I’m writing this to the accompaniment of a torrential downpour, which is making such a noise on the roof of the campervan that I can hardly hear myself type! Poor old Chris has ventured out in the rain to do the washing-up, so I can make supper in a minute – I’ve got a well-earned rum and coke waiting for him when he gets back, it’s been a long day driving in the rain. We’ve had a couple of days of rain now – really almost the first of the whole trip, so we’ve been lucky to avoid it till now, but it’s meant the last couple of days haven’t been as scenic as they could have been! We’ve been driving around areas we know must be beautiful, but we haven’t been able to see anything for the rain! We’re at a holiday park on the Nambucca River, near a town called Macksville, which is almost exactly halfway between Brisbane and Sydney – so we’re moving south at quite a speed now, on our way to the Blue Mountains, Canberra, Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road and then Adelaide. We’ve decided not to stop in Sydney, as we’ve been there before and done all the touristy things, and we’d rather spend the time on somewhere new!
I can’t believe it’s been only a few days since we got back from Fraser Island – we’ve been to a lot of places between then and now! It’s amazing, actually, we were looking at photos the other night – Chris had set the laptop screensaver to randomly slideshow photos from the folder called ‘Honeymoon’ – and we had a wonderful half hour looking at the photos and being amazed at how much we’ve done in the last couple of months! Bali, and even New Zealand, seem ages ago – it’s so cool to think that it’s all been part of the same trip!
Anyway… from Hervey Bay, we drove down the coast a little while to Rainbow Beach, and parked at the beach there to have lunch. There’s a barge to Fraser Island from Rainbow Beach, as well as the one from Hervey Bay, so there were a lot of 4WD vehicles around. We went for a walk on the beach after lunch – it was beautiful, and it was a sunny day, but quite windy, so we didn’t really fancy swimming or sunbathing. There were a few people swimming in the tiny patrolled space between the flags, and a few people walking along the huge expanse of beach either side, but it wasn’t crowded at all, so we had a lovely long walk and a paddle in the shallow waves.
After that, we drove across to Tin Can Bay, and found a site for the night at a caravan park. We sat down for a glass of wine before we made supper, and were watching a couple a few sites across from us, playing with their baby who must have been under 18 months – I think it’s so impressive to see people travelling with babies and being really relaxed about it, this little one was crawling around on the grass and having a lovely time! We had some supper and then got an early night, as we wanted to be up early for the dolphin feeding.
Tin Can Bay is famous for a group of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins who have been coming into a boat ramp in the bay for the last 20 years or so after one of them was nursed back to health after an accident, he returned to the jetty the year after his release and brought his family back with him to all get a free feed! The locals fed them for a while and news spread, and now the whole thing is quite a thriving little tourist business! There’s a group of volunteers who supervise the feeding, and a little kiosk set up that sells you a couple of fish for $5 a pop, so you can go down into the water and hand-feed the dolphins. We thought it sounded cool, if possibly a little bit commercial and exploitative of the dolphins – but actually, it wasn’t at all, it was really nicely done and was a very small, friendly operation by people who obviously really care about the dolphins and their welfare. And I suppose for the dolphins, it’s an easy meal without making them completely dependent on it – they limit the amount of fish, so the dolphins still do their own fishing as well. They don’t seem to mind all the attention, at all – the one that was there the morning we went kept swimming out in circles and doing little flips whenever it saw a camera aimed at it!
