no dolphin receives more than 3 kilos of fish. This means they will continue to seek food for themselves in the sea.
The oldest male, Mystique, is a regular visitor, usually with the female, Patch, and sometimes with the extended
family. The staff know all the dolphins by name and their family relationship. It appears that interaction like this between humans and dolphins has been recorded over hundreds of years and that dolphins helped Aboriginal people fish, in the same way the whales helped in Victoria.
Facing Tin Can Bay across a narrow straight is Fraser island. We were not sure if we wanted to visit or not but we asked Ian, the owner of our camp-site, if anyone took visitors out on their boats as we wanted to see some of the sea birds at closer range on the sandbanks. He said to ask Brian, who hangs around the jetty. He described him as the out-of-work Father Christmas without a T shirt. We knew exactly who he meant as we had seen someone like this the day before, and described him to each other in exactly the same words. We had seen him go out in a small tender to see if the dolphins were on their way in for feeding.
So the next day we went and asked Brian and he was very happy to take us out straight away. But he did not bring the tender around, he brought
his 6 metres (approx) catamaran. He took us all the way out to sea and past Fraser Island. We used the engines to reach Fraser Island but coming back we sailed. It was a beautiful morning and we were lucky enough to see pods of dolphins as well as birds and as we sailed along the coast of Fraser Island we felt that we had seen enough not to need to go there on a commercial trip. We were very lucky to have this chance to go to sea. Although Brian did not want to be paid we did not want to take advantage of his generosity so made a contribution to the fuel. Brian considers himself a lucky man as he can take his boat out most days of the year in a beautiful part of the world. In the season (June – September) he goes out and waits for the whales to pass along the coast. He said that is his favourite time of the year, “It's awesome!”
Another day we spotted a whistling kite nest along the foreshore and watched the pair of kites change duty on the nest so presume there is an egg or chick in
there. We had a lovely lunch at the yacht club overlooking the bay. One evening after dark Ian tapped on the van and asked if we were interested in seeing a python. He had spotted one near the laundry and knew we had been out looking for wildlife. We jumped out but by the time we reached the spot the 4 foot long python had disappeared. Despite searching through the foliage we did not find him. I am not certain that Jim was as disappointed as he could have been as his search of the undergrowth was less than thorough!
It was with great reluctance that after a week we decided it was time to move on. As much as we enjoyed being in Tin Can Bay, Jim kept reminding me that there are other wonderful places to find, and Agnes Waters was the next but more about that next time.
Ps All 6 'plasters' are now on the windscreen! Just as well they are transparent.
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