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Published: April 4th 2009
Pelicans at the marina in Lemon Tree Passage
The next phase of our round the world adventure began on Monday 9th March, when we picked up our Jucy campervan at Mascot in south Syney. The "barney van", as it's now affectionately been dubbed, is a neon green and purple Toyota Estima that is kitted out with a sink, fridge and stove at the back and has two benches that fold out into a double bed at night. This cosy crib would become home for the next 7 weeks and would take us up the east coast of Australia from Sydney to Cairns. The first part of this road trip was the journey from Sydney to Brisbane in southern Queensland, also taking in some of the sights to the west and northwest of Sydney - a distance of around 950 kilometres.
Our first port of call was Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, about 2 hours west of Sydney. The Blue Mountains is a world heritage listed national park stretching over a million hectares and is one of Australia's natural wonders, containing a mixture of sandstone cliffs, caves, canyons, waterfalls and rainforest. The world's steepest railway is also located here at Echo Point. Unfortunately for us, however, the weather while
Colourful Port Macquarie
Painted rocks along the breakwall
we were there was terrible with thick fog and heavy rain leading to us having to cut our visit short. We did manage to see the iconic Three Sisters and enjoy the views out over the Jamison Valley while there, but unfortunately we missed the Jenolan Caves and the cable cars at Echo Point.
In order to escape the rain, we decided to head up north to Singleton in the Upper Hunter wine region and from there, we travelled on to Cessnock in the Lower Hunter Valley. The Hunter Valley is Australia's oldest and best known wine region, with over 110 wineries and cellar doors open to the public. Shiraz and Semillon are the region's strengths and some of Australia's top international brands are located here, as well as the smaller family-run wineries. The scenery surrounding the vineyards is stunning, making it a pleasure to drive through. While there, we visited Lindeman's, Rosemount Estate, Tempus Two, Brokenwood and McGuigan cellars where we managed to get ourselves a bargain case of 2005 shiraz for $72 (about €36), which works out at €3 a bottle! We also visited the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company and the Smelly Cheese Shop where we picked
up some nice local cheeses and cranberry chutney to go with our slightly more expensive McGuigan cellar door reserve shiraz!
Once we had finally managed to tear ourselves away from Hunter Valley, we headed east towards the coast and spent a couple of days in Port Stephens. Port Stephens is known as the "Blue Water Paradise" and is also the dolphin watching capital of Australia. Our first stop in the area was Lemon Tree Passage which is situated right on the waterfront in natural bushland. The following day, we headed out to Soldiers Point, Nelson Bay and Shoal Bay at the eastern end of Port Stephens. The 17th March was a glorious sunny day, so both the chef and chauffeur took the day off and spent Paddy's Day on the beach at Shoal Bay followed by dinner at one of the local restaurants.
After that, our route followed the Pacific Highway up the east coast of New South Wales to Port Macquarie. Port Macquarie was established in 1821 and is one of Australia's oldest penal settlements outside of Sydney. Our camp site was located on the waterfront alongside a promenade where visitors from all around the world had
hand-painted the rocks making up the breakwall. The heart of town was a short stroll down the promenade past the fishermen casting their lines while dolphins swam along the waters edge. The beach was also just across the road, so we spent an afternoon enjoying the sunshine and watching the local kids boogie boarding on the waves. We really enjoyed the atmosphere in Port Macquarie and, along with the Hunter Valley, it was definitely one of the highlights of our road trip up to Brisbane. Back on the Pacific highway again, we travelled further north towards Coffs Harbour and Emerald Beach, halfway between Sydney and Brisbane. Emerald Beach will stick in our minds for the surreal experience of having a family of kangaroos skip by when making coffee out the back of the campervan!