We got there at about 7.30 and there was a volunteer standing in knee-deep water at the beach, and a couple of people milling around on the beach, and a few more up on the boat ramp taking photos. We wandered over and the lady at the kiosk told us they don’t give out the fish till 8, but we could dip our hands in the sterilising solution they’ve got, and go down into the water to say hi to the dolphin anyway – we went down and kicked off our shoes and went into the water, and he came right over to us, it was lovely! You’re not allowed to touch them, but if they touch you, that’s ok – I was hoping he would swim in for a little pat, but he had obviously worked out I didn’t have any fish yet, so he didn’t actually touch me! By 8, there were about fifty people there, and we all gathered for a little talk from one of the volunteers about the history of the feedings and a bit of information about the dolphins in the pod, and then we could all pay our $5 and get our fish – Chris had said earlier that he didn’t need to feed the dolphins, he’d just take photos of me, but when it came down to it, it turns out he’s a big excitable kid too, so he got his own bowl of fish and joined in! We went down to the water one at a time and held the fish out and the dolphin snapped it up – it was great fun, I was really glad we’d made the effort to go to Tin Can Bay for it!
From there, we drove towards Noosa, with a stop at a lookout point at the top of Mount Tinbeerwah – we went for a bit of a walk up to the summit from the car park, and were really glad we did, as the views were amazing – it’s really cool to look around you, having been looking at a map in the car, and see all the lakes, rivers, bays and towns that were on the map laid out in all the right places! There were a group of climbers preparing to go abseiling, but they took ages getting their stuff together so we didn’t get a chance to watch them – we eventually wandered back to the car and carried on down the road to Noosa.
Noosa is absolutely lovely – Samar and Judy had suggested it to us as somewhere we should stop on our trip, and it was a really good recommendation. I kept thinking of my mum, actually, I think it would be exactly her kind of place – very relaxed, a lovely beach, with everything close together on the main street, lots of nice little restaurants and bars and shops. We drove through town having a look at everything, and stopped in the beach car park so we could go down for a walk on the beach, which was full of surfers and sunbathers – it wasn’t showing many signs of being winter! We then drove up to the little National Park, which is right at the end of the beach, almost in town – wonderful to have a place like that so close to town. We got out of the car in our swimming cossies, shorts and flip-flops, thinking we’d have a quick walk along the path to the beach, but then we looked at the map of walks and realised it was going to be a good 3-hour walk to follow the paths we wanted to! So we went back to the van and got our hiking boots, and a bottle of water and suncream, and set off for a proper walk.
It was an absolutely beautiful walk – we walked out along the coastal path, which went right round the headland, stopping at a few little beaches, and sometimes climbing up the cliffs, with great views back to the main beach in Noosa. It ended at the Devil’s Gates, right at the tip of the headland, and then another path went back through the interior of the park, through gum forest where there are apparently lots of koalas in the trees – we looked and looked, but didn’t see a single one! Before we headed back, we made a quick detour for a swim at Alexandria Bay – a long, empty strip of white sand and gentle waves, absolutely beautiful. We had read in the Rough Guide that it was ‘clothes-optional’, which seemed a bit unlikely when we got there, as there were various sets of surfers in the water, or walkers wandering down the beach – but then we looked around and saw that there were also one or two naked bottoms wandering around! I didn’t fancy it – too many walkers and surfers around fully clothed for me, I don’t mind the thought of a nudist beach in principle, but I would want everyone else to be in the same position before I stripped off! But Chris went for a bit of a skinny-dip and assured me he didn’t feel at all self-conscious, and that it was quite nice to feel the sun on his bare bum while we sunbathed after our swim!
We enjoyed the walk back through the forest, and got back to the car a bit tired and sandy and ready for a drink! So we drove down and parked in town, and went for a drink at a bar with tables on the street where we could sit and people-watch. We had struggled to find a caravan park – the listings in our book for Noosa turned out to be 45 minutes away on the Noosa North Shore, on the other side of the bay, and we discovered there was only one park in Noosa itself, so we called and booked in there for the night. The woman I spoke to was a bit abrupt on the phone and said we had to be in before 6, and insisted on a credit card to hold the booking, so we were in a bad mood with the place before we got there! We went into the office and were served by the same grumpy lady, who was being just as rude to the other customers ahead of us, and to her dad, who was also behind the counter! Still, it was a nice enough little place, right on the riverbank. We had decided the next time we were in a biggish town, we were having takeaway pizza as a treat, so we found the nearest Domino’s and drove over to pick up our pizza and garlic bread – yummy!
