Squat toilets, suspect meat and spicy curries now feel like a distant memory to Fran and I, but Asia is somewhere that we will treasure forever! We finally touched down and walked out into a society and culture we recognised. People spoke the same language as us, cashiers asked how our days were going and public transport was a breeze. Hallelujah! No more pushing, no more spitting and no more staring! To say we were excited for Australia would be an understatement!
We arrived in Cairns on the 2nd June and after 3 flights in 2 days we were happy to be there!
Our plan for the first month of Australia was to drive the East coast in a camper van; Cairns to Sydney in 25 days. This is an absolute dream come true for me and couldn’t come at a better time; Fran and I were both itching to get back behind the wheel.
First things first though was the big food shop that we had been planning for the past two weeks. Living in a culture so backward from our own you start to miss the simple things in life, so stepping foot inside a western supermarket was first on the agenda. We needed supplies and we needed them fast!
With the cupboards full and Fran and I content it was time to start the most epic road trip of our lives.
We jumped into Vinchenzo our self named camped up camper van and headed off with absolutely no idea where we were going. We quickly learned that was not a good idea, made a plan and started in the direction of Port Douglas.
Thanks to our own bad planning we’ve arrived in Australia just in time for their winter so the sun sets between 5:30 and 6pm and the cold creeps in. This left us arriving in Port Douglas after dark with no destination in mind so we drove and drove until we realised we had entered a rich child’s playground and there was no way in hell we could afford even a drink at one of the beautiful seafront bars. Before Vinchenzo had a chance to park we were on our way out of Port Douglas to find a cheap campsite for our first experience of sleeping in the van.
We slept like babies in our new home which was a great sign of things to come. Now were officially travelling campers I guess we have to wake up early and be productive. Ha, that wasn’t about to happen, why change the habit of a life time? We woke up late, all the campers that were there when we arrived had already moved on and the permanent caravans looked at us with disappointment. Oh god the newbies that we were stuck out like sore thumbs!
With our first full day ahead of us we took to the road again and headed to mission beach. Fran and I are now famous for our lack of planning and laid back attitude. It is a great way to travel however it does sometimes become a hindrance. We left Port Douglas and drove straight through Cairns with not a plan in our minds, that of course resulted in us completely missing out on the city and doing nearly nothing with our time there. Something I regret already is not being organised enough to plan a few things for us to do while we were there, but I can say we’ve learnt from that and once we reached Mission Beach we put pen to paper and got ourselves more organised and settled in to our new way of living.
Armed with a to do list and stops along the east coast we felt set to properly explore our first proper stop; Mission Beach.
At the campsite we got eaten alive by Mosquitos, worse than Asia, which meant the deet was back out in full force and our skin covered. Apparently that didn’t help a smidgen as we woke in the morning to legs that looked ready for a game of dot to dot. Horrible and not a good start to this trip. Time to change gear and find somewhere we can fall in love with. We looked around the beaches but they are pretty desolate and cold seeing the time of the year so we took off around midday to our next stop.
We planned to stop in a town called Townsville for a night but we had heard through other travellers that there’s very little to see there as it’s the Sunshine Coasts industrial hub. We drove through the town and agreed pretty quickly that we’d rather stay somewhere else for a night so we carried on down the highway until we reached a quaint little town called Rollingstone. With its old school petrol pumps and white picket fences we were instantly in love and determined to find a camping spot! Success, a free site right on the beach front. We cooked up a storm that night thanks to the free BBQ’s that are scattered everywhere in Australia and with our bellies full and Vinchenzo at ease we took the night easy playing cards and staring at the thousands of stars that filled the night sky above us – bliss!
I have already fallen in love with the freedom of this type of travel. The fact that we can choose to settle in a place or continue past is a luxury that I will never take for granted. We’ve already seen so much on this drive and we’ve only travelled 224 miles. The excitement is brimming so I must continue on with this adventure.
We heard about this seaside town thanks to a recommendation from a lady in Mission Beach, and boy were we glad we spoke to her. It’s picture perfect beaches and tranquil clear seas made us park up the camper almost instantly and run onto the sand. We first stumbled apon Horse Shoe Bay, a deserted cove that would usually be teaming with people in the Summer was left empty for us to gallop along the shoreline and take in the wonderful scenery. It’s moments like these when you just sit back and enjoy every moment that your given. It’s not everyday that I’m graced with a view like that and I just want to treasure and remember everything that I’m experiencing.