From there, it was on to Byron Bay - Australia's most easterly point - on the north coast of New South Wales. Byron Bay is a real surfer town with funky boutique shops and a lively backpacker scene. Our camp site was right off the main beach, so we went for a nice long walk the day we arrived. We were a good distance down
Lorna making our first coffee in the Jucy crib
the beach when we noticed the sky quickly turning very dark. Then the birds started to go mental. Next minute, people started running and sure enough the heavens opened. We ran too, but there's not much shelter to be found on a beach. So, in the space of about 10 minutes, we were completely drenched and walked back to the camp site down the abandoned train tracks looking like we'd just had a shower with our clothes on! The next day was a sunnier day, so we went for a walk along the promenade this time (plenty of opportunity for shelter!) towards the lighthouse and watched some of the local surfers out on the huge waves. We had some fabulous fish 'n' chips while in Byron - fresh basa and snapper in a light tempura-style herbed batter and homemade tartare sauce cost only $10 in the local chipper.
After moving on from Byron Bay, we stopped at a small village called Nimbin. Nimbin was the site of the Aquarius festival in 1973 and is still very much a hippie town with a hemp embassy & museum and weed freely available on the street despite the best efforts of the
The three sisters at Katoomba in the Blue Mountains
local police! It has its own Mardi Grass festival in May every year which lasts for 2 days and serves as a rally for cannabis law reform. Many of the shops promote alternative and eco-friendly lifestyles, organic food and natural herb remedies and have very colourful graffiti-style shopfronts. Even the local tax accountants office had trippy green frogs painted on the doors! Nimbin also promotes respect for the local indigenous people, the Bundjalung, and its museum provides an insight into the impact of white settlement from an Aboriginal perspective. The Nimbin street code follows Bundjalung law - wana bomalay (don't fight), wana wergahli (don't steal), wana gabanunu (don't be greedy) - and encourages love, tolerance and good karma. As you can imagine, it's a fairly chilled out place!
Leaving Nimbin, we crossed the state border into Queensland and headed up to the famous Gold Coast to spend a couple of nights at Surfers Paradise. The Gold Coast is very built up, reminding Dee a lot of Miami with its big skyscraper hotels along the beachfront. The waves here were the biggest we'd seen yet and were a lot of fun to swim in. Aside from being surfer's paradise, it's
where we bought a case of wine for $72 AUD!!
also kid's paradise with every kind of amusement park and water park nearby. There wasn't a whole lot to interest us, however, so we decided to move on and explore the sights in Brisbane.
Brisbane is the state capital of Queensland and has a subtropical climate. The city is overlooked by Mount Coot-tha which provides great views from its summit. Before European settlement, the indigenous people who lived in the Brisbane region would climb the mountain to collect "ku-ta" (wild honey) from the hives in the tree hollows. Later, in Brisbane's early days, residents would ascend the mountain to have picnics at the top, so the summit was cleared leaving just one large eucalypt and the mountain then became known as One Tree Hill. On the way up to Mount Coot-tha, there are many of the typical "Queenslander" houses to be seen. Queenlanders are wooden houses with corrugated iron or tin roofs that are built on stilts and painted in pastel colours. They are particularly suited to the subtropical climate. In the Central Business District, there is a man-made beach called Streets Beach, which even has its own lifeguard. It's quite an unusual sight to see people lying on
Streets Beach Brisbane
The man-made inland beach in the heart of Brisbane's CBD
a sandy beach overlooked by huge skyscrapers! The area around the beach is called South Bank and has many cafes and restaurants along by the riverside. It's also a good spot to jump aboard the City Cat (catamaran ferry service). We caught a City Cat to the Regatta hotel and then back down the Brisbane river to Riverside where the financial heart of the city lies.
A short stroll from South Bank is the Cultural Quarter where the Queensland Museum and Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) are located. The Brisbane Wheel, one of the city's newest attractions, is also located there. We took a spin on the wheel just before sunset and enjoyed some great views out over the river. Brisbane has a great infrastructure, with specially dedicated busways raised up off the city streets. They're like expressways just for buses - the first time we've seen such a thing and we were highly impressed! At each of the bus stations, there's a machine that will call a taxi for you - you input $2, you get a printed receipt and your taxi arrives 5 minutes later - sweet! There are also freeways for cars that are suspended over
the river, allowing the traffic to flow and not clog the city streets. We can't imagine what it must be like to live in such an efficient and well-planned city! Not to mention the sunshine - Brisbane gets on average 300 days of sunshine each year :-)
Hopefully, we'll get to enjoy some more of that sunshine as we make our way further up the east coast of Australia to Cairns in tropical Queensland.
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