The next morning, I woke up feeling rubbish – I had a cold and was sneezy and headachy, and I had a grump at Chris, and then apologised, and as we talked about it I realised I was also feeling a bit cabin-feverish about being in the van, and in caravan parks, with shared showers and shared loos and people around all the time and feeling overheard and overlooked all the time, with our windows open and people in their vans on sites all around us. So Chris came to the rescue (as usual) and suggested that we check into a hotel for the night, and enjoy the luxury of a proper bed and our own bathroom and total privacy – it sounded wonderful! We thought it would be fun to stay in a city hotel in Brisbane, so we started driving down there, which was about an hour away. When we got to the outskirts of Brisbane, we switched on the laptop and started looking for hotel rooms on lastminute.com – and were totally surprised to find that you can’t get a hotel room in Brisbane for under $200! I was feeling really crap by then and just wanted to curl up in bed and go to sleep, and it seemed a huge waste of money to spend on a city centre hotel we weren’t even going to appreciate, so we turned around and drove out into the Sunshine Cost hinterland, expecting to drive past a motel with a vacancy sign – we’d seen lots along the way on previous drives advertising $60 rooms, so we were expecting to find one of those. As it turned out – no, in the Sunshine Coast even motel rooms are $120, which seemed ridiculous when they’re really basic little rooms! We stopped at one or two to ask for prices, and then decided enough was enough, and Chris had the thought that a holiday park with cabins would be cheaper, so we went to the nearest holiday park and checked into an ensuite cabin, which was $88.20, and actually lovely, with lots of space and no neighbours, and a bed and a sofa and a TV and a bathroom, and absolutely worth every penny to be able to crawl into bed and sleep for a few hours! So… a bit of a pointless day, really… but it ended well, I got to have a nap in a proper bed, with our own loo and shower, with no one parked next to us looking into our windows, and then Chris went out and got pizza again, so we had Domino’s two nights in a row – this is the life!
I was feeling much better by the next morning, so we went off and spent the day they way we’d planned for the day before, driving around the various scenic drives in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. It’s a beautiful area – we drove on a loop from Eumundi, through Kenilworth, Maleny, Montville and Mapleton, and then back down the highway to the Glass House Mountains scenic drive. The little towns along the drive were lovely – it’s real tourist country, and they were all very charming and villagey, with tea-rooms and antiques shops and pretty places to have picnics. We stopped a few times for coffee or little walks, but it was raining quite a lot of the day, so we didn’t do anything too strenuously outdoorsy! We still had a lovely view of the Glass House Mountains, which are very impressive – they’re big oddly-shaped lumps of mountains, that stick up from a totally flat landscape. We drove past Australia Zoo, which was our plan for the next day, so we stopped in and bought tickets so we could avoid queueing in the morning. We stopped at a little fruit market and bought some fruit, and then we decided to stop for the night in a rest area just up the road from the zoo – there were loos and picnic benches and little bays in between the trees for campervans, and quite a few other people already parked up. They have these rest areas all along the roads, and they all have signs up saying ‘maximum stay 20 hours’, so they are designed for overnight stops – it’s a great idea, definitely beats stopping on the side of the road, and they’re free! So we’ve been stopping at a rest stop every other night, and then going to a caravan park the next night for power to recharge the battery, sinks to do the washing-up, and hot showers.
We stopped while it was still light, and made supper, then Skyped Holls for an hour or so – lovely to chat to her, and very exciting to hear that the house she’s been doing up is finished and on the market – she’s done an amazing job!