When the time came to find a campsite we realised that the beauty of this place had been found way before we got there which of course results in the prices of campsites being way over our budget. The next option was to find some free camping but of course there were ‘no camping’ signs everywhere. Once we were bored driving around in circles looking for a place we decided to pitch up in a car park for the night and leave early the next day. Well that was the plan at least until we heard a knock on the side of Vincenzo at 11:30pm from the local authorities telling us we can’t park there and we had to move on. Screwing!! We were lucky not to be handed a hefty fine, playing the innocent really got us away with murder this time!
Airlie Beach – Whitsunday
Love on arrival. This was more like it, the town was bustling with people, shops and sales, restaurants and cafés, exactly what Fran and I were on the hunt for. We drove to our campsite just out from the main town and got settled into our new surroundings. We had a beautiful spot with scorching sunshine and nice neighbours, Whitsunday was warming up to be our new favourite place.
We had pre booked a day trip out to the Great Barrier Reef for the following day so the afternoon was spent walking around the town, browsing the shops and sun bathing at the most amazing outside public swimming pool I’ve ever laid eyes on.
The following day a childhood dream came true as we took to the open water and got the opportunity to swim on The Great Barrier Reef. What an unforgettable experience! We donned our full wetsuits, face masks, snorkels and flippers and headed out into the blue. It was FREEEEEZING, who knew, but the sight we were greeted with was worth it.
Surrounded by fish from the start I felt like I was transported to another universe when I laid eyes on the reef!
Gigantic pieces of coral lie just under the surface and go on as far as the eye can see. What a magnificent sight! We swam passed all types of fish from the size of me to the size of my little finger all of which were completely in there element darting in and out the array of colourful coral that lies beneath the surface.
Where the coral ends at the open sea begins made for a scary sight into the abyss! Into the dark depths of the ocean where anything grows and monsters rein. It reminded me of Nemo before he swims out and touches the butt!!
The colour of the sea was one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced and the varying blues that entwine over the reef is such a special sight that will be forever with me.
Something else I will never forget is the journey home. The weather turned on us, the sea churned and the waves became like monsters of the ocean. It felt as if we were being thrown about like rag dolls. The sick bags were out in force, people were turning green and the boat was being thrown over the waves like nobodies business. Fran and I spoke like tough guys at the beginning, “ah we’ve sailed, we won’t get sick, were pros”, well I can tell you that neither of us needed the sick bag however the conversation between us soon stopped and staring at the horizon became the priority or one of us would of been joining the fallen :/.
That’s the second boat I have come off and kissed the ground on arrival to land, I don’t think I’m built for the deep blue.
Hervey Bay – Fraser Island
So far this trip has been a lot of never ending roads and random pit stops, Fran and I both decided it was time to settle in a place and really find our feet. Our chosen destination was Hervey Bay and a trip to Fraser Island.
Our first full day was spent walking around and exploring the area but first impressions were not great. There was a sleepy run down looking street filled with junky tourist shops and closed up shop fronts. I’m sure during the summer season this place is heaving, with the beach running parallel to the shops, crystal clear water and the softest white sand imaginable it would be a beautiful place – but right now unfortunately it was not looking it’s best!
We booked ourselves onto a tour of the famous Fraser Island for the following day and headed back to the campsite to squeeze in a bit of sunbathing.
We were up early to meet the coach, however what pulled up was a lorry sized 4×4 – I have never seen anything like it.
We clambered aboard and settled into our seats for the serious adventure that was about to happen.
Fraser is the largest sand island in the world, steeped in Aboriginal history it has become a world famous tourist destination. Fraser Island is the only place in the world where rainforests sprout from huge sand dunes, making it an ecological wonder and something I felt very lucky to be experiencing. We travelled to Fraser, as most people do, for an adventure filled day cruising around the island and taking in its natural beauty. And oh my it didn’t disappoint!
In our huge 4×4 we were driven through the rainforest, being thrown around over the huge sand dunes, I was loving every second of it. We stopped off at the most beautiful fresh water lake I have ever seen! Fraser has over 100 fresh water lakes and Lake Mckenzie (where we stopped) is the most famous. The crystal clear waters are formed like a spring making the water so fresh that it’s unable to support any underwater life!
