After flying up to Auckland from Queenstown we had a 12 hour lay over at the airport before flying to Cairns. We could technically have booked into a hostel near the airport for the night but in the interest of saving money we (I) decided that we’d spend the night at the airport. We had to check in at 4am anyway and we hadn’t slept at an airport for a while! We must have looked a right sight huddled up in our sleeping bag liners on the plane observation deck of the airport!
After about an hour’s sleep (it was pretty noisy) we decided to get up to watch England v New Zealand in the rugby and check in.
We arrived in Cairns at 9.30am, it was 28 degrees with 100% humidity! We’d decided to book a 2 bedroom apartment as Matt and Rel, 2 friends from home were coming out to travel with us for a month and we needed a base to plan our trip. We arrived at the apartment but unfortunately it wasn’t ready so we had to head off into town in the blistering heat. As Cairns is in the tropical north it was extremely humid, we hadn’t experienced that in a while.
The following day we headed to the lagoon next to the harbour and got ridiculously excited when we saw huge Pelicans! We just chilled out there for a while then headed back to the apartment to meet Matt and Rel, we were all so excited for our road trip to begin. We spent a few hours that evening in the Cock and Bull pub across the road travel planning and chatting about where to go first.
The following day we took Matt and Rel to the lagoon for a few hours and then headed out for a drink or two seeing as it was the last night before we headed off on our road-trip. We managed to find a nice backpacker bar that sold us a steak and a schooner of cider or beer for $12, (£7) bargain! A few more cheap beers later and we thought we’d better head home to get a good nights sleep before the real adventure began. Unfortunately the weather decided that it had had enough of being sunny and absolutely threw it down. None of this light drizzle that soaks you through, this was a torrential downpour. We arrived back at the apartment drenched, but at least it wasn’t cold. We’d had to share our journey home with the biggest bats I’ve ever seen swooping down at us as we crossed a field. Welcome to Australia!!
In the interest of saving money we decided to walk the half an hour journey to pick up Fritzy (yes we named our campervan!) Thankfully the rain had disappeared for a while but the blistering heat was back. After collection we headed to the supermarket and cheap shop to pick up a load of food and camping chairs. Then we were off, the adventure had begun and we were all ridiculously excited.
For our first night we’d decided to head to Port Douglas which was only an hour north of Cairns. This was the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and we all all keen to head off on a snorkelling trip but also head further north to Cape Tribulation. Port Douglas was a lovely little town and the drive up there was along a beautiful coast road and through lush rainforest. We found a nice little campsite to stay in with a swimming pool and the owner even gave us free mangoes. After our campervan trips in New Zealand it was so nice to be back on the road again, albeit in a very different climate. We were all slightly concerned about going to bed that evening as it was so so hot. The bottom bunk, which Rel and Matt were staying on was roomy and pretty comfortable. The top bunk however was a little on the squashed side. There wasn’t a lot of room between the roof and the bed so it felt a little bit like we were lying in a coffin. That coupled with the humid conditions didn’t lead to the best night’s sleep!! At least we could open the windows as they had fly screens on them, but it didn’t help much…Plus the noises in an evening in Australia were deafening. One bird, which we christened road runner, made the most horrific noise during the night which sounded like a child screaming!
After awaking in our oven we all staggered to the swimming pool to cool off and decided that we would indeed head up to Cape Tribulation for the night. Rain was forecast so we didn’t want to go to the Great Barrier Reef until the sun came back. We stopped off en-route at a crocodile river cruise centre to see if we could go searching for crocs. Unfortunately for us it was high tide so finding the crocodiles proved difficult. Our guide was great though (and reminded us all of Crocodile Dundee) He educated us all about the difference between Aligators and Crocodiles plus loads of information about the wildlife we could see. When he spotted the first baby crocodile he was trying to point it out to us and both myself and Rel squawked is that it, and pointed in the direction of a stick. He replied with, ” no that’s a log-o-dile…” That really amused me! We did see a couple of big crocs but they were so low in the water that they were hard to see. It was a nice trip through the mangroves though, even if it was raining!