In the morning we were up early and in the car park at Australia Zoo half an hour before it opened, and we sat and had our breakfast in the car park before we went in. We were among the first few people through the gates, and as we walked in, there was a keeper standing there holding a koala – I was the first person of the whole day to pat a koala and have my photo taken with it! I couldn’t actually believe how much like soft toys they are – they really are hilariously like the stereotypical image, cuddly and sleepy, and generally wrapped up in a ball around the branch of a tree. They’re all over Australia Zoo – around every corner there’s another few branches with a few sleeping koalas in them. I was impossible to get round the zoo, I kept wanting to stop and watch the koalas again! Definitely my favourite Australian wildlife. We were in the right place at the right time at one of the enclosures as a keeper came along to do the koalas’ weekly weigh-in, thus waking them all up and making them briefly much more exciting than the sleeping ones! We even saw one of them gallop across the floor before climbing up his branch again. I got better and better throughout the day at spotting koalas in trees, but it is bloody difficult as they just wedge themselves in and don’t move, so I think we’re not very likely to spot one in the wild! I insisted on the cuddling-a-koala photo, so we joined the queue at the wildlife photography studio during the koala session – just as we got to the front of the queue and I got handed the koala, the photographer’s camera started playing up, so not only did I get to hold it for much longer than anyone else, we also got called back for a second go because our first lot of photos didn’t come out! So all in all, lots of koala fun times.
Australia Zoo was brilliant – we were a bit dubious when we arrived, in the rain, and wandered around a few crocodile enclosures with lots of not-very-exciting crocs dozing in corners, but actually, the charm of the place is in all the hands-on encounters – there are keepers wandering around the park all the time holding animals and letting people come up and touch them or ask questions about them and have photos taken – over the course of the day we met a baby alligator, plenty of koalas, two dingoes being led around on leads, and a huge python. We hand-fed elephants – they have a feeding twice a day where they have a big bucket of fruit and you can queue up to hold out a piece of fruit for the elephant to take from your hand with its trunk! We, of course, had to stay after just about everyone else had done their one piece of fruit and left, running round to the back of the queue over and over again – I fed those elephants at least 20 bits of banana! One of them tried to do an ‘elephant handshake’, wrapping its trunk around your hand as it took the fruit. So much fun! We also fed kangaroos – you can buy a little bag of food for $2, and they’re hilarious, the way they slowly lope over to you and then gradually get more and more involved, until they’re hanging onto your hand while they eat! We saw wombats, Tasmanian devils, echidnas, cassowaries, lizards, snakes – we definitely felt as though we’d seen all the interesting animals Australia has to offer! We also went to the feeding and talk about the giant tortoise, which was brilliant, and the birds of prey show, and the feeding of the otters (live fish chucked into their pond, and we all watched them swimming around catching them!) and the big midday ‘Wildlife Warriors’ show which was brilliant, if rather spoilt at points by far too much dialogue from the somewhat precocious Irwin kids – I suppose Steve Irwin, and the rest of his family by extension, is the reason the zoo is famous, and it seemed to be going down very well with all the Aussie schoolkids, but we could definitely have done without the forced play-acting celebrity rubbish in between all the cool animals and birds!
We left the zoo just before it closed at 5, and thought we’d aim to drive a little bit further south before stopping for the night. I chose a caravan park at random from the book and we drove there, and if it had been a bit earlier when we got there, I think we might have opted to drive on to the next one! As it was, it was cheap, at least, and it was nearly dark, so we stayed there – it was a real permanent-residents trailer park, though, complete with various bits of abandoned machinery and bizarre officious signs in the toilets with a long list of ‘Objectionable Filth’ which included spitting, blowing your nose, leaving empty shampoo bottles lying around, washing babies in the sink… the list went on! Strangely, the toilet blocks were designed like Roman baths or something, with tall pillars and marble tiles everywhere – ridiculously posh for the setting – but then most of the cubicles and showers were permanently locked, and half the sinks had ‘Not to be used’ signs in them – very strange place! Anyway, we quickly showered and did our washing-up, and left early in the morning!