My first sight of the lake took my breath away as I was hit by the lakes natural brilliance. The colour was mesmerising, I have never seen anything like it! The water was so inviting Fran and I donned our bikinis and went straight in for a dip. Oh. My. God. It was freezing, think arctic and then minus another 20 degrees! It was invigorating and beautiful and apparently due to the PH levels the water leaves your hair and skin feeling silky soft – this place is beginning to sound like I’ve made it up isn’t it? I felt so entirely lucky to be in that moment!
That was only the first stop..
The unique stretch of beach along the east coast of Fraser is also a National Highway as well as a landing strip for light aircraft. Driving along the 75 MILE BEACH was next on the agenda for us and the first time I laid eyes on that beach I couldn’t quite believe it. Australia’s renowned for its long stretches of coast but never have I ever not been able to see the other end of the beach. Wow this was going to unforgettable. In our 4×4 we sped along the sand with jungle on our left and the ocean on our right. Our guide was amazing and told us so much about the island, it’s inhabitants including all the wildlife that lives on and around the island. He told us that no one swims in this water as just 20 meters away from us in the shore line, all the way along the coast swim dolphins, whales and tiger sharks! We kept our eyes peeled but unfortunately didn’t see a sausage 😦
Fraser Island quickly became my number one stop in Australia but it was about to get so much better. I just told you about the beach also being used as a landing strip for light aircraft, well a pilot came on to our truck and spoke about a short trip they offer that flys around the island. I give it to the guy, he was an amazing sales man as it was something I was eager to try, I looked at Fran, Fran looked at me, the phrase YOLO may have been said and before we knew it we were clambering into the tiny propeller plane. Not only was I climbing into the plane I was climbing into the front of it, I was riding shotgun in an aeroplane for the first and probably only time in my life! I donned the headset, pressed some buttons, took hold of the control stick and we were.. Okay no I’m joking, I donned the headset and left the rest to the pro, I sat back, braced myself for take off and settled in for the trip of a lifetime!
What. A. Sight. Fraser Island is even more beautiful from above. You really get to appreciate the magnificence of the never ending beach, the rainforest and the picture perfect lakes from way up there. We even flew over the famous Maheno ship wreck and got to really appreciate the size of wreck that’s half buried under the sand and sea. We flew for 15 minutes, it was an incredible feeling which ended with the thrill of a beach landing – money well spent!! If you ever need a co pilot you know where to find me 😉
We took the ferry back to the main land at sunset, that was one of the best and most memorable days of this entire trip so far!
This little gem of a place won me over as soon as we drove in. We parked at a hostel as there cheaper than campsites and headed out to explore our new home. We stumbled across the beach and found the most beautiful area full of open restaurants, bars and surf shops, I was quickly falling in love. We made ourselves a little picnic and headed over to a cool little private beach away from the crowds and people watched for the next few hours, It was bliss. Children played together in the scorching sunshine on their paddle boards and looked as if they were having the best time imaginable – I was envious of their way of life and pictured myself living and growing up here with my family all around. Westbrook’s my childhood sweetheart but the children in Noosa don’t know how lucky they are living in such a beautiful place! Stunningly modern houses bordered a small inland river each with their own jetty, I stared in admiration of the place and pictured myself living here in absolute paradise.
Time to drag ourselves away and head to the zoo.
Designed by the famous Steve Irwin, the zoo celebrates his life’s work and all that he did for the animal kingdom, it was a sight not to be missed! It’s home to all Irwin’s favourite creatures including the bigs crocs of which he was renowned for, they were undoubtably amazing to look at but Fran and I were both really there to see the infamous kangaroos and koalas.
Koalas first and they were adorably cute with their little Buddha bellies, screwed up faces and teddy bear ears. We stayed with those little guys for a while and listened to a talk about them, we even got to have a stroke! Then it was time for the kangas 🙂 we had seen a few wild ones on the drive down so far, but nothing was to compare to what happened next. We walked into the enclosure and noticed one kangaroo lying down chilling in the sun, he was a fair distance from us but with no fences or barriers in the way we zoomed our cameras in and got very excited. I’m glad we didn’t peak too soon because as we walked around the corner there were suddenly so many kangaroos I couldn’t count. With no fences in the whole enclosure we were allowed right up to them to touch and to feed, I couldn’t believe it and at first we were a little nervous to go to near. Once I became more comfortable and they became comfortable with me I was able to stroke their furry heads and even get a cheeky selfie with my new best buddy 🙂
The next stop was old Brizzy. We left the zoo just before sunset and headed off towards the city. It’s been a while since we’ve been to a huge city like that and were not too sure how were going to like it.