The weather didn’t improve so after a quick stop off at a local pub for a beer and a game of pool we just headed straight to a campsite we’d been told was right on the beach. It was absolutely stunning and right in the middle of the rainforest next to the ocean. After an evening of more rain but steak on the barbecue we retired to our oven which wasn’t actually much cooler even though it was chucking it down! We had bought a fan that plugs into the cigarette lighter on the way to Cape Trib (Aussies love to shorten everything!) but unfortunately our leisure battery didn’t run the cigarette lighter so it useless!!
I was awoken the next morning at 6.30am to Tom shouting my name from outside the van and following it up with…”we’re locked out!!” For some reason when all the doors shut on the van it locks itself after 30 seconds (why!!???) They’d all gone to the toilet then realised that no-one had a key. Luckily I saved the day by still being fast asleep, well I was…
Once we were all up and had eaten breakfast we headed down to Myall beach next to our campsite as the sun was shining. It was absolutely beautiful. White sands, with rainforest all around, it didn’t feel like Australia but maybe Indonesia or Sri Lanka.
After a quick game of Aerobie (frisbee) on the beach we headed off back towards Port Douglas. The forecast for the following day was good so we booked our snorkelling trip and kept our fingers crossed. So far the weather hadn’t quite been what we’d expected. We thought it would be hot and sunny every day, but it was rainy season in the north so I guess we couldn’t really complain.
Before heading back we went for a walk through the rainforest to a lookout point. I was keeping my eyes peeled for snakes (I hate them) but thankfully we didn’t see any. We did however see quite a few large spiders!
We then headed back to Port Douglas via an ice-cream factory and a fruit stall where we managed to find limes for 30cents each (rather than the £1.25 they are in the supermarket…daylight robbery!) That evening we had a BBQ of mango lime and chilli chicken kebabs (with more free mangoes) and had an early night in preparation for our trip.
Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef was absolutely fantastic. After a 90 minute boat ride to the outer reef we snorkelled three different sites and saw some amazing fish and coral. Due to it being stinger season (jellyfish) we had to wear special suits which were lovely skin tight lycra outfits!! We looked ridiculous!!
Pretty much the first thing we saw after jumping in at the first site was a white tipped reef shark which was incredible to see. We didn’t see any nemo’s or turtles though which was a shame but we did follow a huge Wrasse fish around for a while. It was absolutely ginormous. The colour of the coral was out of this world and it really was like sticking your head into an aquarium. We’ve done a lot of snorkelling on our trip so far but this was definitely up there with the best.
The boat we went on was really good and we had more food than we could ever eat. All in all it was a brilliant day and we returned back to Port Douglas really happy. That evening we went out to watch the football. It was only the second chance we’d had to watch 90 minutes of Premier League football so watching the Merseyside Derby was a massive treat (It finished 3-3) It was a bit of a palaver to watch it as the pub we started watching it in closed just after half time so we had to stand outside a closed door in another pub and watch it through the window! The lengths we go to….
After Port Douglas we headed to Townsville which is 300 miles south. The driving part of the journey wasn’t actually too bad. We stopped off at Mission Beach to make our sandwiches which was beautiful. We did however stumble across probably the worst toilets and rest stops in Oz! The first toilet we stopped at had a massive fly and ant infestation so all the windows were black with insects, horrid. Next we had to contend with the biggest stag beetle I’ve ever seen blocking our path. But the worst was definitely the last rest stop we went to. For some reason there were tons of dried out frogs attached to a barbed wire fence, all in a line….It was really weird! We didn’t hang around to find out who had done this, or why, we just scarpered before the four of us ended up attached to the barbed wire fence in a line!!
In the end we stayed in Townsville for 3 nights. We felt we needed a day just to chill out after the long drive plus it was Matt’s birthday 2 days after we arrived so we decided we’d go to Magnetic island to celebrate that.
After finding a cheap deal on a ferry ticket and car rental (well if you can call it a car, it looked like a large golf buggy) we headed off early in the sunshine. After picking up our Barbie car (we thought we’d get a pink one to annoy the birthday boy) we started our tour of the island.
The beaches were absolutely stunning. We went snorkelling at one of the bays and spotted a black tipped reef shark….it was swimming straight towards us until it got scared and swam away quickly. In the afternoon we decided to walk to one of the more secluded bays called Arthur’s bay. The walk there was meant to be 2 kilometres, which isn’t far but it was very hilly and very hot! Unfortunately it also turned into about a 3 kilometre walk as we got a bit lost…the signs weren’t clear! The slight detour however meant that we stumbled across a lookout point, and to be honest the view alone was worth the extra effort.