The next day we drove into Brisbane – we’d decided to go to STA Travel there, to book a tour to Uluru. We wanted to book ahead, as we’re only in Alice Springs for a couple of days, and we won’t have a vehicle (or, therefore, accommodation!) so we wanted to arrange something in advance, and the travel agent at STA in the UK had shown us details of a trip while we were booking our flights, that sounded like it would be brilliant. Anyway, we managed to find somewhere to park in Brisbane (not easy when all the roads are one way, but not in the direction you want to go, and the car parks are multi-stories with height restrictions that don’t cater for our hi-top van!) and went for a wander through the pedestrianised centre, till we found STA. It looks like a lovely city – the centre was really buzzing, we were there at lunchtime and there were lots of people obviously out of their offices for lunch, and a very nice feel to the city centre.
Once we got to STA and started chatting to the travel agent, we realised that our dates in Alice Springs weren’t going to work out for the tour we wanted – we were only really there for two full days, and we wanted to do a three-day tour. He phoned Qantas and put me on to them, so I could ask about changing our flight into Alice by a day, to give us an extra day there – we’ve had to pay an $80 service charge to change, which is a bit annoying, but at least now we can do the tour we want! We should have looked at it when we originally chose the dates for all the flights, but this bit of the trip seemed so far towards the end, we weren’t really thinking about what we’d want to do day-by-day! So, we’re now flying out of Adelaide a day earlier, and we have three full days in Alice Springs, which gives us time to do the Uluru Explorer tour – we get picked up at 5.45 a.m. on the first day (intense!) and drive out to Kings Canyon and Uluru for a three-day trip which includes lots of hiking, sunset and sunrise at Uluru, sleeping one night in a swag around the campfire under the stars, and the other night in a permanent campsite, riding a camel, and visiting the Cultural Centre at Uluru, which is apparently fantastic. It sounds like a great trip, we’re really looking forward to it! We also booked a room through STA at a backpackers hostel in Alice for the first and last nights, and they’re going to pick us up from the airport and store our luggage while we’re on the trip, so that’s the whole Alice Springs part of the trip organised – I think that’s the furthest in advance we’ve organised anything on this trip!
In a slightly annoying turn of events, I did some Googling that evening for information about the backpackers, and found various tours listed on their website which included a fairly similar-sounding 3-day trip to Kings Canyon and Uluru, for almost half the price of the one we’ve booked. Grr. I’m annoyed with myself for not doing the research first, and annoyed with STA because I always trust them to have pretty good prices for things, but Chris has pointed out that this tour might be LOADS better than the cheaper one and I should let it go and not let it spoil the trip – which I am duly doing, but I’ll learn my lesson and do my Googling before I go to STA next time! Anyway, that irritation aside, the tour we’ve booked sounds amazing and I’m sure we’re going to have a brilliant time!
From Brisbane we started wending our way south, via the Gold Coast – we drove through Surfers Paradise and various other towns along the Gold Coast, but as it was a bit grey and raining, they didn’t have the appeal that they might have had in the sunshine! We could see there were some beautiful beaches, some of which had little patches of surfers out in the waves. The towns were all much of a muchness, full of holiday apartments and motels and bars and restaurants and gift shops – we’ve certainly been to lots of more charming places in Australia, and I think I would prefer the Sunshine Coast to the Gold Coast for a holiday anytime. We did stop at a Baskin Robbins and I had a wonderful flashback to childhood by ordering a Rainbow Sherbet icecream, which I loved! We eventually ended up in Tweed Heads, passing the sign that said ‘Welcome to New South Wales’ – so we’ve finished with Queensland! Amazing that all the places we’ve been since we’ve been in Australia have been in the one state – Queensland really does have a lot of wonderful places to visit. We went into a visitor information centre to pick up some brochures, maps and caravan park listings for NSW, so I’ve now got quite a pile of brochures to read! Then we started to head out of town, looking for a rest stop somewhere along the road to park up for the night. We eventually settled on a nice little place called Burringbar – the rest stop was across the road from the line of shops and cafes that made up the town, and we were the only vehicle parked there, with nice loos and even a gas BBQ at our disposal – as it was still raining, we didn’t bother with the BBQ and instead shut ourselves up in the van and made a comfort-food dinner of pasta!