Well the journey took maybe 3 times as long as it should because the roads in Brisbane are chaotic and we may have got lost once or maybe 10 times. All I can say is thank goodness for the free wifi McDonalds has as we sponged of them 3 times so we could find out where we were!
One piece of information I wished people shared with Fran and I is the fact that campsite close early at the weekends, and once there closed there’s no way of getting in! I mean is that general knowledge? Because it sure as hell screwed us over in Brisbane when we were hunting down campsites! As you can probably gather it wasn’t going well and we were both kind of sick of driving these chaotic roads and not getting anywhere. We sponged off Macca’s one last time and got the name off a quiet road where we could sneakily get some free camping for the night. Success we found it, we were definitely not allowed to park there but we were done with driving so we set up camp and put the kettle on!!
We were up early the next day as it was England’s first game of the World Cup and I was desperate to watch it. We got away with the free camping so hot footed it out of there before anyone had a chance to report us and set off to a high street to find a pub showing the footie!
We found the Pig and Whistle, a British pub serving English tea and a fry up, and of course the football, we couldn’t of asked for anymore!! As you all know we blooming lost our first game but I thoroughly enjoyed being patriotic and my fry up – silver linings!
We then left Brisbane and headed for the Gold Coast, looking back now I do wish we hadn’t left the city in quite a hurry as I don’t feel like I’ve saw enough. I mean we saw a hell of a lot while we were lost and aimlessly driving but we should of stayed and had more of a look around! Next time hay 😉
Gold Coast – Coolangetta
The sun was beaming, the music was blaring and the open road was ahead of us. The drive from Brisbane to the Gold Coast was a beautiful one and when we arrived in Coolangetta the day just got better.
There’s obviously a lot of beaches along the Gold Coast and Fran and I had a tough decision which one we wanted to visit. At first it was Surfers Paradise but after reading about it becoming a heaving party town full of wana-be hippies and drunks we crossed that off the list. The beach town that suited exactly what we wanted was a little place called Coolangetta and we were so right to choose it!
We planned to stay the night there in a free campsite that we had heard of, unfortunately that campsite turned out to be a public car park so was a no go. We ended up spending the day on the beach, playing in the massive surf and sunbathing – yes it’s winter but were hardy 😉 For me that’s the best way to spend the day and I loved every minute of it. Put me on a beach anywhere in the world and I’ll be a happy girl!
Once the sun started to set and the clothes had to come back on we decided to pack up and drive down to Byron Bay where we would stay put for the next few days.
The famous Byron Bay. I was very much looking forward to spending some time here, we had even found a really cool looking hostel called The Art Factory that was hopefully going to make our stay even better!
Driving into Byron Bay we instantly knew we had made it to hippie-ville, where tie dye clothes are the height of fashion, no body wears shoes and dread locks are a given. I’m well up for the chilled view on life so thinking this kind of lifestyle was a bit of me I dug out my Thailand elephant pants (travellers all know what I mean) got comfy and settled in to our next home 🙂
The Arts Factory was completely different to what we’ve become used to along the road. It’s a humongous hostel with a campsite (their car park) out the back. It was buzzing with other travellers, some that were passing through and others that had clearly been there a long time. It had a common area inside and out, teepees, shacks around a small swamp, a jetty, hammocks and an area for live gigs and performances. This was definitely the coolest hostel we have ever seen and we were looking forward to it coming alive at night.
The place becomes party central at night when the goon comes out and the rowdiness begins. I’m definitely about to show my age but watching that craziness unfold I realised I’m so over that insane going out style now. It seemed like the done thing to go out, get smashed and then spend the whole day in the hostel; I’m done with that, I’d rather be down the beach 😉 What a bore hay! But I must say it made for good people watching over a beer and a game of cards with Franos 🙂
When it came to sleeping I will always remember just how freezing cold Byron Bay becomes at night! Now I know you lot are going to be like, your in Australia, how colds it really going to be? I can tell you it was a 3 jumpers, 2 pairs of socks and leggings and a wooly hat kind of sleeping arrangement. All finished off with the famous sleeping bag dance to warm the cockles. I have never been and never wish to be that cold again!!