After a spot of sunbathing on the beach we headed back to Barbie and went to feed the rock wallabies. We’d been told that if we bought food for the wild wallabies they’d come and eat out of our hands, and they did. They were so unbelievably cute.
We stopped for a few drinks at Horseshoe Bay ( just soft drinks for me as I offered to drive the pink buggy) and decided that rather than staying on the island for food we’d head back to Townsville and go out there. True to form we all left it until the last minute to leave Horseshoe then had to rush back in the dark to get the ferry at 7.30 as the one after that wasn’t until 9.30pm! We hadn’t really done any driving at night in Australia as dusk and dawn are the times when you are more likely to come across Kangaroos. I didn’t rate our chances if we hit a kangaroo in the Barbie mob-eel! Thankfully we arrived back at the port unscathed and with 5 minutes to spare. We did see numerous dead kangaroo on the road on the way back but thankfully nothing fury hopped out in front of me, it was all a bit scary though!!
After a free beer on the ferry back we managed to find a place with an eat as much as you can chilli-con-carne for $10 (£6) That coupled with a few beers really was the perfect end to a great day.
The next place on our route was Airlie beach, a good base for exploring the Whitsunday islands. We arrived in horrible weather ( I thought the sun always shone in Australia?) and for the first time on the trip we were actually a bit cold! The temperature seemed to have dropped, especially in the evening. (which was great news for Matt and Rel as it was their turn to sleep on the top bunk!) We wanted to stay in the town centre in Airlie so decided to stay in the campground at the Nomads hostel. It was a bit run down but to be honest it didn’t really matter. The forecast for the following day looked really good so after reading every brochure we could find about the Whitsunday islands we finally settled on a huge purple catamaran…which just so happened to have free drinks included in the price!
I honestly don’t think the trip could have been any better. Even though we set off and it was cloudy that soon cleared and we had the most perfect weather. The boat was brilliant and much better than some of the others we saw. We just lay on the deck, dangled our legs over the edge and just generally didn’t stop smiling all day. We went snorkelling in the crystal clear waters, visited the famous Whitehaven beach and sailed around in idyllic surroundings. The beach was amazing, the whitest sand I’ve ever seen but weirdly it wasn’t hot, in fact it was quite cool. This was something to do with the silica in the sand and it squeaked under your feet. It almost felt like walking on snow!
Once back on the boat the bar opened and we enjoyed a sail around the beautiful Whitsunday’s with a BBQ feast and a beer, heaven. We all agreed that it was the perfect day and even though we’d done some amazing things on the trip so far, this was the best day of the trip!
Back on dry land and in the best mood ever we decided to head to a backpackers bar and indulge in some cheap jugs of cider. We also thought it would be a good idea to enter a pool tournament after an afternoon of drinking…..we didn’t do very well!!
The following day we just chilled out in Airlie beach by the lagoon, the place was quite touristy but had a nice feel about it. Also, we knew we had a long journey the following day so needed to do nothing for a day in preparation.
To be honest 99% of the 600 mile journey was uneventful. We set off ridiculously early as once again we didn’t want to be driving in the dark. Everything was going well until suddenly we noticed that the sky had gone a strange shade of purple and we knew what that meant…a storm was coming. Tom was driving along and suddenly we saw the sky flash followed instantly by a huge clap of thunder. Before we could think anything of it a massive lightning bolt struck a tree about 10 metres from us. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. The fork of lightning went straight down the tree snapping off branches!!! Incredible.
Our destination for the night was Bundaberg, home of the Bundaberg Rum Factory, a place Matt and Tom were keen to visit that the following day. Whilst they went there myself and Rel went to visit a car boot sale and bought Christmas mugs for 20cents each, bargain! Once we’d collected the boys and eaten some pasta in the rum factory car park we headed off to Tin Can Bay where you can feed wild dolphins. What we didn’t realise was that the feeding was only in the morning so we had to stay overnight if we wanted to do that. There wasn’t much there apart from an odd bar with a betting shop attached (they have a lot of these in Oz) and everywhere else was closed! Nevertheless we decided to stay the night before heading to Noosa in the morning.