This morning we woke up when the first cars started showing up at the building site across the way from where we were parked, and got up and had breakfast – Chris went across the road to a cafe to get a coffee, and five minutes later the cafe owner came over the road to chat and bring us some tourist brochures, very friendly! Chris had come back over giggling at a sign up in the shop, trying to catch a distinctive thief – they’d found three chewy sweets which had a bite taken out of the middle of them, and were asking parents to watch their children to see who was doing it. Brilliant.
We went off and spent the morning driving along various routes through the Tweed region, through the Mount Warning National Park and various other beautiful places, which I’m sure would have been absolutely stunning if we could see anything at all! Alas, mist and rain all morning – we enjoyed the drive, and were rewarded with spotting a pair of wallabies by the side of the road, which was fun, but we didn’t see much in the way of scenery! We drove through Nimbin, hippie enclave and home of the Aquarius festival, and then to Byron Bay, where we drove out to the lighthouse, via a loo stop where Chris found and rescued a frog in the toilet (with excellent timing, just before I went into the toilet to use it!) We drove up to the lighthouse, and looked down to the various surf beaches with lots of little black dots of surfers rolling in the waves. We drove through town, and went into various charity shops trying to track down a couple of sleeping bags – the nights are starting to get colder, and we need to either own or hire sleeping bags for the Uluru trip, so we thought we’d pick up a couple cheap either at a charity shop or a supermarket. We didn’t find any today, but I did spent a very fruitful half hour browsing the racks at a Salvation Army shop, and I now have a new dress and pretty little sandals, plus various other bits and pieces to improve my wardrobe to Raffles standard for three days!
Oh, yes, that’s the other thing we’ve sorted out this week – I’ve emailed Raffles to make dinner reservations for the two nights we’re staying there, our last two nights in Singapore (and therefore the last two nights of our whole honeymoon!) They emailed back very promptly with a lovely email, and we’re all booked in for dinner at Raffles Grill the first night, the famous curry buffet dinner at the Tiffin Room the second night, and High Tea on our last day, before we leave to catch our flight. I’ve been spending quite a bit of time lately Googling the restaurants and bars at Raffles, in a state of over-excitement – we are SO looking forward to it, it’s going to be the most amazing way to finish the trip, and the most iconic hotel experience we will probably ever have. It’s our wedding present from my Mum and Dad, who stayed there on their way back to the UK when they left Fiji two years ago, and have both said it’s the most wonderful place they’ve ever stayed. We can’t believe how lucky we are to be finishing our honeymoon there! I wanted to make sure I had appropriate clothes – there’s a dress code for the restaurants, and I suspect most of my backpacking clothes don’t fit into the category of ‘Casual Elegant’! Boys are lucky – Chris has long trousers and shirts with him, so he’ll be fine anyway. I did appreciate the ridiculousness of wandering around a charity shop choosing clothes to wear at the best hotel in the world, but honestly, they’re all nice things that I found and no one will ever know where they’re from!
From Byron, we carried on driving south in the rain, past various ‘Big Things’ – Australia has a strange fascination with giant fibreglass structures in the shape of whatever you can imagine – so far we’ve passed a Big Prawn, a Big Pineapple, a Big Strawberry, a Big Mango, a Big Golfball, a Big Barrel – some of them are to advertise things, some are attached to gift shops, some of them you can even climb up inside! Anyway, we’re now always on the lookout for the next Big Weird Object.
I looked at the caravan park listings and chose somewhere that was about the right distance away to get here just before dark, and so we’ve ended up in Macksville – the rain has stopped while I’ve been writing this, we’ve had a lovely supper and now we’ll just get this uploaded, and then go to bed, and hope our duvet is warm enough to get us through till we track down some new sleeping bags! Actually, we’ve not been cold at all yet, and this last couple of days of rain is the first we’ve had – hopefully it’ll ease off soon, and we can tell you all about the amazing views of the Blue Mountains in our next blog!