During the day Byron feels like a very special place; a funky and fashionable beach town. Surfers everywhere and a laid back atmosphere make the basis of the town but if you scratch the surface you realise that this small town has been loved for centuries and continues to be loved today. It’s the place to try yoga on the beaches, surf in the sweeping waves and listen to amazing live music all day everyday.
We headed to the famous lighthouse which is actually the most easterly point of Australia. The weather was beautiful and the views were insane. Fran and I had a field day taking photographs and then it got better.. We were joined by a local guy that spotted a humpback whale almost instantly from where we were standing. I couldn’t believe my eyes but from where we were we saw the spray of water from the blow hole and then the back of the whale protrude from the ocean. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, I had been waiting for this moment for a long time and it didn’t disappoint! Once we spotted one, we spotted another and another, groups of whales were playing in the water and putting on the most spectacular show I have ever seen! We even saw dolphins playing in the water amongst the surfers I couldn’t believe my eyes and how lucky we were to watch these wild animals playing so happily in their environment.
Off next to Spot X in an area called Arrawarra famous for awesome surfing. With beach side accommodation, their own beach and amazing surf, Fran and I instantly felt happy with our new little secluded home 🙂 I found out pretty quickly that I cannot hire a surf board from them without first having an outrageously expensive lesson, so that plan was out the window. Instead our days where taken up with sunbathing, surfer watching and reading – it was bliss!
I was up before sunrise thanks to the nine hour time difference to speak to my mum for the first time in ages on FaceTime and find out that England were out of the World Cup – gutted! After a proper catch up and the world still not awake yet I took myself for a run across the huge beach of Arrawarra. I think you get to see a different side of somewhere before the world awakens and normal life continues.
Once normal life ensued, we set off to Coffs Harbour. Driving into Coffs my first impressions were good, right along the coast with long stretches of beach and enticingly blue water, it was time to fall in love with yet another beach town!
We parked up at the harbour and took a walk around, the sky was a crisp blue, families were out on walks and couples were eating fish and chips – I was in love!
We found a hostel that we could park our van at and use all there facilities so we booked one night that quickly turned into two thanks to all the amazing things that Coffs had to offer!
We spent the evening inside watching movies and even cooked up a steak dinner! We are immensely grateful for indoor warmth after spending so many cold nights in the camper van. Simple pleasures!
We took advantage of the FREE surfboard hire and wetsuits and eventually got the chance to hit the beach with a board. I was rubbish!! I stood up all of one time in about 3 hours but had the most fun doing it that I couldn’t care less! I must do it more often, I was honestly once quite good. We watched the pros at work from young girls to retired old guys I felt very incapable but what you gunna do? 😉 maybe I should of had that lesson!
Next stop, we found a beautiful free campsite alongside a river full of pelicans and apparently migrating dolphins. The area was called settlement point and felt like the home of millionaires. Massive houses line the lake, each with their own private jetty and yacht. We took a drive around and drooled at all the wonderful modern houses, what a beautiful place to live!
There was nothing to do here, but we didn’t need anything, with the scenery, a book and a cup of tea we were happy. Clearly we’re older than our years!
With Sydney drawing ever closer, there was one last stop before the big city. We drove and drove from one dodgy looking campsite to the next until we came across a beautiful spot right in the middle of a huge lake.
It was well worth the drive as we used and abused their hot showers, inside kitchen and television, which meant we could watch Andy Murray’s first Wimbledon game in the warm with good food – perfecto!
That was our last night sleeping in Vincenzo the camped up camper van and I have to say we both had mixed feelings about it all coming to an end. We were happy to say goodbye to sleeping in a cold van in a hundred layers but was very sad to loose the ultimate freedom of driving on the open road with no worries in the world.
Living in a campervan is either your idea of heaven or your idea of hell!
If you’re on the heaven side of the camp you’ll be thinking about the freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you want. You’ll be imagining camping on beaches and gathering around a campfire while drinking beers under the stars. But if living in a camper van would be your idea of hell then you’re probably thinking of the cramped spaces, having to make a bathroom out of a bush and the many, many hours driving.
Well Fran and I experienced a mix of both but I still have to say that living in a camper van was by far the best experience of my life!
After nearly a month of driving I’ve definitely learnt a fair bit about life on the road including embracing the minimalistic, appreciating what’s around you and living for the moment!
In some ways it was liberating to never wake up thinking ‘what shall we do today’ as it always revolved around exploring and travelling to new places. But I think it’s time to get some structure back in my life and settle down in a country for a while.
Next stop Sydney!