The story of the dolphins coming to Tin Can Bay is quite incredible. In the 1950’s they used to help the fisherman herd (?) the fish into the nets as they knew that in return the fisherman would let them have any leftover fish, quite incredible really. Since then they have been coming into the harbour for food pretty much every day, so the local cafe has set up a system where people can get into the water and actually feed the dolphins.
There are a pod of 9 that are often seen but we only had 2 come along for food, Mystique and Patch….pretty cool though.
After a quick bowl of weetbix in the car park (it’s like weetabix but much nicer) we headed to Noosa, a place recommended to us by pretty much everyone we’d spoken to about Oz. We didn’t really know much about the place so just planned on staying for one night and then moving on.
On arrival we headed up to the National Park where we’d read there was a good chance of spotting a Koala in the wild. The coastal path we walked along had breathtaking views but we were all getting neck strain from scouring the trees for fluffy bears.
We noticed a load of people in front of us looking up and sure enough, right at the top of the tree was a little ball of fluff (we would have never spotted it ourselves) We stood there for ages taking photos and getting excited each time it moved, even though we could barely see it!! Most other people just stopped for about 2 minutes oohed and aared then moved on….we were there for about half an hour!
Once back at the car park we noticed a sign outside the tourist information saying that there was a Koala directly above our heads…..and it was much lower so we could actually see its face, amazing.
We drove to the YHA after this to stay in their car park for the evening and headed to the beach. We all instantly fell in love with Noosa. The beach was stunning, the little town was pretty with loads of christmas decorations and there was a real laid back feel out the place. We decided that there was no way one night was enough so we decided to stay for an extra night.
One thing I really wanted to do whilst in Oz was have a surf lesson so the following day myself and Matt went for a two hour lesson. The flyer said that you were guaranteed to stand up after one lesson…I was dubious.
It turns out the flyer didn’t lie! It was great fun, even though I did get a little bit frustrated when I couldn’t stand up every time. We both loved it, so much so that when we found out the hostel rented out surfboards for free we had to stay for another night! Noosa was fast becoming our favourite place on the east coast.
After a meal of nuclear chilli (made by Rel) we headed out into town for a few drinks. We’d managed to blag 4 free drinks vouchers for a hostel bar so we headed there, we love free stuff!!
The following day it was surf day again so we headed off to the beach with our boards and attempted to put our newly acquired skills into practice. The boards were smaller than the ones we’d had the previous day so took a bit of getting used to. Matt was better than me, which of course irritated me, but I did still manage to stand up so I was happy enough. Even Tom had a go after we showed him what we’d been taught. That evening we did our draw for Secret Santa. At some point later on in the trip we were going to have our very own Christmas Day so of course we needed presents. As I didn’t trust anyone not to cheat and discuss who they had we wrote out the rules and stuck them up on the side of the van…there would be no cheating on my watch!! All in all, another excellent day in Noosa.
Sadly the next day it was time to say bye. Even though we’d have loved to stay longer we were already behind schedule. From Noosa we headed to Brisbane for the day. We’d got in touch with our friend Trudy whom we’d met on our Africa trip in 2008. She kindly came to pick us up from our campsite and took us to a great pub called The Breakfast Creek Hotel and bought us all a beer, cheers Trudy! The Brekky Creek is famous for being one of the few pubs in Australia to still serve beer ‘off the wood’ or out of wooden casks rather than the more standard stainless steel kegs…so of course we had to sample it!
Unfortunately she had to go back to work so she dropped us in town with a few pointers on what to do. There was a free ferry up the river so we hopped on that and went to kangaroo point which had nice views over the city. We then wandered up the South Bank which really reminded me of South Bank in London but with loads of outdoor swimming areas and BBQs. Brisbane wasn’t our favourite place ever but it was pleasant enough for a wander round. That evening whilst having a few drinks we found out that our good friends Clare and Darren had finally had their baby so we toasted baby Lowrie and went to bed happy!!
Our first two weeks in Oz had been amazing. We’d done so much in such a short time. Hiring a campervan to explore the east coast was definitely the way to do it and we were all unbelievably excited about what the next 2 weeks had in store….